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Daring snow racers tackle national event

Cloquet High School senior Hannah Sandman was still a youngster when she spotted kids doing tricks at the terrain park at Spirit Mountain. Still relatively new to snowboarding, she instantly wanted to join those kids as they flung themselves off jumps and down rails, doing stunts that combine the twists and turns of a gymnast with downhill daring.

Her younger sister, Addison, followed in her footsteps, but with skis rather than the snowboard.

Both sisters and another Cloquet student and snowboarder, TJ Sabyan, recently put their skills to the test on the national stage, competing at the United States of America Snowboard and Freeski Association National Championship at Copper Mountain, Colorado, last month. The competition is basically the first step in the Olympic pipeline for snowboarding and freeskiing.

The three members of the Lake Superior Freestyle team (which practices at Spirit) acquitted themselves well and had a great time.

Addison, 15, placed second in the freeski women's rail jam for ages 15-22 (picture sliding down rails on skis and doing tricks during the dismount). She also placed fourth in the freeski women's competition ages 15-16 and placed fourth overall.

Not bad for her first national competition.

Addison said she was nervous going against girls with more experience.

"I was really scared, for sure," she said. "But then when I practiced for rail jam, I had a big smile on my face the whole time. I guess that definitely helps," she added, referring to her second-place finish.

In her fifth trip to nationals, Hannah, 17, competed in slopestyle in the snowboard youth women (17-18), placing fourth in her age group. Slopestyle involves trips off jumps and terrain park features such as rails, boxes, jobs or other obstacles.

Sayban, 17, competed in Boardercross (BX) and slopestyle in the snowboard men's ages 17-18. TJ placed sixth in slopestyle and was disqualified in BX after he ran over the finishing gate instead of going around it. Also known as snowboard cross, BX is an event in which multiple riders race simultaneously down the same inclined course with banked turns, jumps, berms, drops and other artificial features that test the competitors' balance and control at maximum speeds.

"I was just happy I didn't get hurt, and stayed upright," Sabyan said, adding that he was in second place before the mishap. "I already broke my collarbone twice this year, it really limited me. I couldn't really do any tricks all year."

Except for the one competition toward the end of the season that got him to nationals.

While Addison got pretty nervous at the competition, Hannah and Sabyan said they were more relaxed because they could focus more on enjoying the experience.

"Except it was a little nerve-wracking watching my sister compete," Hannah said. "I almost couldn't watch her run because I didn't want her to fall. I feel like I get more nervous watching my teammates compete than competing myself."

Nicole Sandman walks the same tightrope.

"As a mom, it was so fun and scary to watch them compete at this level," she said. "I want them to land their runs and not get hurt. And when they land that run, it is a sense of relief and joy."

But still they do it, despite the risk of broken bones.

"Even though it's scary, being able to do things that other people can't do - especially as a girl - it's fun," Hannah said. "That, and it gives me something to do. Snowboarding is a really fun thing to do just in general."

In addition to the adrenaline rush he gets when he masters a stunt, Sabyan said he loves snowboarding as a sport, and the friends he has made.

"It's a great community," he said. "I love being part of it."

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