By Nathan Ham
Blowing Rock native Luke Winkelmann joined over 50 snowboarders from 27 different countries on December 20 at SunTrust Park in Atlanta for the Visa Big Air competition.
The 18-year-old phenom and member of the United States Ski & Snowboard Team represented his friends, family and community well against some of the other top snowboarders in the world.
“Those guys were pros, every one of them. Luke’s runs were just perfection, we were really really proud of him and he had a big fan club there. Everybody was really proud. Luke had the greatest attitude and is just the nicest young man,” said Reba Moretz, who traveled down to the event with others from the area, including John and Brenda Speckman. Brenda is Reba’s daughter and along with her brother, Brad, co-own Appalachian Ski Mtn. where Luke started out snowboarding as a youngster.
SunTrust Park is the home of the Atlanta Braves, but two weekends ago, the sight of a monster snowboard ramp covered in snow sitting in the outfield is just hard to imagine.
“The stadium setting was really amazing. They had a 15-story structure starting at the centerfield wall with stairs and an elevator. The jumpers would come down somewhere around second base they would take off on their jump and land behind the home plate area,” said John.
The snow used to cover up the ramp was made with liquid nitrogen, according to John. “It was pretty amazing to see.”
Luke had a lot of fans travel down from the High Country to cheer him on.
“We were yelling and cheering for him. When they announced Luke there was always a cheer because so many people there knew him,” John said.
The event had taken place previously in Italy and China and debuted in Atlanta for 2019.
In addition to being at the stadium and watching the breathtaking event, some fans were lucky enough to get the chance to talk to the athletes around the venue.
“It was so interesting to meet the different people there in the hotel where we were staying. So many of the athletes were staying there. You would see people that you’ve read about or seen pictures of and you had a chance to speak to them,” said Reba.
Luke competed in the final heat but did not score high enough to advance to the next round. However, if Luke had been put in the first heat, his score would have been high enough to advance on in the competition. Unfortunately, it was just a little bad luck in the draw for the young snowboarder.
Snowboard big air made its Olympic debut at the Olympic Games PyeongChang 2018 where U.S. Snowboard Team’s own Kyle Mack (West Bloomfield, Mich.) and Jamie Anderson (S. Lake Tahoe, Calif.) walked away with silver medals at the inaugural event. On the heels of snowboard big air’s debut in PyeongChang, freeskiers will make their first Olympic big air appearance at the Beijing Olympic Games in 2022.
Photos taken the day of the event by John Speckman