Meet the man behind a rare snowboarding medal for Iowa State


Courtesy of Skyler Fusco

Iowa State senior Ryan Fransen catches air during the USCSA Snowboarding Championships March 15. Fransen won a bronze medal for the event. 

Matt Solomons

As Iowa State snowboarder Ryan Fransen began his first slopestyle run March 15 at the United States Collegiate Ski & Snowboarding Association (USCSA) National Championships in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, the announcers expressed their surprise to see an Iowan competing in front of them — let alone challenging for a spot on the podium.

In fact, this was the fourth successive year that Fransen, a senior in mechanical engineering, had appeared in the competition.

In previous years, Fransen had narrowly missed out, with a fourth-place finish as a sophomore — one year after vowing to “finish in the top three” by the end of college in a 2016 interview with the ISU Alumni Association.

With such high expectations of himself as a competitor from the outset, it was easy to forget how much of an underdog Fransen was at the national championships and throughout his collegiate snowboarding career.

With limited snowsport facilities in Iowa, that might be enough to pass off dreams of national success as unrealistic. However, Fransen said he relished in the “added challenge of being from Iowa and having the opportunity to turn heads.”

In what was his last opportunity, the Dubuque, Iowa, native discovered the formula to winning a medal at the national level. Whereas before Fransen would chase the podium in individual events, consistent placements were the key to a third-place finish overall in freestyle. The division consisted of boardercross, rail jam and slopestyle contests.

“I approached it differently this year,” Fransen said. “I played it smarter this time around.”

Competing against the likes of defending USCSA champion Robbie Roethler and Olympians Seamus O’Connor and Tit Stante — all from snowboarding powerhouse Westminster College in Utah — it was a tough ask for Fransen to place in the top three in each event. Instead, the Midwest region’s sole competitor adjusted his strategy accordingly to focus on the overall competition, which demanded strong performances across the board.

“It was intimidating,” Fransen said of competing against high-caliber opposition. “They’re crazy good, but I’ve always had this thought in the back of my mind that if I played to my strengths I could have a shot at getting on the podium.”

This consistency proved to be the cornerstone of success for Fransen. In boardercross — a bracket-style tournament which sees the fastest of four competitors racing down the same course advance — Fransen finished eighth out of 54. While in rail jam and slopestyle, two events involving tricks and jumps over obstacles, he claimed fifth and sixth, respectively.

With terrain parks at the national championships smaller than those expected at professional competitions like the X-Games, it suited Fransen, who has practiced at Seven Oaks Recreation in Boone, Iowa, during his time at Iowa State. Unlike the vast mountain resorts available to the majority of Fransen’s opposition, Seven Oaks could not accommodate for the largest jumps and craziest tricks. Instead, Fransen’s environment both encouraged and forced him to be more creative.

“I may not have the same opportunity to ride the biggest jumps in the U.S. or the most challenging runs,” Fransen said. “But it’s allowed me to work on learning a wide variety of more technical tricks which has worked in my favor on the national stage.”

Whereas other competitors had beaten Fransen to the podium in the individual contests, the Iowa State snowboarder placed highly in each of the three events. This standard of performance was enough to propel Fransen into the bronze medal position for the overall freestyle competition. In his final national championships, Fransen secured silverware for the first time and finally achieved his goal.

Alongside employing his calculated strategies, Fransen attributed his success to his fun-loving and laid-back attitude on the slopes.

“This year being my last year, I wanted to make sure I took the pressure off myself and just had fun with it,” Fransen said. “I wore a retro ski jacket all week and had way more fun on the mountain than any of the years past. In the end, you really do ride your best when you’re having the most fun.”

With Fransen graduating at the end of this semester, the search is on for Iowa State’s next national snowsports medalist.