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Wednesday, February 1, 2012
What's in the water in Vernon?

TJ Schiller at his home mountain of Silver Star, BC.

TJ Schiller, Justin Dorey, Chad Sayers, Josh Bibby, Riley Leboe, Joe Schuster: That's an all-star list of freeskiers, who, believe it or not, all grew up in Vernon, British Columbia, population 30,000. That's an impressive per capita production, but none give credit to the Okanagan water supply. They all point the praise on the Silver Star Freestyle Club.

"I think there are two reasons we were successful," says Dorey, who joined his local hill's ski club when he was 13. "The first being that it put all of us kids together, which created an amazing atmosphere for skiing. Secondly and, most importantly, was our air site. We could session a big jump every weekend and not get the wear and tear on the body that you would hitting park jumps. I think the air site played a huge part in where we all are today."

The ski hill built a competition-sized tabletop on a roped-off section of run with a perfect in-run, smooth transition and a steep landing zone. "We could make a mistake and walk away from it," says Dorey.

While there's no denying the air site allowed the young skiers to become comfortable in the air, the parents of the skiers and the resort played a big role as well. "The mountain took a leap of faith," says Dan Leboe, Riley's father. "We had to sell why the investment in a roped off run and grooming time building the air site was worthwhile. At the time we couldn't say what they were going to get out of it. No one knew."

"The parents put their heart and soul into the club," says Robin Baycroft, Silver Star's resort services manager. "They were always out there chopping landings, negotiating with the ski hill, organizing events."

Their timing was good too. Dan Leboe enrolled his kids in the club around 1998, right at the dawn of newschool skiing, joining Bob Bibby and Don Schuster at the helm of the tiny club -- Leboe thinks there was a dozen kids the first year. "We knew that if we gave the group good skills and a fun program nothing could stop them from being successful," Leboe says. "When we focused on that, the numbers grew." By 2009, there were around 200 kids in the program.

In the early days, the club negotiated with the resort and ski patrol to create a mogul course, a wedge jump and eventually the full air site. "The air became the wow factor," Leboe says. "But we tried to balance the skills. We didn't kill ourselves on a powder day to try and get the air site open. The goal was to keep the cost low. I think it was $125 for a season of bumps and jumps."

They devoted a large percentage of their meager budget and a lot of time fundraising to hiring and training excellent coaches like Josh Dueck, Wade Garrod and Chad Sayers. Today, Silver Star coaching alumni can be found at Blackcomb's Camp of Champions and BC's freestyle team. "We were one of the few clubs that encouraged coaching as a career path," says Leboe. "We basically invented the development process. We paid for a ton of guys to get their level 1 freestyle coach. And when they worked for us we paid them decently."

As the club became successful so did Silver Star, its reputation rising with the athletes' results. "I was successful because of the fact that I knew that I would always have friends to hang with and ski with every time I went to the hill," says Dorey. "I really think the people that the program surrounded us with was why it was so successful."