‘‘It feels like I’m flying.” Thats what 6-year-old Jed Waters’ response was to his dad’s inquiry as to what it felt like to go off ski jumps and launch 60 feet through the air. Now, 10 years later, the Sun Valley, native is one of the nation’s top slopestyle skiers.
To look at this 16-year-old’s accomplishments, one has to shift scales. Self-driven and encouraged by his parents, Lamar and Karen, Waters started competing in skiing, snowboarding, hockey, and skateboarding shortly after he could walk. Lamar first put his son on skis and took him out to the rope tow at Rotarun in Hailey when he was 3. Soon, Waters was on Dollar Mountain in Sun Valley, tearing up the hill in group ski lessons.
Waters raced in Kindercups—the local ski race put on for 3- to 12-year-olds—and won his age groups in skiing and snowboarding. He primarily snowboarded from age 6 to 10 and excelled rapidly. However, both he and his dad distinctly remember a day watching the Sun Valley Ski Team when Waters got the ski bug.
“We were on the chairlift and watching the Sun Valley race team practice gates on Dollar,” Lamar said. “Jed was on a snowboard at the time, and he said, ‘I want to go put on skis.’ We give him total freedom and never try to force anything, trusting his instincts will take care of it, so we went to get his skis from the car. Then, we get off the lift, and he makes the most beautiful racing turn I’ve ever seen—perfectly angulated, shoulders downhill. I said, ‘Jed, that was awesome. Where’d you learn how to do that?’ and he replied, ‘Well, I was just watching those skiers go down and did what they were doing.’”
As Waters remembered it: “I went … back to skiing after I saw a bunch of racers training on the mountain. It looked much more fun to me. I imagined having more freedom on two pieces of wood, rather than one.”
Waters stands out as being the epitome of an extraordinary visual learner. Teaching himself tricks on his backyard trampoline and in the park, Waters fueled an innate passion for slopestyle, a ski and snowboard event in which competitors make their way through a course of jumps, rails, and other terrain park features. Competitors are judged based on technical ability, style, uniqueness and amplitude of tricks.
Waters entered competitions for a couple of years as an independent and began taking top finishes. Mostly self-taught, he literally watched people in the terrain park, studied online videos, and practiced every chance he could. Perhaps a better term for “practice” for Waters is, “just having fun.”
“In some cases you land it, and in some cases you don’t,” he said. “Sometimes you don’t podium, and you can build off of that and do better. The competitions are serious, but they’re not competitive in terms of skiers against each other. We’re just skiing with friends, seeing what best tricks we can do, and having fun.”
Waters started training with the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation (SVSEF) and made it to Junior Nationals and Nationals at age 14. Last year, Waters won second place at Nationals, 10th place at Junior Nationals, and excelled at Rev Tours, the Toyota-sponsored event for top junior riders at resorts across the U.S.
After last season, Waters received an invite from Windells Academy ski coach Brian McCarthy to become part of their 2017-2018 winter program. Waters couldn’t turn down the offer.
Windells Academy is a ski, snowboard, and skateboard facility at Mount Hood, Ore., where students take their classes online to allow for more flexibility in training and for competitions. The facility is home to a giant air bag—onto which skiers practice aerials—the year-round glaciers of Mount Hood, and a 15,000-square-foot indoor skateboard facility. There are currently 10 kids on the free-ski team. Waters said that they’re all really good friends, enjoying every minute of long van rides, living in an old motel-turned-dorm, and bombing down anything on skis together.
“Some of the best times on skis are when you watch someone learn a new trick or when you learn a new trick. That’s what we ski for,” beamed Waters. “Everyone is falling and laughing and having the time of their lives. That’s what the skiing I do is all about.”
Highlighting his love of skiing, Waters added with a big smile, “I like how much freedom we have with our sport. When we ski, we just express ourselves. Our style and everything we do is expressing ourselves. I ski to clear my head. If there’s any problems, I just want to go skiing and get them out. It takes my mind off things to just go and have fun. It’s all about having fun.”
Waters’ “fun” includes launching into his two current favorite tricks: the “Cork 900 Stale Fish,” in which he spins 900 degrees while grabbing his left ski behind his back with his right hand and simultaneously doing a flip, and a Double Cork 1,260, in which he flips twice while also spinning 1,260 degrees.
Head Coach Wynn Berns of Windells points out that Waters definitely has Olympic potential. Described as having “quiet confidence,” and, unbeknownst to him, admired by teammates as a leader, Waters appreciates his roots and will forever call Sun Valley one of his favorite places to ski. On one of the many car rides to the mountain, Lamar remembers telling his son about his own journey of growing up in Tennessee, moving to Mackay, Boise, and finally Sun Valley, to which the 8-year-old Waters responded, “Dad, I’m so glad you found this place.”