Community Sports

Snowboarder from Glacier to compete in world freestyle championship

Hank Kennedy prepares for competition at Mt. Baker Ski Area in preparation for competition.
Hank Kennedy prepares for competition at Mt. Baker Ski Area in preparation for competition. Courtest to The Bellingham Herald

Hank Kennedy, 17, has been snowboarding since he was old enough to strap into a board, and now, after being ranked the third best in his sport, he will represent the United States at the Junior Freeride World Championships Thursday through Saturday, Jan. 28-30, in Grandvalira, Andorra.

In April 2015, Kennedy placed third in his age group at the International Freeskiers and Snowboarders Association North American Championships, securing his place at the freeride world competition.

Sixty skiers and snowboarders, ages 15-18, will compete over four days in Andorra, a country in the Pyrenees Mountains between France and Spain. Kennedy will be one of 13 men snowboarders.

“It’s a pretty big deal,” Kennedy said, expressing his gratitude to be competing among peers he describes as the very best at what they do.

Snowboarders and skiers will be judged on five aspects of their ride: line choice, control, fluidity, technicality and style.

It’s just one of the best sports ever, and you get the best feeling when you’re riding. I love the sport because I love the community.

Glacier snowboarder Hank Kennedy

“I would really like to see myself on the podium or take first; that would be incredible,” Kennedy said. “But I just want to go over and have fun.”

The slopes of Grandvalira that will be used for the competition, a place called Pic Alt Del Cubil, have been closed 30 days prior to the event, according to the event website.

Kennedy will arrive in Andorra three days before the competition to study the terrain, inspect the run and attend safety briefings, he said.

This will be his first trip outside of the United States.

Kennedy has lived in Glacier for nine years and spends his time on the slopes of Mt. Baker Ski Area nearly every day the mountain is open. It is his favorite place to ride, after growing up snowboarding at Snoqualmie.

Mt. Baker has the best snow and terrain of any place to snowboard in Washington, he said.

4 Number of Legendary Banked Slalom titles Hank Kennedy won at the Mt. Baker Ski Area — 2007 and 2009 in Next Generation division and 2013 and 2014 in Juniors division.

In recent years, Kennedy has been taking his competition more seriously, signing sponsors and beginning to think of snowboarding as a serious part of his future.

“It’s just one of the best sports ever, and you get the best feeling when you’re riding,” he said. “I love the sport because I love the community.”

Kennedy is an independent athlete, meaning he does not have a team or coach to push him. Instead, he is supported by his family and the Glacier community, riding with ski patrols and his friends on the mountains.

For him to make it to the world competition entirely on self-motivation is impressive, Kennedy’s mother, Erica, said.

I would really like to see myself on the podium or take first; that would be incredible. But I just want to go over and have fun.

Hank Kennedy on competing in the Junior Freeride World Championships

“I’m so proud, it makes me cry,” she said.

For Erica, watching her son compete is both rewarding and nerve-wracking, she said. She trusts Kennedy to be safe, but is also assured by the requirements that all riders carry gear for the extreme weather conditions that can appear on the mountain suddenly. Avalanche airbags and other safety equipment on the slopes are necessary precautions.

Kennedy has one more year to compete in the junior freeride circuit. After that, it is his dream to travel with the freeride tour as a sponsored professional athlete.

For more information on the event, go to freeridejuniortour.com.

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