Top-ranked skier from MarcellusPublished 8:13pm Tuesday, March 12, 2013
JONES — Marcellus freestyle aerial skier Zachary Surdell returned to Swiss Valley Tuesday evening before departing for the March 20 Junior World Aerial Freestyle Skiing Competition in Italy ranked No. 1 in the world for his age.
His sights set on the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, Surdell, 14, now lives year-around in Lake Placid, N.Y., training as a member of the U.S. Ski Team development squad.
Two years ago, he had never skied anywhere but Swiss Valley.
He would be a Marcellus High School freshman, but maintains a straight-A average taking classes through an elite online school, Advanced Academics.
Zachary started skiing at 6. After a year, he tried ski racing, but “realized it was not my sport. I was always more intrigued in the slipping and twisting portion of skiing.”
Thirty feet off the ground!
In photos, it’s hard to tell where the ground stops and the sky starts.
It’s just treetops and Zach, looking like he fell from an airplane. The sensation makes him “want to” parachute and bungee jump.
“I thought freestyle park skiing was the sport for me. After competing for about five years, I wanted something new. I was 13 when I saw freestyle aerial skiing on television. They did more flips and went higher, and I thought this would be perfect for me.”
He began training at 44-year-old Swiss Valley with freestyle coach Mark Osborne, who relinquished him to Bill Harris of Chesterland, Ohio, who had a summer training facility in his yard, where Zachary honed basic tricks.
Next, he went to a camp at Lake Placid, where he worked to perfect his single back flips, then took them to snow the next winter.
Zach has exceeded Harris’ expectations.
“There’s no limit to how far he can go,” the 26-year coach says. “If he stays healthy and works hard, he’ll be an Olympian one day.”
It’s too dangerous to backflip in snow until a skier learns the technique, so they teach on water in pools with big ramps made of a plastic snow-like material that catapult them into the air.
Last summer, Zachary was rewarded with a spot on the development team.
“Now, I am competing with two variations of single twisting double back flips internationally on the North American tour, where Japan, Great Britain, Australia, Canada and the United States also compete,” he said.
He posted good enough competition results to forerun in the 2013 Lake Placid World Cup and the Junior Worlds outside of Milan.
His first trip overseas costs $4,500, which is why Swiss Valley’s chalet was full March 12 for a fundraiser catered by Bread and Chocolate in Goshen to defray travel, training and coaching costs.
“As I continue the sport of aerials,” Zachary said, “I will set goals for each season. I would like to get two new tricks a year, all with higher degree of difficulty than the tricks last year.”
Someday, he aims to achieve the feat of five twists and three flips only accomplished by the Chinese and American No. 1 Dylan Ferguson.
“A twist is like a spin, a flip is straight over backwards,” Zachary said.
He is not even allowed to attempt a “triple” until he turns 17.
Amazingly, Zachary has a teammate at Lake Placid also from Marcellus, Dakota Fochs.
They log time on trampolines as part of their rigorous instruction under the guidance of coaches such as Eric Bergoust, 1998 Olympic gold medalist in Nagano, Japan.
As two of 15 athletes invited to the talent identification camp, their meals and lodging covered, they push each other to excel.
Zachary has three older sisters, Alexa, Kyleigh and Brianna.
He played football, baseball and basketball through middle school.
“It’s been a wild ride,” Zachary’s dad, Al Surdell, said.
Little hills, big results
JONES — Besides Italy-bound Zach Surdell, ranked No. 1 in the world for aerial freestyle skiers 14 and under, Swiss Valley produced five other skiers and snow boarders who received regional and national rankings to compete at national and international levels, including Lake Placid, N.Y., Copper Mountain, Colo., and Salt Lake City, Utah.
They include Dakota Fochs, 16, of Marcellus, Zachary’s development teammate in Lake Placid; Tyson New, 14, of Marcellus, nationally ranked 20 of 297; Gavin Francis, 19, of Cassopolis, nationally ranked 12 of 113; and John Riopel, a Three Rivers native who lives in Pingree, Ill., and was an aerialist with the 2006 U.S. Freestyle Ski Team.
Swiss Valley also has four NASTAR national qualifiers in Sydney Klaer, 6, of Mishawaka; Payton Klaer, 9, of Mishawaka; Alexa Pfister, 9, of Elkhart; and Spencer Dexter, 9, of Elkhart.
NASTAR is an acronym for NAtional STAndard Race, the world’s largest known recreational ski and snowboard race program.