Many people love Freeskiing because it is not only a sport, but a medium of expression and the story of its development is interesting because of its climb from opposition from some of the biggest names in skiing to one of the the fastest growing snow sports in the world.
The roots of the Freeskiing movement was started in the 70’s with Freestyle (moguls, aerials and ski ballet) and “hot-dogging” a style of skiing which was only done by the top tier of skiers. Wayne Wong, Flyin’ Eddie Ferguson and Bob Burns were some of the biggest names on skis then. The sport had little rules and was not regulated by any means of organization, except in contests.
In 1979, the FIS or International Ski Federation recognized Freestyle as a sport and started regulating techniques and rules for competition. The first World Cup and World Championships took place in the 80’s and during this time, another new type of skiing was starting, big mountain skiing.
A bush pilot named Chuck McMahan started taking his friends skiing on the top of the mountains by the Richardson highway in his Supercub equipped with skis in 1987. He had never thought of doing it, until he realized that there was a business opportunity for taking skiers to the top of the tall peaks of the Alaska Range. Chuck asked $15 dollars a run in 1987. A few years later he and Michael Cozad, the man who would later start the World Extreme Skiing Championships (WESC) bought Tsaina Lodge, an abandoned roadhouse about a 100 miles outside of Valdez. The competition was described by Powder magazine: “…37 skiers traveled all the way to Alaska to compete for no money in a first-time contest run by people nobody had ever heard of.”
The WESC brought some of the best skiers from around the world, including a young guy named Doug Coombs; Doug had been skiing in the Tetons of Wyoming for the past few years and had gained big mountain experience there. Doug would go on to win the WESC in 1991 and 1993. All the skiers competing would return home with tales of Valdez. The “golden age” had begun.
A little later, in 1995, a future legend was frustrated with skiing. He lived in the seemingly unlikely town of Burlington, Vermont. Jason Levinthal was thinking about how progressive snowboarding was, with tips on both ends and how they were allowed to be in the new “terrain parks” with jumps, boxes and rails. Then he thought about how boring skiing was, they had long, skinny, uni-directional and stiff skis. He started toying with the idea of making his own skis, with two tips, so he could go backwards. So he borrowed the schools wood shop press, ripped some edges off of skis, used lumber for the core, got plastic from a local company and some epoxy and volia! The twin tip ski or ski boards (they were short) were born. That first day that he skied on them, he was already in the park, sliding picnic tables and riding backwards.
Flash forward to 1998, Mike Nick and Jason Levinthal, standing on an X Games podium for placing 1st and 3rd in Ski Slopestyle, this marked Freeskiing’s grand debut on the center stage. Mike and Jason were both skiing on Line skis, Jason’s company. So while skiers with normal skis were doing backscratchers, Mike and Jason were doing Cork 900’s and Switch 540’s. Skiing was finally starting to catch up with snowboarding. Later, Kris Ostness would make the Ostness Dragon, a pro model ski that would be normal in length at 193 cm, also a Line ski.
In the early 2000’s, people just became more and more interested by Freeskiing, emergence of major film companies such as Matchstick Productions, Level 1, Poor Boyz Productions, Teton Gravity Research and of course, Warren Miller helped the new type of skiing thrive. Film segments made kids excite with curiosity, like Pep Fujas’ legendary segment in “1242”. Or the ways that skiing was pushed by people like the late Shane McConkey, who combined BASE jumping and skiing for the first time.
Nowadays, Freeskiing is big. Names like Bobby Brown, Henrik Harlaut, Tom Wallisch, Eric Pollard, Tanner Hall and Sean Pettit are household names in some areas. They land tricks like Harlaut’s nose butter triple cork 1660; a trick that never entered the mind of Coombs, Nick or Levinthal, not to mention Wayne Wong or Flyin’ Eddie Ferguson. Freeskiing is one of the main attractions in the Winter X games, Winter Dew Tour and now, possibly, the Olympics. So while our sport basks in the limelight, let’s thank the people who came before us and made it all possible.
**This thread was edited on May 6th 2014 at 4:54:32pm