Twelve of the world’s best freeride snowboarders competed in Kappl, Austria, at the Freeride Junior World Championships, and Jackson Hole was represented.
Jackson Hole Ski and Snowboard athlete Will Mercer was one of the dozen invitees to the March 22 event. He placed fifth at the U.S. national championships last winter to earn a spot to compete with the world’s best.
“Everybody was there,” said Mercer, 17. “All the people who were the best were there. I wasn’t nervous, though. I was just really ready to ride some good snow. It’s a mix of fearing for your life a little bit and wanting to ride some good snow.”
Mercer and club coach Lance Pitman made the trip halfway around the world to ride steep cliffs and gun for a world title. It was a renowned event, but the environment was hardly controlled.
“Two days before the competition I planned my run and had the intention of doing this certain line,” he said. “And a day before the competition I saw it had completely slid and broke.”
A 2-foot crown was left at the top of the line Mercer and Pitman had picked out for the competition. The event didn’t allow riders to do on-course inspection. Riders and coaches were forced to choose their line while looking at the mountain through binoculars from the base, as well as examining photos.
Mercer competed in an event in Jackson this winter and approached the local event the same way he did in Austria. He prepared himself by choosing his line from the base, instead of sideslipping the course as he was allowed to.
When it came to honing his riding, he didn’t need to get cute with his preparation. The perfect training ground for the competition sat right here in Teton Village.
“I didn’t even really have to train,” Mercer said. “Just going out and snowboarding this mountain is training enough.”
The Freeride Junior World Champion was determined by one run and one run only. Mercer had a new line picked out but had trouble following his planned path, Pitman said.
“He got a little bit confused about one of his drop-in points about a third of the way down,” Pitman said, “He missed a feature that was going to guide him into the rest of his line. After he missed that first feature I think he was just kind of lost in his routefinding.”
Despite having chosen a new line just 24 hours before the event, Mercer still went big. He maneuvered his way down the 1,430-vertical-foot course before jumping off one of the biggest cliffs any of the seven riders had dropped off of before him.
“I just saw this cliff and saw a snowboarder’s track off of there,” Mercer said. “I’m like, ‘It can’t be too bad.’ My trajectory was off by just a little bit and I landed. It was a little bit of hot snow, just sun-beat, and it pretty much just stopped me right in my tracks.”
Mercer hit the snow and immediately went into a tumble. His day was done, but he threw a meaningless trick into his run right before the finish line nonetheless.
The high school junior said he had a blast and hopes to return to the competition a year from now. Just over two years ago Mercer was honing his snowboarding by cruising on his four-wheeler to find wind lips outside his home in Riverton.
He moved to Jackson and has been with the Ski Club for two seasons. He’s honored to keep Jackson’s strong freeride tradition afloat on the international stage.
“No one from Jackson had gotten an invitation to Austria before,” Mercer said. “I’m really proud of that. That’s the reason why I started: to go new places like this and show that Jackson Hole is still on the map as far as freeride goes.”