Truckee’s Jonathan Penfield follows passion onto world stage
Jonathan Penfield stands seemingly above the world as he overlooks the tiny Japanese village of Hakuba.
He has the first run of the day at the Freeride World Tour competition taking place there on Feb. 6, He eyes the rocks below, and which line he’ll take down the steep, natural course.
Penfield, 30, makes good use of the fresh snow, carving his way down as he looks to fill the judges scoring criteria of line, fluidity, control, air and style, and technique.
The highlight comes as he navigates his way to a section of rocks and launches himself roughly 15 feet down to the powder below. Penfield adds in a couple more grabs off natural features before he reaches the bottom of the course.
Admittedly he said it was a conservative run, but his score of 70.00 would hold up through the eight-man field, giving Penfield his first career win on the World Tour.
As a youngster, Penfield grew up skiing and later switched to snowboarding. He joined the Northstar competitive team, and then nine years ago began competing in freeriding events.
“I started doing the regional ones and was enjoying them quite a bit, and started trying to find more around the area,” he said. “Maybe a year or two after that, I heard about the World Tour events. There wasn’t really a way to qualify for those from North America at the time. They all had European qualifying events or invitation only essentially.”
Since then, Penfield has developed into one of the best snowboarders in the sport, currently holding a No. 5 ranking in the Freeride World Tour standings. He qualified for his first World Tour in 2016 and finished third overall. He improved to second overall last season with a top-four finish in each of his five events.
The sport itself has grown to include more events, more riders and steeper stakes. The upward of $8,000 that can be won at larger competitions may not sound like a lot, but it can mean the difference between coming out ahead or behind monetarily at the end of a competition in Europe or Asia.
The cash prize also means the competitors must weigh the risk and reward factors of attempting lines and tricks on snow they may not have ever been down before.
One run decides most competitions.
In order to help fund his competitive aspirations, Penfield, who holds a master’s degree in biochemistry from University of British Columbia, works during the summer months in the fire science field. But when the winter months hit Penfield leaves more lucrative opportunities to follow his passion of picking lines, finding untouched powder, and pushing the edge of his skill set.
“It’s really enjoyable to ride freeriding terrain and good snow. And that’s the riding I do for the most part, and then you add the competition equivalent in,” said Penfield. “I just try to find features that will give me good hang time but are still pretty flowy. I don’t go after a super technical line much. I try to find stuff to ride through more fluidly.”
Among Penfield’s top tricks to throw off features are 540s, 360s, and grabs.
“You want to find something you can land 99 percent of the time,” he said. “As far as what you see in a competition really depends on snow conditions and the features. Definitely people are beginning to push it quite a bit, but it’s all super condition dependent.”
As for the future of the sport, Penfield sees more elements of freestyle riding being added in.
“I want to try to push more creative freestyle lines. I think that’s what a lot of the fans want to see, more creative and freestyle stuff mixed, which is pretty challenging when you’re doing something for the first time,” said Penfield. “Sometimes the takeoffs are not what you’d expect, or the run-in is really awkward and you can’t plan on doing what you need to do.”
Penfield most recently competed on Tuesday in Andorra, and had one of the day’s best runs until a crash derailed him near the bottom of the course.
Penfield finished the event in seventh place.
The Freeride World Tour’s next stop will be in Fieberbrunn, Austria from today through March 15.
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