SNOWBASIN — In just his second year as a professional, Justin Morgan has already had a taste of what every competitive snowboarder strives for.
At January’s Winter Dew Tour stop in Killington, Vt., Morgan did well enough in the snowboard slopestyle event to take third, earning him his first trip to the podium as a pro. In getting there, he beat out several veterans and headliners of the sport — names like Chas Guldemond, Mark Mcmorris and Danny Davis.
Morgan is originally from upstate New York, where he cut his snowboarding teeth at the small resort of West Mountain. He is based in Breckenridge, Colo. these days, but trains with the Wasatch Project, an Ogden-based group that helps get young snowboarders and skiers ready for competition.
Morgan will have a chance to add more hardware at next week’s Winter Dew Tour Toyota Championships at Snowbasin, where the overall season Dew Cup winners will be decided. After his podium finish at Killington, Morgan currently sits in sixth place in the overall standings for his sport. Depending on how he and those above him on the list perform, he could end up taking the cup home at age 22.
Last year at Snowbasin, he finished first in the semifinal round, but was unable to capitalize in the finals. Like any competitor, his goal is to win first place, but just making a podium in one of the world’s premier slopestyle competitions was a big step.
“It was amazing,” he said of the feeling of standing on the podium at Killington. When I was a kid, I never thought this was possible. But I’m hungry for more now.”
He said his time with the Wasatch Project and coach Dustin Linker, of Ogden, has been invaluable to his development as a pro rider.
“He gets you where you need to be — in the right mindset to make a podium happen,” he said. “He loves boarding just as much as the riders. He’s been there and done it, so he has a good knowledge and feel for the sport.”
Morgan isn’t the only person with Utah ties making a splash on the Dew Tour this year. Salt Lake City resident Tom Wallisch, a regular podium finisher in freeski slopestyle, is well on his way to a second Dew Cup after taking first in both Breckenridge and Killington this season.
While they have been mathematically eliminated from Dew Cup contention this season, Park City’s Joss Christensen and Alex Schlopy are legitimate threats on any given day in freeski slopestyle.
Snowboard superstar Louie Vito, who also lives in Salt Lake City, sits in second place in the superpipe category after finishing second in each of the first two stops. He trails leader Iouri Podladtchikov by just two points heading into next week’s finals.
“I love the Winter Dew Tour because you can always count on having the best halfpipes and slopestyle courses, with the world’s top athletes doing what they do best,” said Vito, who took home the cup last season.
On the women’s side, veterans like Kelly Clark, Gretchen Bleiler and Kaitlyn Farrington are once again among the leaders and favorites in snowboard superpipe. In snowboard slopestyle, Spencer O’ Brien leads the pack, but perennial favorite Jamie Anderson is well within reach.
In women’s freeskiing, double-threat Devin Logan currently sits at second in both superpipe and slopestyle.
Most of the tour’s top competitors are established veterans, but stories like Morgan’s illustrate the value of the Winter Dew Tour to up-and-coming athletes. Among other things, the tour collaborates with the amateur Gatorade Free Flow Tour, which has its own circuit, but also holds some events at Dew Tour competitions.
The top competitors on the Gatorade tour get a chance to compete on the Dew Tour circuit, where the real cash and prizes start to come in.
Now in its fourth season, the tour has become the premier forum for amateurs looking to break into the professional ranks, said Dan Skivington, ski competition director for the tour.
“It’s the equivalent of having a kid go and play for the Yankees for a day, and if he gets a hit, he’s on the team,” Skivington said.
Last year, more than 44,000 people visited Snowbasin from Thursday through Sunday for the final event of the 2010-11 Toyota Championships, making it second only to the 2002 Winter Olympics among the largest winter sports events in Utah’s history, according to the Utah Sports Commission.
The tour has grown each year, both in terms of the caliber of the athletes and the number of fans attending and watching, so there’s no reason to believe the bar won’t be set even higher this time around, said Chris Prybylo, general manager of the Dew Tour for Alli Sports, which organizes the tour.
“Utah is absolutely fantastic and the crowds have exceeded our expectations once again,” Prybylo said. “We have great support from the Utah Sports Commission, and the fans, local government, venues and the community are terrific. We are happy to be in Utah.”
The 22-foot superpipe will be the centerpiece of the action once again on Saturday, Feb. 11, with snowboard finals in the afternoon and freeski finals in the evening.
As for the slopestyle course, the last stop on the tour may prove to be the easiest. Slopestyle courses at all three stops have some variations, not only in the rail features, but in the number of jumps.
In the first stop at Breckenridge, the course had four jumps. Killington had three jumps, and Snowbasin will have two.
“You would think the toughest course would be on the last stop, but it’s the other way around,” Morgan said. “But (Snowbasin) did such a killer job with the course last year, so it’s gonna be a lot of fun.”
Dew Tour festivities begin next Thursday, Feb. 9 with a festival village on the mountain featuring vendor booths and entertainment. The competition itself is Feb. 10-12.
All competitions are free and open to the viewing public. For those who can’t make it, NBC and its sports network will be televising many of the events nationwide.