AUBURN – Liz Rollins was a teacher hoping to bond with her Gould Academy students when she started snowboarding six years ago.
“I was really bad. I broke my ankle the second year because I didn’t know what I was doing,” she said.
Now a 32-year-old music and theater teacher at Auburn Middle School, Rollins has learned a lot of new tricks mentoring teenagers at Lost Valley and can snowboard with some of the best female snowboarders in the country.
Two weeks ago, Rollins won three medals, a gold, a silver and a bronze, in the 30-39 age group at the USA Snowboard Association national championships at Northstar-at-Tahoe ski resort in California. It was the North Yarmouth resident’s first national competition.
Rollins won her gold in the slopestyle, which involves a series of rails, jumps and obstacles, by completing her first 360-degree jump in competition. She earned the silver in boardercross, even though she thought it would be her weakest event. The bronze came in the halfpipe, and Rollins finished second overall in the freestyle standings.
As much as she enjoyed her success, Rollins said she was even more delighted to spend time with boarders her age. She was one of seven competitors in her age group.
“We ended up spending the whole week together,” she said. “To ride with women my own age and men my age, it was so fun to be there.”
Of course, the younger classes were much bigger. Over 1,400 boarders, including about 70 from Maine who qualified in the state championships, competed in 25 events.
Rollins cut her competitive teeth snowboarding with local teens after organizing an after-school skiing and snowboarding program at the middle school two years ago. The program evolved into the independent Snomad Freestyle Team, which this year consisted of 42 skiers and snowboarders ages 13-20.
“They are so talented,” she said. “We have practices twice-a-week at Lost Valley, January through March. It’s free to be a part of it and I want to keep it like that.”
Rollins said the group has provided an alternative for kids who would otherwise have nothing to do after school. She said the team has received a lot of support from Lost Valley and, in return, the team has worked to make the ski area more challenging for snowboarders by cutting trails and setting up obstacles.
Keeping up with kids half her age is a challenge, but it reinforces her love for the sport.
“I sleep well. But it’s really fun,” she said. “I’m sure a lot of people don’t understand my love for this insanity, but… it’s a rush. It feels so good. The first run down the hill every year, I just giggle the whole way down.”