Explore Big Sky recently interviewed Big Sky Ski Education Foundation Freeride Coach Cooper Raasch, to look back at another successful season for many of Big Sky’s junior winter athletes, and to discuss his philosophy of coaching.
Explore Big Sky: How long have you been the coach of the Big Sky freeride team? Where were you before Big Sky?
Cooper Raasch: [I’ve been] coaching five years now. I came from Mount Hood, Oregon, and had coached racing, freestyle and skier cross previously.
EBS: Where/when did you learn to ski? Can you talk a little bit about your own freeride career?
C.R.: I raced on Mount Hood for the Mount Hood Academy and have mostly an FIS—[the top international alpine racing circuit]—racing background. I competed as a pipe- and slope-style skier for many years. No freeride experience.
EBS: Do you have a philosophy for coaching young freeride athletes? What are some obstacles that high school students must overcome to take their riding to the next level?
C.R.: My philosophy on freeride skiing is to learn through your mistakes and try to progress every second—never take a turn off. Our sport is decided by decisions [made in] milliseconds and you have to trust yourself and your abilities. I trust our athletes to make intelligent decisions and to use their skill sets wisely.
The athletes have to overcome a myriad of personal boundaries, whether it’s a fear of heights or high speeds. Honestly, I just try to keep them out of their comfort zone based on ability level. In Holden [Samuel’s] case, I try to inspire him to push himself, and it’s quite hard to do with an athlete so naturally talented and driven. He has a tenacity like I’ve never seen, and a drive to match it.
EBS: How often do Big Sky freeride athletes train? What type of training is the most useful?
C.R.: The athletes train from two to four days a week with a coach, but I know Holden trains more than that. I always think you need to train like you compete—so cliffs, steeps and working on tricks.
EBS: Looking back on this freeride season, would you consider it successful?
C.R.: Of course this year was a success, we are a very small team and frequently have the best athletes in the nation in the age groups that we [are competing] in.
EBS: You recently traveled to Kappl, Austria, with Holden Samuels where he finished second in the Freeride Junior World Championships. Any guesses as to what the future has in store for Samuels?
C.R.: Holden is a professional-level athlete and he will have an amazing career on the Freeride World Tour if he chooses that route.
EBS: Who else has been instrumental in making this season a success?
C.R.: All of our coaches deserve a shout out. Wallace Casper, Drew DeWolf, Wes Shifrin, Julie Hygon and Jordan Aid … without them none of this [would be] possible.