Written by: Anna Bernard
To build something up from the ground is rarely easy. To do it with class, ease and even steeze is less common. The three women behind the University of Denver’s Freeride Club broke boundaries by creating one of the most inclusive and fast-growing clubs the university has yet to see.
With already 40 members in the club’s first year, co-founders, Jill Thomas, Alisa Braun and Rachel Ryan helped kick the team into motion, despite being completely new to the freeride realm of skiing.
Rachel Ryan, Alisa Braun and Jill Thomas tabling at the club’s first-ever Rail Jam. 2017. Photo: Alisa Braun.
“The idea of the club happened last year, I knew there was a big community at DU of awesome skiers and I wanted there to be a platform for all of us to be connected,” said Thomas. “A bunch of people had tried to start this club, it had just never been pushed enough to get approved by the school. All three of us were new to freeride and big-mountain.”
Jill Thomas getting air at Copper Mountain. 2017. Photo: Jill Thomas.
While the original intent was to get a women’s team going, the trio realized there was a greater need to include everyone, not just the girls. “We all want to ski together and there is such an opportunity to learn off of each other, it just felt like it made the most sense to include everyone,” said Ryan.
The club is a concoction of male and female riders, skiers and snowboarders; athletes new to freeride, as well as riders who are sponsored and have been at it for years. With every story, all three women always came back to the same point: it’s a community, it’s a family, and ultimately, a huge group of snow-seeking kids having fun.
Some of the team enjoying warm days at Arapahoe Basin. 2016. Photo: Jill Thomas.
“We want to build people up, help them out and build community,” said Thomas. “At our practices, the best part for me is just seeing where everyone is at and getting so excited for them. Even if you land a trick that is new to you and maybe not the hardest trick, the entire team is on their feet cheering you on, stoked that you landed it.”
Of course, with new beginnings, challenges are seemingly present at every corner. While the club has gained immense popularity both by the campus as well as the Red Bull Bracket Reel, DU Freeride has been a road of trial and error.
“The hardest is that we have this vision of how we want things to be, and know what we want to accomplish by seeing all of these incredible athletes and organizations like SheJumps, and we know we are so close to making this dream so awesome, and sometimes it falls short, which is really difficult,” said Braun. “But we also try to keep in mind that we’ve never done this before.”
While success doesn’t come overnight, the team itself seems to have an incredible strong start. Meeting the goals of so many different athletes is challenging, regardless how new the team is, but finding the sense of community as quickly and as genuine as DU Freeride has, seemed natural.
“When we had our first practice and I saw everyone encouraging each other, it was such a genuine moment of community to see everyone helping each other out, that was when I knew we did it, we helped make this happen.” said Thomas “This community right here is what it’s all about.”
Ryan explained how she used to get so frustrated when skiing with her guy friends, never being able to understand why she couldn’t hit cliffs or rails the way the boys did, despite her desire to.
Some of the ladies of DU Freeride at Jackson Hole. 2017. Photo: Jill Thomas.
“There was an article where Angel Collinson discusses the differences between male and female skiers,” said Ryan. “And she just discussed how the mentality might just be a little bit different but that’s okay, women are just as rad as guys…there isn’t this huge disparity. It just stresses on that mentality that we can do anything a guy can do…it might be a different process and that is totally okay. The community supports that, each person is likely to take a different approach to their line and that is completely welcome.”
These women clearly couldn’t imagine a life without this sport and want to create a club that students at DU couldn’t imagine their college experience without. Regardless of gender, skill or style, the DU Freeride team wants skiers and riders to share that passion and to grow with one another.