Written by: Emma Brice
With the winter season and another La Niña just around the corner, we are stoked to announce the addition of a Freeride Competition program to Crystal. After several years of the mountain taking a step back from the freeride scene, our new Ski & Ride School Director, Michael Birch-Jones (MBJ), and Assistant Director, Tracy Thomsen, are eager to build a program that showcases the local talent and expansive terrain that we have here at Crystal Mountain. Read on to learn more about Tracy and MBJ’s experience, background, and vision for leading Crystal into the competitive freeride world!
The Freeride Competition program existed at Crystal Mountain until 2018 when the resort was bought by Alterra Mountain Company. Since 2021, Crystal’s Ski & Ride school leadership has been working to phase the program back into their offerings. The competition program will focus on how to ski big lines and hit features for which they’ll be judged on their technique, fluidity, and style. Over the course of 12 weeks, freeride competition athletes ages 11 to 18-years-old will strengthen their skills and confidence on challenging terrain to prepare to compete at big mountain venues across the Pacific Northwest region.
Tracy Thomsen, Crystal’s new Ski & Ride School Assistant Director, has been in the ski industry for 18 years. He began his career in 2004 at Crystal Mountain as a frontline snowboarding instructor. After three seasons at Crystal, he moved to Oregon to transition into a full-time level 1 instructor at Timberline and Hood Meadows, eventually taking on a supervisory role for the children’s programs at Hood Meadows. As they were just starting to integrate freeride programs into their ski & ride school, Thomsen took on developing the curriculum and grew it into a 250-student program. He worked at Hood Meadows for 9 years and was in a technical director position at Timberline for 6 years.
When asked about the launch of the Crystal freeride competition program, Tracy said, “I’m excited to get a team together to go competitions and build the momentum to grow into a gigantic beast that rivals other big freeride mountains regionally, nationally, and internationally. I’m most looking forward to developing community with the mountain again back where I started. I’m excited to build that relationship again.”
Thomsen will be pivotal not only in developing the freeride competition program, but also in bringing snowboard training to students and instructors. One of his main goals is to have a strong training program for instructors to further their own development and continuing education to provide the best possible training to students.
Michael Birch-Jones (MBJ) will take charge as Director of Ski & Ride School after serving four seasons at Crystal Mountain. Birch-Jones brings a wealth of knowledge and background to Crystal after having worked 35 ski seasons in five different locations including New Zealand, Canada, Chile, Europe and the United States. Michael’s the lead clinician in PSIA-NW (Pro Ski Instructors of America) with the Senior Specialists committee, as well as actively supporting the Children’s Specialist Committee. For the past 11 years, he has been a member of divisional staff with PSIA-NW and is a PSIA alpine level 3 since 2003.
“My main goals are to build a strong team of instructors, providing the utmost knowledge and skill, while giving students a successful and fun learning experience, and to grow the freeride program into the most prestigious in the Pacific Northwest. I am looking forward to my transition from an operational role to steering the future direction of Crystal’s Ski & Ride School over the next 3 to 5 years,” said Birch-Jones.
With these two new experienced leaders taking the lead, Crystal is looking forward to the growth of the freeride competition program as they make a name for themselves in the national freeride world. Registration is now open for programs beginning the first week of January.