Editor’s note: This is part of an ongoing series that profiles area residents who live for riding the mountains.
Amy Sheehan had a background in ski racing when, about 10 years ago, she rode into a halfpipe for the first time.
With that history, she thought she should approach the new sport of freeskiing in the only way she knew: as fast as possible.
“I thought I had to go in as fast as I could,” Sheehan said last week at the Snowmass Ski Area. “But I learned quickly that you need to start small before you go big. I didn’t crash, but I did scream the whole way down.”
At 26, she now splits her time between Old Snowmass and New Zealand. A native of Australia, her family moved to New Zealand when she was 9. It was there that she first saw snow. She said she was hooked immediately by skiing.
“In the South Island where I’m from we have the Southern Alps, and all of our weather patterns come from the South Pole so we get some good snow and good skiing,” Sheehan said.
When she’s not in the valley with her fiancee or in New Zealand, she’s often headed to France, Russia or another far-flung locale to compete in freeskiing.
While she competed in the 2010 Aspen X Games, placing 10th in the superpipe, she didn’t get an invitation to this year’s X Games at Buttermilk because she took the summer off.
Sheehan said she needed time to process the death of her good friend, Sarah Burke, a Canadian freeskier who died last year after suffering a brain injury during a practice run.
“That kind of rattled me for a little bit, so I needed a bit of a time-out,” she said. “I was really unsure whether I wanted to keep going. It really did take me six months to figure it out.
“I know she loved the sport so much, and she loved seeing girls get into it, so I know she would want me to keep going.”
Her love of freeskiing also led to the love of her life. She met her fiancé seven years ago at Snowmass, where “I was skiing the pipe and he was grooming it,” Sheehan said.
Their engagement was another reason for her summer off, but Sheehan is now training for the European X Games in March in Tignes, France, and for the Olympics in 2014 as a member of the Australian national team.
Sponsored by Rossignol, she trains at the superpipes at Buttermilk, where she’s also an instructor, and Snowmass.
Sheehan has a modest, genial air about her that belies how hard, and how high, she goes. She and other women freeskiers typically fly 6 to 10 feet out of the pipe during a run.
Judges in the sport gauge a skier’s amplitude, or height off jumps, but also the technical side of the run that encompasses the types of tricks, the execution and how smoothly the skier flowed each trick through the run, she said.
During a run in the superpipe, Sheehan said she is usually listening to music, including reggae if she’s overamped or hip-hop if she needs a pick-me-up.
“For me it’s about staying as calm as possible,” she said. “If I’m too excited I tend to blow up, and music calms me down. It’s also about having as much fun as possible.”
Sheehan believes the superpipe is where Burke would want her to be. But there’s also that older thrill, the one she learned when she first locked into skis.
“I love going fast,” she said. “I just feel so free.”
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