Lone Peak freshman Nehalem Manka is no stranger to the podium at International Freeskiers & Snowboarders Association (IFSA) events. Below, the standout freeride athlete answers questions about her success on the slopes and her goals as a big mountain skier.
Explore Big Sky: When and where did you start skiing?
Nehalem Manka: I started skiing when I was about two years old at Mount Bachelor in Oregon. I started ski racing with Big Sky Ski Education Foundation when I was five and have skied at Big Sky ever since.
EBS: When did you start competing in freeride events?
N.M.: I started competing when I was ten and won my first competition which was the Headwaters Spring Runoff. I broke my leg the season after that and wasn’t able to compete, but as soon as I was back on my feet and skiing, I continued competing.
EBS: You finished first in Jackson Hole, your first competition of the 2018 season. How did you feel about your performance? What went right?
N.M.: Jackson Hole was a super fun way to kick off the season and I’m stoked on finishing in first. The snow conditions were great and I got to hit a ton of fun airs. I’m pretty proud of my run on the first day, but there was definitely room for improvement on my second day run.
EBS: What are your goals for the 2018 season?
N.M.: Last season I was super happy to finish 4th overall in North America in the 12-14 division. This season I am excited to be entering the 15-18 division which keeps pushing me to continue improving. One of my main goals is qualifying for the IFSA North American Championships at the end of the season.
EBS: Do you have a favorite venue?
N.M.: I really enjoyed the venue at Taos, New Mexico, last year because of the snow conditions-very carvable-and all of the different line options. I’ve always enjoyed Targhee as well.
EBS: How do you train to be a freeride athlete both in season and offseason?
N.M.: I have a trainer year-round (Lindsey Anderson at Summit PT) who has really helped me to improve my strength. If I have any injuries then she is also the one to help me with that. I also play competitive soccer for Lone Peak High and the Bozeman Blitzz. As far as training during the ski season, I ski as much as I can. While I’m skiing I focus on my form a lot, which I am always trying to improve as it helps to make me a solid skier. I also try to push my limits as far as airs go, hitting airs that might be out of my comfort zone so that I can take bigger airs in general.
EBS: What goes through your head a few moments before dropping in to a competition run?
N.M.: Before I drop in, I run through my line down the venue (the airs I have to hit or any specific terrain features to negotiate) and I like to think about the feeling of actually skiing my run, the quiet, the snow under my skis, etcetera. Both of those things help me prepare for my run.
EBS: What do you consider your strengths as a freeride skier?
N.M.: I raced when I was younger and I think that tremendously improved the foundation of my skiing. I generally have pretty good form, like to take air, and can handle constrictions well.
EBS: Who has helped you along the way to becoming an elite skier? Who do you look for when you need advice?
N.M.: The coaches I have skied with on BSSEF, both the freeride and race coaches, have helped me improve a lot. My dad [Pete Manka] also is a large part of where I am today. He has coached me in freeride ever since I started competing and has spent countless hours going over my runs and scores with me.
EBS: Do you have any sponsors or supporters you want to thank?
N.M.: I’m super stoked to be a team athlete for Coalition Snow, a women’s ski company based in Lake Tahoe, California, and also Flylow Gear. I’d also like to thank Dave and the awesome shop crew at East Slope Outdoors for taking care of my beat-up gear and Scott at Lone Mountain Sports for helping me with my ski boots.
EBS: Any advice for younger skiers who would want to follow in your tracks?
N.M.: Trust in yourself and your abilities. Have fun with the sport and work hard while you’re at it.