Plymouth is home to some of the youngest talents in freestyle skiing, an extreme sport that resembles gymnastics on skis. Marek Meyer, age 11, and Annika and Torsten Sundquist, both age 10, are nationally ranked freestyle skiiers on the prestigious Team Nybora, an elite group of young athletes who love to hit the slopes with incredible spins, grabs, grinds and flips that make up the sport.
Team Nybora was founded by Plymouth local Martin Sundquist and his brother Lewis, and has been producing top freeskiing athletes since the early 1990s. Sundquist, who grew up skiing out of Hyland Hills in Bloomington, made the U.S. Ski team in 1991, skied on the U.S. Freestyle ski team for eight years and toured internationally.
“During the time I was touring, my brother and I started Nybora at Hyland,” says Martin Sundquist. “We have anywhere from about 80 to 100 kids in our program each year, ages 6 to 18. This is our 25th year, and every year we have a contingent of kids who make it to the Junior National Championships. Nationals for skiing is a pretty elite accomplishment. It’s the top 50 or 60 skiiers ages 18 and under in the country. Seventeen kids from the program qualified in last year’s nationals. It’s unique to have the youngsters that we have going that are 9 and 10 years old.”
Marek Meyer, who was the youngest to qualify for Big Air division at Junior Nationals in 2016, found a love of skiing early. “We took Marek skiing when he was 1. When we saw how much Marek picked up on it and loved it, we all started skiing as a family,” says his mother, Marsha Meyer. Marek got into racing at age 5, and at about age 7, he began to transition to the terrain park.
“I would sneak over there during practice,” says Marek, who has been skiing with Team Nybora for four years. He skis five to six days a week in the winter for three to four hours each time.
Freestyle skiing consists of several different events where skiiers perform maneuvers such as jumps and tricks on obstacles. Marek says his favorite event is the rails. “My favorite rail trick, I kind of did by accident once, I went backwards on the rail, and a front flop and a back 270° off of the rail,” he says. In 2016, Marek took home gold in half pipe, gold in big air and silver in aerials at Junior Nationals.
“I also do trampoline here in the off season,” says Marek, who works on his maneuvers at Airborne Extreme in Coon Rapids with other members of the team. “This year I am working on doing back flips. I want to be able to do a 720°. I’ve done them before, but very inconsistently,” says Marek. He is working toward Junior Nationals again this season. “My goal is to make it to the X-Games one day.”
“There’s always a nail biting factor as a parent, but I think that’s with any sport,” says Marsha. “I feel really confident in his coaching, in his ability and his training. Before they do any large maneuvers, he is checked off with a coach. They make sure the hill and the weather conditions are right. They practice sometimes for up to two years on a trampoline performing a maneuver before they bring it to the snow.”
Also medaling at the Nationals last year are Martin Sundquist’s 10-year old twins, Annika and Torsten, who are following in the family freeskiing legacy.
“My wife and I introduced the kids to skiing at 18 months. My philosophy has always been to introduce them to the fun side of sports, but it was their decision to compete,” says Martin.
When asked what she likes about freeskiing, Annika answers, “Everything.” Martin adds she likes to go fast and big. Her favorite moves are a 360° and going off the big hill and doing a grab. Annika’s age class finishes at Nationals include first in aerials, first in big air, second in slopestyle, second in moguls, second in halfpipe, and third in combined (moguls, aerials, halfpipe). “Probably her most significant accomplishment [is that] she placed fifth overall for aerials in the nation, for ages 18 and under, beating much older girls,” says Martin.
Torsten says skiing the terrain park is his favorite, where he can work on rails, boxes and jumps. His best maneuvers are the 540° and the switch (backward) three. In his age class, Torsten placed first in aerials, first in moguls and third in halfpipe.
Martin says Marek, Annika and Torsten are at such an advanced level for their age, he created a new squad within the team because they were smaller and younger, performing levels and maneuvers that weren’t common for that age group.
“We talk at Nybora about being a family as much as a team, and we take more pride in that than accomplishments,” says Martin. “Where other programs are set up as a business, we’ve never done this as a job. It’s always been a hobby and we have careers outside of this. Both Lewis and I sit on boards at the national and international level on a volunteer basis and it’s the energy and experience that happens with these athletes which is an incredible reward and that brings us back.”
Marsha agrees. “What drew us to the freestyle skiing community is a sense of family; it’s pretty close knit. There aren’t a whole lot of people who do it. Kids and well as parents are supportive of each other. It takes a lot of time and effort, and Martin’s organization is really a key component.”
Keep an eye on these young athletes, who have the skill and drive to face new challenges as they grow in the sport. “The sport is all about progression. Nybora is a Swedish word, minus a few letters; it doesn’t have a direct translation, but nyborian means a fresh start. We think the word means progression, which is what free skiing is all about,” Martin says.