Former Olympian Kristi Richards looks to take Apex’s freestyle ski team to new heights

Left to right: Members of Freestyle Apex, Quinn Patton, Grady Farcau, Patrick Parsons and Charlie Roberts with coach Kristi Richards at the top of Apex’s mogul course Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020. (Jesse Day - Western News)Left to right: Members of Freestyle Apex, Quinn Patton, Grady Farcau, Patrick Parsons and Charlie Roberts with coach Kristi Richards at the top of Apex’s mogul course Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020. (Jesse Day - Western News)
Richards (right) teaching her students some of the the body mechanics and technique behind high-level mogul skiing. (Jesse Day - Western News)Richards (right) teaching her students some of the the body mechanics and technique behind high-level mogul skiing. (Jesse Day - Western News)
Watch and learn. (Jesse Day - Western News)Watch and learn. (Jesse Day - Western News)
Richards makes sure the kids in Apex’s freestyle program earn their air-time as they groom the landing before a practice session. (Jesse Day - Western News)Richards makes sure the kids in Apex’s freestyle program earn their air-time as they groom the landing before a practice session. (Jesse Day - Western News)
An Olympic sized landing bag would allow Freestyle Apex skiers to learn new tricks faster without risk of injury. (Jesse Day - Western News)An Olympic sized landing bag would allow Freestyle Apex skiers to learn new tricks faster without risk of injury. (Jesse Day - Western News)

Apex Mountain Resort is already home to a world-class freestyle skiing mogul course, and it could soon become even better.

The mountain’s freestyle mogul skiing program, Freestyle Apex, has churned out an impressive list of Canadian freestyle skiers who have gone on to make their mark on the international stage.

Perhaps atop that list is Kristi Richards — a two-time Olympian and 2007 World Cup Champion. Richards, born in Summerland, took over as head coach and program director of Freestyle Apex in July 2020. She’s now hoping to take the freestyle team to new heights.

READ MORE: Retired Olympian Kristi Richards honoured with diamond jubilee medal

One of Richards’ main goals for this season is to secure an inflatable Olympic-sized landing bag for the mountain.

The landing bag would allow skiers to practice new aerial tricks with a greatly reduced risk of injury, and have them taking the tricks to the snow faster than ever.

Richards hopes to purchase a downhill landing bag similar to the one in the photo below. Downhill landing bags are the safest option and also closely simulate the feeling of landing on a downhill incline on snow, she said.

The landing bag Freestyle Apex hopes to purchase would be similar to this one. (BagJump Austria photo)

(Video credit: Robin Pauw / Momentum Ski Camps)

“An Olympic landing bag really is like the next generation tool for our sport,” Richards said. “I feel like it’s that missing link that I didn’t have when I was growing up. In my generation we just went straight from water to snow.

“I just really see this as being able to really help with our progression while also making training safer.”

Freestyle Apex currently has about 100 kids enrolled in their program ranging in age from six to 18.

Richards, who has skied competitively across the world, said that her home-mountain has the best set-up for freestyle moguls training she’s ever seen.

Much of what makes the freestyle course at Apex so great has to do with the small amount of time it takes for skiers to lap the mogul course and the pristine snow conditions. After a run, skiers can be back at the top of the course in under seven minutes. An Olympic-sized landing bag would take the training facility at Apex to the next-level, Richards said.

The landing bag would be placed below these jumps, to skiers left of Apex’s mogul course. (Jesse Day – Western News)

On top of helping the local team progress quicker, a landing bag would also secure Apex’s spot as a top international freestyle training destination.

Obviously this season has been different, but typically Apex hosts a dozen or more Canadian and international teams, mostly in the pre-season before any other resort is open or has a training facility built.

“We’re not just facilitating and looking after our club… it’s all of Canada and even international teams and we want to keep building on that. It really is a secret gem,” Richards said.

Other notable World Cup and Olympic athletes that Apex’s Freestyle program has produced include Olympian Andi Naude, Jordan Kober — who placed third in Saturday’s (Dec. 12) World Cup event in Sweden — and his brother Josh Kober, B.C.’s provincial freestyle team coach, and the late Brayden Kuroda who tragically passed away in February at the age of 19.

“He was right on the brink of making the World Cup. His dad ran this club for quite a few years so they’re very ingrained in this community as well,” Richards said of Kuroda. “His legacy will remain and he’s incredibly missed.”

READ MORE: Brayden Kuroda remembered as talented and kind-hearted, with infectious smile

Richards spent Sunday (Dec. 13) coaching four young, aspiring freestyle mogul skiers who hope to one day be mentioned among the best to come out of Apex’s program.

After starting the morning dialing in the fundamentals of on-snow mogul skiing, the group hit the jumps to work on their back-flips. The group, consisting of three 15-year-olds and one 14-year-old, have all already been getting inverted in the air for multiple seasons, but all four of the boys said a landing bag would give them the confidence to try new tricks they otherwise would not yet attempt.

Kristi Richards (left) gives tips on jumping technique as aspiring freestyle skier Charlie Roberts nails a back-flip. (Jesse Day – Western News)

Freestyle Apex hopes to open the landing bag to as many user groups as possible once it’s there, tested and operational.

The thing about landing bags is they aren’t cheap. Richards estimates the Olympic landing bag the club needs will cost approximately $100,000.

Ideally, the landing bag would be built in Austria and shipped to Apex with a March 1, 2021 arrival date, Richards said.

To help raise funds for the landing bag, and other Freestyle Apex programming, Freestyle Apex is currently seeking donations and has also launched an online auction.

The “12 days of Christmas” silent online auction is running Dec. 11 to 22, with items like a weekend getaway to Whistler, a Slackwater Brewing gift card, cords of firewood, tons of ski gear and more up for grabs.

The donate or bid on items up for auction, click here or go to Apex Mountain Resort’s (@apexmtnresort) or Slackwater Brewing’s (@slackwaterbrewing) Instagram pages.

In addition to the Olympic landing bag, Freestyle Apex is also starting a coach mentorship program, spearheaded by Richards’ brother Mike Richards. Freestyle Apex currently has 12 coaches on the roster. The program is designed to “coach the coaches” on how to become the best possible ski teachers while supporting Freestyle Apex’s facilities and athlete development.

With Richards at the helm, an Olympic landing bag may be only just the start of bigger things to come down the road at Apex.

“I want it (Apex) to become a worldwide, internationally known hub,” Richards said. “I want it to be the first place on people’s minds for their training camps, for events… but not just for mogul skiing. I see this as being an opportunity to facilitate other disciplines in skiing and even snowboarding.”

READ MORE: Lots of Olympic love for Penticton’s Andi Naude



jesse.day@pentictonwesternnews.com

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