by Aaron Bible

Eldora Athlete Invited to Freeeride Junior Worlds Championship

Local rider, Catherine Darrow, on how snowboarding has lit her fire.

Catherine Darrow started snowboarding at Eldora with family friends when she was just 7 years old. Before that, she had had a few ski lessons, but it was snowboarding that really lit her fire.

Kyle Henley, a friend of the Darrows, would take her up on weekends from Boulder with a small group of kids, and Catherine’s parents say jokingly that they blame him for their daughter’s love of snowboarding. 

That passion for getting kids on the mountain quickly morphed into what is now Progresh—a unique Denver-based action sports facility for kids—but before that, Henley used to take a small group of kids up to Eldora for a mini-group lesson once a week. He’s a natural coach and a natural with kids, especially kids who like to do things differently, says Catherine’s mom Julie Darrow. 

Fast forward a decade later, and this season, Catherine was invited to the Freeride Junior World Championships in Kappl, Austria, and will travel there at the end of January to represent U.S. among 15 other countries. 

If this story doesn’t sound too unusual to you yet, it might be helpful to know that Catherine was diagnosed with autism at age 5. Catherine, or SnowCat as her teammates sometimes call her, turned 18 in November. Historically she’s not much one for nicknames, as she prefers rules and order and for things to be called their proper names. “But her freeride team called her SnowCat because there was another Catherine on the team. To differentiate, she is SnowCat and her teammate is SkiCat,” Julie says.

After a couple of years riding with Kyle, Catherine’s parents signed her up for private lessons with Eldora’s Ric Widenor, and the one-on-one attention really allowed Catherine to shine, but got expensive pretty quickly. Then the Darrow’s found out about Ignite Adaptive Sports at Eldora, and Catherine took lessons with Ignite for 3 years, riding a couple times per week with them. 

Eventually their scheduler told Julie she was too fast and her instructors couldn’t keep up with her, and suggested private coaching. “So we called Matt Tomasko at Eldora Mountain Ski Club. I told him she loved snowboarding and wanted to compete, and he welcomed us to join their only snowboard program at the time, the alpine snowboard team,” she says.

“I told him she was on the autism spectrum and he encouraged me to bring her out to Chute for a practice to see if it’s a good fit with coaches Matt Drinker and Jonathan Smith,” Julie says, and now Catherine is in her 5th year with EMSC. In addition to the alpine snowboard team, she joined the Freeride team the first year it was offered. Her love of all things extreme made this an obvious choice.

“We are so grateful for the support we have gotten from Eldora and the EMSC,” says Julie. (EMSC is the Eldora Mountain Ski Club -- those bright red EMSC jackets you see on the mountain) “And there are so many other individuals and groups that have helped Catherine along the way. We’re looking forward to another epic season at Eldora!” Catherine’s EMSC Coach Rachel Celesta will also be on the trip to Austria in January. 

In addition to all these incredible programs, for the last three years Catherine has participated in the Special Olympics regional games, hosted at Eldora. One of the coaches at USASA Nationals suggested that she participate back in 2016. “We signed her up in Feb 2017 for her first games, and now she looks forward to it every year,” mom continues. Catherine has won gold medals at the regional and state games in Copper Mountain for Giant Slalom and Slalom three years in a row, with Jonathan Smith as her coach at SOCO every year. 

Now in her senior year in high school, after all these monumental efforts and hard work from so many people, especially her, she has received an invitation to Freeride Junior Worlds Championship. “Sports, especially snowboarding, have been a huge influence in teaching her so many life skills and lessons about what you can do with hard work, no matter who you are or what challenges you have,” Julie says.

“The most exciting thing about going to Austria is competing at a higher level and visiting another country and continent,” Catherine says. “I want to snowboard as long as I can competitively...and I always dreamed that I would travel the world as a snowboarder.”

When on her home mountain, you might find her freeriding in Brian’s Glades or ripping fast groomers on Corona Bowl.

“Without Eldora Mountain Resort, none of this would have been possible,” continues Catherine’s mom. “Without the staff and programs we wouldn’t have been able to support her the way we did.”

To donate to help with Catherine’s trip to Freeride Worlds, check out the family’s GoFundMe.

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