Vernon’s Kevin Hill, a member of the Canadian snowboard-cross team, enjoys the view from atop a slope near Ushuaia, Argentina.

Vernon’s Kevin Hill, a member of the Canadian snowboard-cross team, enjoys the view from atop a slope near Ushuaia, Argentina.

Hill digs South American slopes

Vernon's Kevin Hill trains for coming snowboard-cross season on South American slopes.

It was planes, ferries and shuttle buses for snowboarder Kevin Hill on a month-long South American training program with Team Canada.

Hill, who was a forerunner and surprising first alternate at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, hopes for much more at the 2014 Sochi, Russia Winter Games.

And to get there, finding snow in places like Chile, Argentina and Uruguay is all part of the equation. Hill, 26, found the September training easy compared to the travel.

“The 14-hour flight from Toronto to Santiago, not including the Kelowna to Toronto flight, was a huge cultural shock,” said Hill.

The first stop – 50 kilometres and one-and-a-half hours later at the ski resort of El Colorado Chile – was breathtaking to say the least. The overzealous shuttle bus driver who knew no driving limitations, the 38 switchbacks, the wild donkeys mingled with the super narrow road, were all a foretaste to what was ahead.

“The ski resort, sitting at 9,000 feet in the Andes Mountains, was indeed stunning. It literally was a chore to get off the chairlift at 11,000 feet and do up your bindings The snow conditions were a mixed bag of the usual spring skiing; frozen in the morning, turning into slushy, sun-baked afternoons.”

The 11 Canadians then moved to Valle Nevado, Chile, a resort perched at 10,000 feet where, at 12,000 feet, snowboarding “became increasingly tougher as the days wore on.”

Hill said dealing with the cultural differences in food, dehydration and lack of sleep all had their challenges just like the elevation.

Team Canada then flew to Buenos Aires and on to Colonia, Uruguay by ferry for a day off.

“We rented a side-by-side which took us through the streets on the cobblestone roads; time seemed to stand still. The peace and tranquility was short lived though as we were soon jetted forth three-and-a-half hours south of Buenos Aires to the world’s southern most city, Ushuaia, Argentina, where tourists depart for Antarctic adventures and penguins breed offshore from October to April.”

The Canucks then took a rough 45-minute shuttle to Cerro Caster, Argentina for a 14-day stint to conclude the trip.

Hill and company will head to Austria later this month for a two-week camp. The first World Cup snowboard-cross races go Dec. 7-9 in Austria.

A rising star with Team Canada, Hill feels comfortable with all his teammates, most of whom are also trying to find Olympic glory for the first time.

“Rob Fagan (of Cranbrook) is the last veteran left on Team Canada. Him and I get along great but when it comes to training, time trials and heats, we feed off of each other’s energy.

“I act the exact same with the young guns – lots of respect for everyone but when it comes to training I’m out to win no matter what. I hate to lose, even if its just time trials with the team, but I’m not afraid to lose.”

Hill lists his silver in the Winter X Games 15 in Colorado and a win at the U.S. Grand Pix in Utah as 2011 highlights. It was, however, more of an educational season.

“Last year was a major building year. I fell in five out of nine major races. It was pretty disappointing to say the least, but I learned a lot last season and I’m ready to take on the world this winter.”

Once a world-class BMX rider, the 6-foot, 170-pound Hill has made the transition to snowboarding (he started in 2008)with amazing ease.

“It was pretty simple. I started snowboarding at the age of nine and BMX shortly after. I had fun with snowboarding doing freestyle competitions on and off during my teen years. I kept hard at BMX racing all along and the skills from BMX just seemed to cross right over.

“The power I was lacking in BMX with my legs didn’t matter anymore in snowboarding. My snowboard starts were some of the fastest in the world right off the get go and my legs seemed to move quicker then anyone’s. So in the end it all came down to the love of speed, adrenaline and air time.”

Sponsors help Hill avoid working nine-to-five. He also rates government funding.

“As a carded Canadian athlete, we make $1,500 a month. I’d like to say I’m making a decent living but when you have a tough season without any wins, it is tough make any money. Any sponsors we can pick up along the way is a huge bonus. Its a tough sport to make money at but I’m trying very hard to round up sponsors leading up to Sochi 2014.”

Hill is ranked 29th in the World Cup standings and 31st by the FIS (International Ski Federation).

For his South American training tour, he sends a big shout out to “Rancho Vignola for providing great wholesome food throughout the trip, Bio-X Nutrition for supplements, Fitness Maxx for providing a great place to train and keep in shape and Oakley for all the warm winter gear.”

Vernon Morning Star