Mammoth Snowboard Team on a big-time roll

It’s not like it happened suddenly.

But over the last five years, Mammoth’s competitive snowboarders have been on a steady rise to the top of the world.

For those who live in snowboarding capitals such as Mammoth, names like Kelly Berger, Sam Whiting, Brandon Davis, Chloe Kim, Andre Escobar, Danika Duffy and Judd Henkes are becoming more familiar with each season and each race.

There are others, too—lots of them—competing in slopestyle and halfpipe, as well as free riding.

This weekend, the Mammoth contingent joins other high-level snowboarders at the United States Snowboard Association (USASA) National Championships at Copper Mountain, Colo. The competition extends through April 10.

Head coach Benjamin Wisner, a native Australian who is completing his fifth year at Mammoth, is stoked.

“We’ve had one of our best years since I’ve been here,” he said Wednesday, shortly before he joined his team on the trip to Copper.

“We’ve had a lot of podium appearances in amateur as well as high-level events. And we’ve had some great pro results, too.”

Among the team’s greatest achievements was Berger’s qualification to ride halfpipe at the Junior Worlds in Spain earlier this month, and Davis’ invitation to join her in the halfpipe, as well as slopestyle.

Berger, just 16, tweaked her ankle during the competition and finished well, but she’s healthy again and ready to take on the athletes in Colorado.

The big question for the Mammoth team is if this has been a breakout year, or if it has been a season during which it caught some unexpected breaks.

Certainly the lack of snowfall in other parts of the country helped the Mammoth riders, Wisner said.

“The lack of snowfall this year really worked in our favor because we had the first halfpipe up at the start of the season, so our guys could train a lot and get good training in.

“And we had the best park set-up all season long that I’ve seen around. So we’ve been very blessed this year that we’ve been able to get a lot of good training in, and we’re starting to see the results of it.”

The crew at the Unbound parks helped immensely, he said.

“It was very tough with snowfall and the snowmaking really helped out the parks. The Unbound crew created what they did out of what they had. It was really an amazing effort and my hat goes off to those guys for all the hard work they do. 

“Michael Gregory and his crew did a really good job from raking the jumps and side-slipping the park for us and maintaining things during the day while we were training. It really helped us out.”

Ultimately, he said, the snowboarders got more training in this year than they would have had in a heavy snow season, such as last season and the season before.

“When it snows,” he said, “it kind of shuts down the parks and shuts down our training in a way.”

Another question is if Wisner himself had a breakout year as a coach.

In the past 13 years, he’s been an instructor, then moved into coaching and training coaches. He worked for a program in Australia called the Winter Sports Club, did some private coaching, and worked with the Australian Olympic Talent Identification for halfpipe and boardercross. 

While working there, one of the coaches mentioned there was a job for a head coach at Mammoth. 

“That was back when Oren Tanzer was running the program.” Wisner said. “I sent him a resume, we talked, he liked me and so he brought me out, I did my first season and they asked me to stay year-round.”

For Mammoth Mountain, it was a jackpot hire.

“I like Mammoth,” he said. “I like the town, I like the people, and the Mountain and the program are going in the right direction.

“Five years later, I’m still here.”

There is a ton of work ahead, he said, getting his juniors in position for the pro tours.

“We’re definitely improving,” he said. “Nothing’s always perfect. You can’t sit back and not keep developing the program.

“We’re really happy where we are now, but there are going to be big things happening in the future as well that will attract more athletes to our program and certainly improve our facilities and improve our training.