Ridin’ the rails

Sleeping in restrooms at weather-besieged airports is one way snowboard athlete Valerie Reynolds’ life differs from that of most 16-year-olds.

En route to an event in Toronto in early March, storms diverted her flight to Chicago. There was no other place to rest in the overcrowded airport. Mark Harris, freeride coach at the Schweitzer Alpine Racing School (SARS), was on another flight rerouted to New York.

“It was the beginning of a grand adventure,” he said. “But Valerie went up to Toronto and really dominated representing the All American Team. She was our top dog.”

Reynolds, a student at Gonzaga Prep, competes for the United States of America Snowboard Association All American team. She was named to the squad after finishing in the top five in all five disciplines at the USASA national championships last season.

Reynolds’ results this year have earned her a spot on the U.S. FIS Junior World Championships Boardercross Team. She travels to Austria for world juniors the second week of April. But first come the USASA National Championships, Saturday through April 7, at Northstar at Tahoe, where Reynolds will compete in all five disciplines.

Reynolds displays unusual all-around ability at a tender age. On any given day she is a threat in halfpipe, slopestyle, bordercross, slalom and GS. The teenager is becoming accustomed to competing internationally, often against much older athletes.

“I do all of the events,” she said. “Slopestyle is my favorite, but I’ve had the best results in bordercross. It’s so much fun. But it’s really scary.”

Reynolds was the youngest woman in the pro division last weekend at Schweitzer’s Stomp Games. She was first in bordercross, first in rail jam and second in slopestyle.

She’s attracting a lot of attention as an up-and-comer on the international level. The usual path for a snowboarding athlete starts with competition at USASA events. With success there, they advance to the Chevy Revolution Tour and on to the Grand Prix. Grand Prix events are used as part of the Olympic team selection process.

She’s gaining acclaim earlier and quicker than most athletes. Sponsors are starting to check her out. Oakley is one company slated to support her next season. But for now her main endorsement is still from mom and dad.

“Everyone thinks soccer is so expensive,” said Katherine Reynolds, Valerie’s mother. “This one is crazy. With all the international travel, sometimes it gets overwhelming. Airfare can be a thousand dollars an event. Summer training in New Zealand is about three or four thousand.”

She worries a lot about her daughter when she travels.

“It’s a new angle of stress; thank god for cell phones,” she said. “The scary thing is, all it takes is one bad fall. But Valerie’s pretty tough. She’s proven to us that she’s very mature for a 16-year-old.”

Brandon Reynolds, Valerie’s father, will join her when she travels to Austria for world juniors. The whole family will travel to Tahoe for the U.S. Nationals. Her parents are investigating the option of sending her to the Park City Olympic Training Center next fall. Mom is considering moving to Park City to home school Valerie while she trains.

Living a dream come true for any snowboarding kid, Reynolds attends school two days a week during the season. Training and traveling to competitions dominate the rest of her week. Between events she practices about six hours a day with the Schweitzer Alpine Racing School. Snowboarding is her life year-round.

“My teachers work really well with me,” she said. “I usually go to school on Mondays and Tuesdays. They just give me all my homework and tests those days. It never seems like a grind. It’s too much fun. But after six weeks on the road it’s nice to be back, finally.”

Top finishes for Reynolds this year include second in bordercross at the Revolution Tour in Copper Mountain, Colo. She finished 10th in slopestyle in her first Grand Prix appearance against ESPN X Games winners and Olympians. She also won the regional qualifier for USASA Nationals in slopestyle, slalom, GS and halfpipe.

“Our goal for Valerie this season was the Revolution Tour,” Harris said. “She’s also done a couple of Grand Prix where she really hit her stride, competing with composure at such a high level. It’s pretty extraordinary to see that in someone so young.”

Reynolds started snowboarding at 6. Harris has been working with her for seven years. He started to realize she was something special about four years ago.

“She grew up a little bit,” he said. “You could see the transition from snowboarding being a recreational pastime to something she fell in love with. That’s when the effort came.”

He said she could be just a couple of seasons out from being a front-runner on the biggest stage of them all.

“Always in the back of your mind is the 2010 Olympics,” he said. “That’s perfect timing for her to peak. So we’re looking toward that.”

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