Though a pre-season injury stopped him from competing all winter, University of Colorado sophomore Sam Bell is at the first day of a big competition today -- the collegiate national championships.
He didn't compete this winter, but he didn't stop snowboarding.
"When I broke my wrist, I stopped jumping, I just had some fun on rails," Bell said. "When I went back out, I was really diligent about getting some jumps."
Bell and fellow CU Snowboard Team riders Kevin Wright and Joey Dryer are in Sun Valley, Idaho, this week for the U.S. Collegiate Skiing and Snowboarding National Championships.
The team is generally a strong crew, with won individual championships won as well as the team competition in the past, said head coach Pat Abramson.
"Every year I have kids who are sponsored, who compete at the pro level," Abramson said. "I think my first year, we had a freshman in the X Games. There have always been strong riders."
Bell, Dryer and Wright will compete in multiple events, like half-pipe and giant slalom. The three are good at everything, Abramson said, but they're "amazing slopestyle riders."
"These guys are top slopestyle riders, and that's what we're focusing on this year," Abramson said.
Having access to great terrain parks, like those at Breckenridge and Keystone, helps the team, he said. The schools that pose CU's main competition are in Utah and near Tahoe -- also near ski areas with big terrain parks.
Dryer, a sophomore, said he's done quite a few competitions. He grew up competing at the local hill near his home in Minnesota.
"We had a competitive team there, 10 minutes from my house," Dryer said.
Going to the collegiate nationals for CU is different, though.
"It's been super individual, so this is cool -- I get to represent our school, and represent the kids at it," he said.
To be good, you have to ride every weekend, Dryer said. So this semester, he arranged his class schedule so he could have Mondays and Fridays off to ride.
This is his first time going to nationals.
"Now there's a purpose behind it," he said. "It's not just me going out there to win. I'd love to win and bring it back for CU."
This year, the three men are the only riders who have the chance to bring it back for the team. Though they were invited to send more athletes, Abramson said the team could only afford to send three this year. They decided to alternate between the men and women, this year and next.
"We're not sending a girls' team just due to our budget," Abramson said. "Next year, the girls are going to go."
"This is all paid by the students," he added. "We get some help from CU, but CU has so many club sports... so it's all fundraising for these students."
Wright, a junior who joined the team as a freshman, is going to nationals for the first time, too. And because the team will send a women's contingent next year, it could be his only chance to go.
But though he's excited to go to nationals, Wright said there's much more to the team than competitions.
"It's not just about competing, we do a lot of filming and trips," Wright said of the team. "It's more about pushing yourself than competing against other people."
Dryer and Bell both echoed Wright -- their friends on the team make them better.
"We push each other, and we're always feeding off each other, growing, getting better," Dryer said. "Hopefully it shows in this contest,"