Former Dallas resident pursues ski dreams

Djemilah Birnie now trains in Colorado.


Djemilah Birnie, a former Dallas resident, is on the cutting edge of two new winter sports.

DALLAS -- For most of us, strapping on a pair of skis or a snowboard and rapidly sliding down the side of a mountain is thrill enough.

But not for former Dallas resident Djemilah Birnie.

The 14-year-old, who now resides in Colorado Springs, Colo., competes in the developing sports of big mountain free skiing and skier cross.

Neither is for the faint of heart. Skier cross is something like the roller derby on snow. Participants race downhill -- all at once -- on a predetermined course, and a certain amount of physical contact is allowed.

"You can definitely put out your elbows and nudge people," said Birnie. "A girl was trying to pass me one time, and I put out my elbow and knocked her off balance a little bit. They have berms and jumps. It's whoever gets down there first with all their equipment on.

"It's a lot easier to race against someone else than it is against yourself. Someone else pushes you to go faster. If they're ahead of you, you want to catch up. If you're ahead of them, you don't want to let them catch up."

Free skiing is less chaotic but comes with its own inherent set of dangers. The adventuresome souls in this endeavor are taken to a particularly steep portion of the mountain, generally one with lots of rocks and trees, too. They then get to choose the way down. It's not about speed. It's more about picking the most challenging and spectacular way down and then pulling it off.

"You're mostly scored on your line of choice, the difficulty of choice," Birnie said. "At first, standing at the top, you're really nervous. You just have to do the best you can. My coach always tells me to pick a line that's 10 percent above my comfort zone. It's not above your ability. You're just pushing your comfort zone a little bit."

Birnie already is gaining a reputation for doing just that. She recently took part in a Junior Free Skiing World Tour event at Crystal Mountain in Washington.

The first of her two runs was fairly mundane. She skied well and was fifth in the standings. In an effort to move up, Birnie rolled the dice on her day two run. She chose a line used before only by some of the more daring boys and just about had it licked.

"It was tough to watch her as a parent because she was the only girl who took the much harder run," said mom Shelley Blain Reimer. "She nailed it through the entire tough part. Then, just coming out of that tough spot, a tiny sapling caught her ski and tossed her. Instead of being all bummed out, she got up and skied the heck out of the rest of that run. She was amazing."

Even with the tumble, Birnie finished sixth overall and received some very positive reviews.

"I was actually very happy even though I did hook the tree," she said. "I was very happy and proud I did that line. I knew I could do it. There were a couple of things I was skeptical about, but I ended up doing it, and it really boosted my confidence.

"If I hadn't fallen, I probably would have won. But, things happen. I already had gotten through the gnarly part. I lost my focus a little bit."

Birnie had lived in Dallas since first grade but decided a few months ago to pursue her skiing dreams and moved to live with father Matthew Birnie in Colorado. Her mother also has relocated from Dallas to Washington state to help care for an ailing relative.

Djemilah Birnie (who was named after her father's great-great-great-great grandmother) trains with the Crested Butte Mountain Sports Team six days per week. She is working with some of the top instructors in the country and has big goals for the future.

"I plan on doing this program for the next four years," she said. "I have noticed so much improvement already. If I do well in the coming months, I have a very good chance of getting sponsored. Once you get sponsored, you have more money to go to more competitions. If I can win a title, people might start getting interested in using me in magazines and movies, stuff like that. Who knows what'll happen?"


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