By Nathan Ham
Luke Winkelmann has come a long way since he was first hitting the slopes with his snowboard gear in elementary school.
The Blowing Rock native brought home the silver medal in the snowboard big air event at the 2018 FIS Junior Freestyle Ski & Snowboard World Championships at Cardrona Alpine Resorts in New Zealand on August 26.
The big air event had to be rescheduled due to high winds on the previous day and was delayed well into Sunday with the windy conditions still hanging around. Thankfully for Winkelmann, the wind finally died down and he was able to put on a show.
“The wind stopped out there and it got perfect and I just went at it,” said Winkelmann. “I stomped my first two runs (frontside triple cork 1440 tail grab and a switch backside triple 1260 mute) and I was super hyped with that and now I’m just stoked. I hadn’t landed my switch back 12 all day, didn’t land a single one in practice, so it’s crazy that I landed that in competition. And then I just cruised on my third run.”
The gold medal went to Japan’s Tekeru Otsuka and the bronze went to Canada’s William Buffey.
Luke, 17, started snowboarding at the age of six and has been competing in events since he was nine. His mom, Ashley Winkelmann, said that he started off at Appalachian Ski Mountain competing in the Shred for the Cup before competing in USASA (United States of America Snowboard and Freeski Association) events that took him to several places including Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania early on in his snowboarding career.
During the summer, Luke would travel to Mt. Hood in Oregon for a week-long camp with some of the best young snowboarders in the country.
His success early on and the opportunities provided at Appalachian Ski Mountain helped Luke land sponsorship by the age of eight.
“A lot of credit goes to the Moretz family at Appalachian Ski Mountain. They provided Luke with the opportunity, they encouraged him and helped him get his first sponsorship from Burton. They deserve a lot of credit for really helping Luke,” said Dianne Davant Moffitt, Luke’s grandmother. “When he was a little boy he had no fear of anything. He was born fearless, which made it a little challenging at times to keep him under control. He has always been a wonderful, kind person.”
Ashley was also very complimentary of the Moretz family and Appalachian Ski Mountain.
“Appalachian Ski Mountain and the Moretz family have been very supportive and have really embraced Luke and snowboarding,” she said. “They have great terrain parks for this area and they’ve really put a lot of money into it.”
Appalachian Ski Mountain owner Brad Moretz said that you could see at an early age that Luke had a lot of talent.
“He’s really worked at making his talent into something really special. I know it’s more than just talent, it’s a whole lot of work too,” Moretz said. “I’m happy for Luke that he’s getting to pursue his passion because that’s a really special thing and we’re pleased to see him enjoying the sport so much.”
Drew Stanley, the marketing director at Appalachian Ski Mountain, helped Luke with one of his earliest photo shoots.
“It’s always good to see somebody local that’s really doing big things competing on a national level, it’s exciting for sure,” Stanley said. “Luke was always one of the first kids out in the morning and one of the last to pack it in. It’s been pretty cool to see him progress over the years.
Stanley said that Luke’s optimism, excitement and passion that he showed during his time growing up at Appalachian Ski Mountain was always good to see.
As Luke continued to get better and get older, the competition got better and more traveling was required.
“We knew he was good at snowboarding, we just didn’t know how good. Everybody thinks their kids are really good until your kid gets out there and competes with other kids from all over the world,” Ashley said.
Luke joined the Rev Tour which is a step up from the USASA events he had been competing and doing well in.
“He did really well in that and won the overall in that last year. He started getting invites to World Cup, Grand Prix and U.S. Open events and did well enough in all of those to get an invite to the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team,” said Ashley.
Balancing his blossoming snowboarding career with other aspects of life has been challenging at times. Ashley said Luke went to Watauga High School for one semester as a freshman before having to enroll in online schooling due to all of the travel stops that he had to make. Luke has spent each of the last four winters from January through March training in Colorado and has traveled across the world competing in numerous events in New Zealand, Australia, Czech Republic and Andora among other countries. Despite not going to school in a traditional setting, Ashley said that Luke is on track to graduate a semester early.
“It’s definitely not easy, it’s a lot of traveling and it is time consuming, but I am a flight attendant so that does make it a little easier with traveling,” Ashley said.
Coach Chris Waker worked with Luke in Colorado before he was invited to the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team and is excited for how far his snowboarding career has come at such an early age.
“Luke is a very motivated and driven athlete with a strong work ethic enabling him to achieve his success,” Waker said. “I love the kid, so proud of what he has accomplished and can’t wait to see where he can bring the sport.”
To keep up with Luke and his snowboarding talents, be sure to follow him on Instagram @lukewinkelmann.
Luke’s parents are Ashley and Eric Winkelmann of Blowing Rock. Luke’s grandparents are Melanie and Wink Winkelmann of Boone, Dianne Davant Moffitt of Banner Elk and Duff Armfield of Lenoir. His great grandmother is Harriet Davant of Blowing Rock and his sister is Kylie Winkelmann of Blowing Rock.