Sky is the limit: Local 10-year old a freestyle skiing phenomenon
A simple family outing unearthed a hidden talent in Cayden Wood.
Wood and his family took up the sport of downhill skiing six years ago as something to do during the winter. Today, Wood is the best 10-year-old slopestyle skier in the country.
Wood, a Woodbury resident, began skiing at Afton Alps when he was 4 years old. There he witnessed older kids doing fancy tricks and impressive aerials on their skis and decided it was something he wanted to do too.
Wood said he started by going off little bumps. But, it wasn't long until he was doing 180-degree turns in the air. By age 7, he was already doing full 360-degree spins.
"It kind of just unfolded," Cayden's dad Don Wood said. "We've been 100 percent behind him ever since the beginning."
Recognizing an uncanny natural ability, Wood joined the Afton Alps D-Team (developmental program) for freestyle skiers to get an introduction to competing in the sport. He quickly outgrew the program, however, and joined the Nybora freestyle ski team - one of the most highly ranked clubs in the country - and has competed for them the past two years.
Discovering this skill and being able to nurture it means a lot to Cayden, he said.
"It makes me happy, because I know this is my talent and I'm good at this sport," he said. "It makes it a lot of fun when you're able to push yourself."
Cayden Wood just returned from the 2013 USSA (U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association) Freestyle Junior Nationals, in Park City, Utah, where he won the slopestyle competition for his age group, competing against the best-of-the-best in the United States, earning the label of the No. 1 slopestyle skier in the country 10 years old and under.
"I was really surprised that I took first," Cayden said. "There's just so many good kids I didn't think I was going to get it. When they called my name I was super surprised."
The USSA Junior Nationals consist of moguls, dual moguls, aerials, halfpipe, slopestyle and new big air. At the Junior Nationals, held March 4-10, Wood also finished in third place in the big air category.
"I'm just so proud of his accomplishments," Don Wood said. "Knowing he's only 10, he's just beginning. The sky is the limit for him if he continues to enjoy the sport, has fun doing it and continues to progress. It's been a phenomenal ride so far."
Slopestyle is one of the most popular events at the Winter X Games. It will also become an Olympic event, in both skiing and snowboarding forms, at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. In slopestyle, skiers perform a variety of tricks on a number of obstacles in addition to performing jumps off ramps while descending the hill. In big air, however, a competitor rides down a hill and performs tricks after launching off one very large jump or multiple jumps.
Cayden has the world's two biggest stages for freestyle skiing in his sights.
"My dream is to make it to the X-Games and the Olympics when I'm old enough," he said. "I really want to."
Training provides challenges
Early on, Cayden Wood would watch freestyle skiing videos with his dad Don for inspiration and to learn tricks he could attempt to mimic.
Wood's favorite skier is Tom Wallisch, who won the slopestyle gold medal at the X Games in 2012.
"He has such a good style," Cayden said. "I've met him and he's really nice."
Cayden began taking the ideas he saw in the videos to the local hills.
"It just progressed from there," he said.
In Minnesota, almost all ski areas now have terrain parks for freestyle skiers and snowboarders. Nearly as important, most of the hills have rope tow ski lifts, so freestyle skiers and snowboarders can quickly repeat runs instead of having to ride the chairlift every time.
"That really helps the kids in the Midwest progress, because they can lap so many times during training," Don Wood said.
Cayden is sponsored by K2 Skis, Smith Optics and Summit Boardshop in Lake Elmo. He trains at Hyland Ski and Snowboard Area in Minneapolis and at Afton Alps five days a week during the winter months. In the summer, he practices on trampolines at Perpetual Motion in Woodbury and at Airborne Xtreme in Anoka. Also, during the offseason, he can train at the Summit Boardshop, where they have fake snow and features set up to practice on.
"One of the challenges in Minnesota is to find good off-snow training facilities for these kids," Don Wood said. "There's just not a lot of options right now. There's a lot in the West, but they haven't migrated East yet."
What Don Wood believes has helped make Cayden such a strong freestyle skier is his extraordinary steadiness on his feet.
"A lot of it is natural," Don Wood said. "He has really good balance and a lot of natural ability. After noticing that at a young age and with proper coaching he's been able to advance to more difficult tricks."
As a parent, Don said watching his 10-year-old son flying through the air can make him nervous, but he trusts Cayden's training and his mature take on the sport.
"It certainly comes with risk, but, I know Cayden's abilities and he's not doing anything that puts him at risk, because he really has the tricks down before he tries them on the snow," Don said. "He's really good, even at age 10, knowing when he should and shouldn't try something. He knows not to push it. That helps ease my mind."
Because of his abilities, Cayden has become a bit of a celebrity around Woodbury's Liberty Ridge Elementary, where he is in fifth grade. Don Wood said Cayden's classmates and educators have been "really great" in support of him. Also, he said Cayden's teammates at Nybora and other skiers from around the state have been a big help.
"The ski team and the ski community is such a tight-knit group," Don said. "They're very supportive of each other. He's with kids that are 14 to 18 years old. They all know him and have taken him under their wing and helped him progress and grow. It's been a great experience so far."
THE CAYDEN WOOD FILE
-2013 USSA slopestyle age group national champion
-Nybora freestyle ski team member
-Favorite skier is Tom Wallisch
-10 years old
-Fifth grader at Liberty Ridge Elementary