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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports >  Outdoors

Bill Jennings: Introducing the offspring to the slopes

By Bill Jennings For The Spokesman-Review

Introducing kids to skiing and snowboarding is a big investment for parents. There’s no guarantee time and money spent will result in a freshly minted enthusiast. But a program for fifth graders lets you try before you buy.

Kids with a Fifth Grade Passport can ski three days for free at several ski areas in Washington and Idaho. The program also offers discounts on equipment rentals and lessons. Some ski areas also extend those discounts to parents and siblings in other grades.

You never know what’s going to happen when you put a kid on snow. It’s likely a lot of them continue for a lifetime to some degree. A select few may soar far beyond typical expectations.

Noah Wallace, 26, was introduced to skiing as a fifth grader at Spokane Junior Academy (now known as Palisades Christian Academy). This week he’s at Mammoth Mountain in California, competing in slopestyle for a berth on the 2018 U.S. Olympic team.

The Fifth Grade Passport Program is offered at Mount Spokane, 49 Degrees North, Silver Mountain and Lookout Pass. Further afield, Bluewood, Brundage Mountain and Loup Loup are also on board.

“It motivated me to get more into winter sports instead of staying at home doing homework,” Wallace said. “I had a lot of fun as a weekend warrior at small local contests in high school. Later I worked my way up to bigger regional contests. I’ve been doing World Cup contests for the past six years.”

Wallace climbed through the ranks with stints on the Dew Tour and the Revolution Tour. Making the podium in qualifiers landed him in Grand Prix events competing against the top athletes in the world. As of last week Wallace was the eighth-ranked American in slopestyle by the Association of Freeskiing Professionals. He moonlights performing on camera for films produced by Matchstick Productions, Good Company and Level 1 Productions.

Slopestyle is a thrilling event contested on a downhill obstacle course of jumps and rails. Think of it as a terrain park on steroids. A panel of judges awards points based on the quality of tricks that includes execution, amplitude (height achieved above the surface) and originality. The discipline debuted as an Olympic sport at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.

“I have a pretty good background in gymnastics and trampoline,” Wallace said. “When I was growing up I did gymnastics in high school at Upper Columbia Academy. We would travel around and do halftime shows for Gonzaga games and WSU games. I was always the guy doing the cool stuff, like big back flips and other flippy things.”

I connected with Wallace last week as he prepared for the Toyota U.S. Grand Prix in Aspen, Colorado. He needed two top-three finishes over the four-day competition to be considered for the U.S. Olympic team. Before Sunday’s main event, Wallace came down with a bad case of food poisoning and missed the final by three spots.

Undaunted, he hopped in his car and headed for Mammoth. Constant travel is a fact of life for athletes on the World Cup circuit. Wallace said last year he logged 80,000 air miles to compete and train in locations ranging from Europe to New Zealand. There’s not a lot of time to return to his roots.

“I’ve only been home one day since fall training started,” he said. “Usually I base myself out of Colorado, that’s where my coach lives so I spend a lot of time there. My girlfriend is from Austria, so whenever I can, I’ll base myself out of there as well.”

Is PyeongCchang, South Korea the next stop on a journey launched by a fifth grade passport? Wallace’s final attempt to become a U.S. Olympian starts on the slopes of Mammoth on Friday with a World Cup qualifier. The final is Saturday. The Olympic team will be selected after one more contest on Sunday. He likes his chances.

“I’m working my butt off to get to it,” he said. “I need to have two big finishes right now. I need to ski very well and get as close to the podium if not on the podium in both contests. I think I have a good shot.”

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