When Casey Tratz wants to simply get away from it all, he grabs his snowboard and hits Mount Ashland for hours at a time.
In his mind, there's just something about being in the open terrain that just seems to do the trick.
The 16-year-old South Medford junior had no idea that getting away like that might actually take him somewhere one day, and yet here he is only a few days from competing at the USASA National Championships at Copper Mountain in Colorado. The event begins Saturday and runs through April 4.
"I'm super excited," Tratz said Monday of his impending trip. "I'm trying to take snowboarding to the next level and hopefully do something with it."
Tratz qualified for nationals in the halfpipe during a meet at Mount Bachelor in February. In the Junior Men's (16-17) Division, the 5-foot-61/2, 134-pounder is ranked 30th in the nation in the halfpipe by the United States of America Snowboard Association.
Not bad for a kid whose training is almost nonexistent.
"Mount Ashland doesn't have a halfpipe so I have nothing to practice on," he said. "The only halfpipe around here is Mount Bachelor and that's a 31/2-hour drive. Mount Shasta sometimes has a halfpipe but they didn't get any snow this year or last year."
Tratz said he's probably only ridden the halfpipe in 10 sessions but that certainly hasn't stopped him from excelling in the event. During the Oregon Interscholastic Snowboard Association (OISA) state championships on March 13-16 at Mount Bachelor, Tratz secured his second straight state title in the halfpipe.
At the four-day OISA event, Tratz also placed second in the boardercross, 11th in the banked slalom competition and had to settle for 18th in the slopestyle after falling on both of his runs.
"I like to do slopestyle, which is jumps and rails, but halfpipe is what I'm best at I would say," said Tratz, who turns 17 in May. "I would like to progress more in the jumps and rails and get better at that, though."
Tratz said he first got into snowboarding about seven years ago when his sister, Chelsey, asked him to go up with her to Mount Ashland and give it a go. A lifelong skateboarder, Tratz took to snowboarding like a duck to water.
"It's definitely similar," he said. "Going up a 22-foot wall when you're having to jump out and back into it, skating helps a lot with all that. Skating is really good conditioning for the knees and your back and helps you with the momentum when you're pushing down the pipe or when you have to suck your knees up. I don't think I'd be decent at halfpipe at all if I didn't skate."
And that, in essence, is where Tratz gets most all of his training.
"I skateboard, that's basically it," he said. "I have a halfpipe in my garage I like to skate but skateboarding stops when snowboarding season is around. I'm just as good at skating as snowboarding but it's not the same feeling, you don't get away when you're skating like you do when your snowboarding."
Tratz said his success on the snow has come from being fearless when it comes to his tricks and desire to go bigger and with more variation than the others.
"The judges look for style and variation, like is he spinning different ways every time and does he have a bigger bag of tricks than everybody else," he said, "and I just try to use that to my advantage and impress the judges."
From big air at the start to a backside 540 with a Mute grab and a switch 720 — using a variety of spins in between — Tratz was able to produce scores of 201 and 207 to repeat as the state's halfpipe champion. His top score of 207 was well ahead of runner-up Teddy Schein of St. Mary's, who scored a 177.
"The thing is the halfpipe is 22 feet big and I feel like most of those guys are a little scared of it," said Tratz, who has mainly been coached by Mark Harris the past few years. "I like to skate pools and bowls and stuff and I'm used to it so it's more of an advantage to me."
He'll be looking to use all those skills to the best of his ability this weekend and has even more inspiration these days. His mother Crystal was diagnosed with breast cancer two months ago and had surgery for it on Monday.
"She's doing good right now; she's smiling so it's good to see that," he said shortly after seeing his mom in the recovery room. "They're getting to it quick so hopefully they got it before it got to spread."
"I'll definitely be wearing the pink ribbon at nationals to support my mom," added Tratz. "I'm going to put it on my board and my helmet for her."
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry