Tricks in winter action sports are like one gigantic tumbling snowball. They just keep getting bigger and bigger. I mean, what’s happening to action sports? Couple weeks ago, professional snowboarder, Luke Mitrani jokingly said, “I'm scared; I'm scared for next year. I need to quit now," when we asked about the progression of snowboarding. Now, with the rise of the freeskiing movement, halfpipe and slopestyle events have boomed in popularity. When we hear about these mini pubescent shred-miesters winning Grand Prix comps and with the Rev Tour finishing up last week, it gets us thinking:
What does it take to become a professional athlete?
We got a chance to sit down with 17-year-old Atlanta transplant who has gained Steamboat local status, Penn Lukens, for a little Q&A matinee to get an idea of what it’s like on the road to pro. This is what he had to say:
Q: When did you start skiing?
A: “Man, I started skiing when I was three-years-old.”
Q: How did you get to where you are now?
A: “It was definitely with a lot of hard work and commitment. My club team (Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club) has been great for pushing me to the next level. All the guys from Steamboat, Aspen, Winter Park, and Vail have just been pushing so hard this past year which makes you step it up. It’s great to come to Copper with their early pipe and park and do a couple sessions at Woodward at Copper to learn new tricks during the season and summer.”
Q: Speaking of Woodward at Copper, how's the new park and pipe this year?
A: “The park is sick. Woodward at Copper is doing an awesome job this year. The pipe is always nice to ride at Copper but I really like the funky features they put in the park that make you think about what you’re going to throw down. It lets you be creative and piece together your line.”
Q: Are there any new tricks you've been working on to add to your big satchel of tricks?
A: “Yeah, I’ve been working on my cork 10 in the pipe to land it consistently in competition. Right now, I have the cork 9 but want to be more comfortable before I try it in competition.”
Q: Are you nervous about how fast the progression is going in winter action sports and where freeskiing is headed?
A: “It puts a little pressure on everyone in the sport but I think everyone is also excited to see where things are headed.”
Q: Tell me about last year. It was a pretty big year for you, right?
A: "Yeah, last year I won the 2011 FIS North American (NorAm) URTUR Grand Prix which qualified me for the 2011 FIS World Cup Finals Men’s Halfpipe in March at La Plagne, France. I came in 10th so that was pretty awesome. Before that, I also qualified for the 2011 USST (United States Ski Team) Junior World Championships in New Zealand for SkiCorss. I finished 19th overall had a good time over there."
Q: Out of all the different events (Slopestyle, SkiCross, Halfpipe), which is your favorite?
A: “Oh man, it's close between SkiCross or Halfpipe but I would have to say my favorite is halfpipe because you can keep pushing your limits and keep going bigger.”
Q: How was the U.S. Grand Prix? What’s it like in that kind of atmosphere?
A: “It’s just a whole another level. I mean when the guy in front of you dropping in got first in the Olympics and guy behind you got 3rd in the U.S. Grand Prix last year; the bar is raised to a completely different level.”
Q: What's your standard run in pipe?
A: “The first hit I usually do some type of flair with a grab, 7, switch 7, then a flair. These all have grabs I just don’t know what they are. I figure it out when I’m upside-down I guess. Then I usually throw a right 5, and end with a cork 9 or 10.”
Q: What's your schedule look like rest of the year?
A: "My schedule is going to east and west coast for competitions and hopefully some more in Europe. Mainly Rev Tour with Northstar at Tahoe coming up and the U.S. Grand Prix in Mammoth."
Q: Do you have any goals for this year?
A: “The goal has always been making it to the X-Games. It’s the best competition for SkiCross I think and hopefully I'll do well again this year in the FIS World Cup standings.”
Q: What would you say to someone who is new to the whole competition scene? How would they get involved?
A: "Don't worry about what other people think. If you fall down just get back up and keep doing the same trick until you stomp it. It will happen and it's the best feeling ever. Also, enter as maybe competitions as possible. You can't get better unless you practice."
Q: Is there anyone out there you would like to thank?
A: Yeah, all my sponsors: Surefoot, Chaos Headwear, Fleischer Sports of Steamboat, OnTheSnow.com, S4 Sunglasses, PARKA, Fits Sock Company, and Armada Skis. They help me out all year and couldn’t do it without them.
-Photo Credit: Josh Satterfield
Q: What about Mom & Dad?
A: “Them too of course.”
Here is a picture of Lukens rippin' it up at eighth annual Revolution Tour at Copper Mountain. The Rev Tour provides ground for up-and-coming athletes looking for a chance to compete against their peers on the national stage. Copper was the first stop of the 2012 Tour. Here are some more pictures from the Rev Tour.