Most Iowans enjoy the slow melt of winter into spring, but the change in seasons is a little more bitter than sweet for members of the Iowa State Ski and Snowboard Club. While Spring Break is a time many students spend racing toward warmer climes, Ryan Fransen – an ISU freshman in mechanical engineering – grabbed his snowboard and headed for Lake Placid, N.Y.
Competing during his first year of college in his first-ever United States Collegiate Ski & Snowboard Association national championship, Fransen – who had won three gold medals in regional competition – became Iowa State’s first-ever snowboarding All-American, qualifying for second-team honors after he finished 10th overall – 16th in the rail jam, 20th in slope style, 14th in border cross, and 12th in giant slalom – out of approximately 150 collegiate snowboarders who competed March 8-12 at the site of the 1980 Winter Olympics.
As a top-10 finisher, Fransen is in elite company. The top 10 competitors from every event hailed from either Sierra Nevada College, located in the mountains on Lake Tahoe, or Westminster College in Salt Lake City. Those schools have coaches and organized practices. They also have mountains. And then there’s Fransen, who is from, well, flat ole Iowa.
“I started sledding when I was a little kid growing up in Cedar Falls, Iowa,” Fransen says. “I had a plastic snowboard from Wal-Mart, I think. Then, when I was in seventh grade we moved to Dubuque. In middle school, about half the kids spent their weekends at Sundown [Mountain Resort], which was only about a half-hour drive.”
Soon, Fransen found himself snowboarding at Sundown a lot. He picked it up pretty quickly but it was never competitive, he says; it was just fun. Today, his training regimen remains equally casual: Fransen says he goes to Seven Oaks Recreation in Boone, Iowa, about once a week for casual riding. Casual riding at seasonal ski resorts is really all there is for a snowboarder in Iowa. But Fransen clearly has a natural talent, and he was motivated by the success he found earlier this month in Lake Placid. He says he looks forward to continuing to ride and to be involved in the Ski and Snowboard Club next year – with hope, he says, of returning to national competition in 2017.
“My goal by the end of college is to finish in the top three,” he says.
For something that started out as, to quote Fransen, “a really easy way to get friends together for a social event,” snowboarding has definitely become a passion.
“Within snowboarding, everyone is really supportive of each other,” he says. “It’s a really positive atmosphere when everybody’s rooting for each other and encouraging each other to push themselves. I love being around it.”
As for how he handles the upcoming warm months, Fransen says he will try to relate other recreational hobbies to snowboarding so he can keep up on tricks of the trade. But, he says, that doesn’t mean skateboarding. He’s never been a big fan.
“Apparently I do a little better,” he says, “when the board is actually strapped to my feet.”
— Kate Bruns