Helena skier joins US Freeski Rookie Slopestyle Team
By Gabrielle Gasser EBS STAFF
HELENA – Konnor Ralph has been skiing since he was 2 years old and competing since he was 10. Now 18, The Helena-native secured himself a spot on the U.S. Freeski Rookie Slopestyle team for the 2022 season.
Ralph grew up skiing at Great Divide Ski Area and at age 12 he attended a United States of America Snowboard and Freeski Association event at Schweitzer Mountain Resort in Idaho that cemented his desire to keep competing.
“Ever since then, I kind of just was hooked and started doing it [and] getting better,” Ralph said.
To advance his freeski skiing career, Ralph attended Wy’East Mountain Academy in Mount Hood, Oregon for four years of high school. After a successful season of skiing with multiple podium finishes, Ralph secured a spot on the U.S. team in the spring of 2021.
U.S. Freeski Rookie coach Ryan Wyble met Ralph three years ago at a competition. This will be Wyble’s third season as the head coach of the rookie team, which currently consists of eight athletes.
According to Wyble, Ralph attracted the attention of the U.S. team coaches with his competition results, training and his hard work.
“He’s definitely got super high motivation levels,” Wyble said. “He’s always hungry to be working on a new skill or a new trick or whatever it is.”
Freeski is a type of alpine skiing involving tricks, jumps and terrain park features like rails, boxes and pipes. There are currently three Olympic freeski events: Ski Cross, Halfpipe and Slopestyle. A big part of freeski, Wyble says, is performing different tricks and being able to spin in all directions.
“He’s quite proficient with all those different skills and [a] variety of tricks, which is awesome,” Wyble said of Ralph.
EBS talked with Ralph to learn more about his journey from a childhood on the slopes to the U.S. team.
Some answers below have been edited for brevity.
Explore Big Sky: How did you get into skiing?
Konnor Ralph: My mom skied when she was pregnant. I was 2 when I started. I kind of just went with my parents on weekends and that was that. You know, you just do it when you can. My parents were super into it at the time so I would always tag along.
EBS: How did skiing at Great Divide shape you as a skier?
K.R.: I think that I probably wouldn’t have gotten into park skiing if it wasn’t for Great Divide. Just because, when you ski there every weekend, you kind of start to not get tired of it but you’re ready to try new things on the mountain. So, every time I would go up with my parents, I would ski the mountain and then me and my brother would be like, “well, let’s go to the park, why not?” I kind of got hooked right away. And I was like, “this is so fun, this is what I want to do forever.”
EBS: Where is your favorite place to ski?
K.R.: I like spring time in Mount Hood or Great Divide. But I think that’s biased because I grew up skiing there.
EBS: What was your first competition?
K.R.: [It was] a Smoking Aces Tour. … It was kind of just like a local event and it was at Big Sky, Schweitzer and Whitefish. The first year, I don’t think I podiumed once and then the second year, I was like, “I’m winning it, I have to,” and then that’s what happened. Which
EBS: Tell me about what you have done to improve and ultimately earn a spot on the U.S. Freeski Rookie
K.R.: I think a lot of it was just like, knowing in the back of my mind that this is what I want and having that self-motivation to get better and keep progressing to be the best I could be and can be. I went to a ski academy for high school, and all four of those years definitely made me as good as I am now.
EBS: When did you realize that you wanted to ski professionally?
K.R.: It was actually after I lost a rail jam. I think I got fourth place or something at a rail jam. … I got fourth there, and I was so bummed I was like “I do not want that to happen again.” And then I almost used it as motivation to never have that happen again. And I was just like, “I don’t want to not win” and I’m pretty competitive. So definitely that but just skiing at Great Divide you have all these people that are rooting for you. And once you get to a certain level, … I’d say like the [North American Cup] level which is below World Cups, [supporters are] like, “come on we know you can do this” and you have this little huge community behind you. And they’re all so invested in your success. It’s crazy.
EBS: What does a day of training look like for you?
K.R.: A day for me would be waking up and getting my ski gear on and then making breakfast, and then driving to the hill and skiing pretty much from 9 to 4. And then sometimes we’ll have a workout after that. Yeah, kind of just preparing and working on tricks that you know you want to do in competition and just getting in the right mindset for
EBS: What’s your favorite trick?
K.R.: I really like the Cork 9 blunt. It’s like a backflip 540 and you reach to the tail of your ski in the back and you grab with your right hand on your right ski across your skis.
EBS: How does it feel to have a spot on the U.S. Freeski Rookie Team?
K.R.: I think my sophomore year I started to realize that I really was aiming to get on the team. And, I mean it felt so accomplishing because you work for a few years at something and it finally happens. It just feels like you finally got over that step and you’re starting to make serious leverage. It feels amazing.
EBS: Do you have a favorite part of being on the team?
K.R.: So far, I haven’t ever competed with them, as of now, but I’ve had a few camps that I went to. I think mainly it’s just being able to ski with the main slopestyle and big air skiers that are progressing the sport right now and the best I guess. Being able to ski beside them and kind of have them motivate me in a way and be like, well, I want to be as good as them like, I want to do that and do it better. That’s a big part of it. And then just the training facilities that they have, they’re amazing.
EBS: How does it feel to have your support system
K.R.: It just makes me want it more. They make me want to prove not only to myself that I can do it, but to all those people that I’m gonna do it. It’s just nice to have that support it keeps you in it.
EBS: What are your future goals?
K.R.: My next goals, I would say just competing in World Cups and skiing to my best ability. I have my first one Dec. 12 at Copper. I think just making finals at those and skiing to my best ability.