Words & photos by Ian Kirkpatrick
Anti-comps are nothing new to the ski industry. The history of the whole freestyle movement can be traced back to unruly packs of skiers throwing down for throwing down’s sake. That’s what makes it fun, and fun was the mother of Saturday’s creation, the inaugural Pretzels and Polish Donuts from The Summit at Snoqualmie, WA.
In almost 50 years, freestyle has changed the face of a sport thousands of years old, spanning schizophrenic variations. The inherently wild soul of skiing struck a chord with kids in the 60s and the hot dog movement was born. Suddenly there was another aspect to skiing outside of chasing gates or hitting the same jump again and again, just trying to go farther and farther. There was expression! Throughout the 1970s, hot dog solidified into freestyle, spawning a slew of competitive circuits and potential business. Then people were dying or maiming themselves and the economic prospective was too much to go on unrestrained. Regulation marched in until the freestyle movement didn’t seem so free. That’s when it all came full circle, after a few Canadian National Freestyle Team members weren’t having nearly as much fun as their snowboard friends in the terrain park.
Enjoyment has carried newschool from the prototype Teneighty to the Super Sessions. It’s a double-edged sword when it comes to competitions. Skiers at the top of the contest game thrive off going head-to-head with other skiers at the top. Others who look at it as a purely cutthroat endeavor either make it to that upper echelon and lighten up… or lose sight of why they’re skiing in the first place.
Chris Shalbot, team manager for Evo and all around Pacific Northwest ski head, wanted to extract the negativity spawned from going head to head for money and fame. He wanted an event showing that park could still mean soul. Summit at Snoqualmie’s Krush Kulesza felt that need too, and during meetings at the end of the 2008 season, Shalbot and Kulesza brainstormed an experience to fill the void of cool ski events.
“We wanted to do something this region was lacking,” said Shalbot. It was going to be about the camaraderie of skiing, just an event with prizes handed out, kicked down by the eventual sponsors: K2, Line, Full Tilt, Joystick, Oakley, Armada, POW Gloves Skull Candy, and Rime Knits. There were no real rules, just pure freestyle. “When someone does something sick,” explains Shalbot, “We throw something their way.” Judging sheets, much less a start list, were never seen the whole day.
As registration started Saturday morning, skiers just signed the release, grabbed a lift ticket voucher, and got a paper number in place of their bib. Either they could keep the number exposed or slap on a “Hi, my name is…” tag and tape it to their leg. One thing that inherently comes with any organized variation on a comp is dealing with the winter. What was supposed to be a late season, sunny park affair happened under puking skies. This has been a late winter in the PNW though and the only shortcoming is that weather might have kept old school costumes in the closet. Still, some broke out their parent’s neon gear and one kid even showed up in a banana suit.
The congregation was already cutting fast laps through Summit’s Central Park by the time the rider meeting started, finally revealing the nitty gritty of Pretzels and Polish Doughnuts: Jam format, three zones with Shalbot cruising around, shouting challenges over his megaphone, a la NS Gatherings. First, work over a down rail and down-flat-down box with a truly old school, handcrafted mogul line above, bumps optional. After an hour or two, when everyone gets teched out just warmed up, it was down to the jump line. Either a cannon rail or small table were the options. Was there something mentioned about no rules? Well, OK, one rule on the first jump: You have to throw something old school or an old school variation. That flowed into the big kicker where you whippersnappers can huck your “progressive” meat. After everyone got tired of the jumps, it was on to cap off the day with a mini-shred junkyard of radness, featuring no less than six jibs in what’s normally the snowskate section of Central Park.
Just from that first meeting, the day was a success in getting a bunch of PNW skiers in one place. In Washington, it illegal for more than 5 park skiers to congregate in one place, except for brothel and grave. After a half hour of getting the feel for the rail, Shalbot and assistant stoke master Kohl Schoening, started tossing out challenges for gear, like first pretzel on the down rail. One guy got a pair of goggles for face planting and cracking his lenses.
I’m just going to interject this one thing: no hate, but Christ, will someone around here start a mogul team? Granted I mentioned that the whole bumps scene might not be in the same wild state from whence it came but it’s still fun. Besides, one of the craziest bump comps I’ve ever seen ended up between TJ Schiller and Simon Dumont. Have you ever seen Tanner ski moguls? He beat out Toby Dawson on a gnarly World Cup course and Toby Dawson won a bronze medal in the Olympics. Still, this one kid in a striped Special Blend jacket skied a few good turns down the line switch and another two faced off with each other, popping off bumps to throw credit card threes. Another guy with a Bob Marley sticker on his helmet was popping super hard to catch the bottom of the d-f-d. Granted he blew up a few times but he was boosting.
After the landings were packed into a slick ice rink despite the steady dumping, a rabid pack of be-twin-tipped rippers tore through the middle section of the park down to the jump line that was closed to the rest of the public. The snow required a little slip but at least the in-run wasn’t bumped out and the landing was still smooth. So many spraffys! So many spread eagles! So many… Urlachers. That might not be an old school trick but it wasn’t going to get you disqualified. Did you show up late? It might be breaking the liability issues because you didn’t sign the release but legal red tape like that is what nearly killed freestyle in the first place.
“I think I’m just going to toss out prizes at the last zone,” Shalbot confided to me, turning off the megaphone.
Did anybody complain they weren’t getting anything? Hell no! Let the hot doggery continue! The best disguises of the day came from two Evo team snowboarders on snowlerblades. Speed was a problem like any other day it dumps in the park but plenty of riders were happy to forfeit the first hit and truck into the bottom kicker. Many a train was organized and one guy who wasn’t even in the comp threw a Genie grab of Josh Bibby proportions.
Everyone kept jumping, despite the snow and good ol’ split pea soup visibility that’s a Cascade trademark. By now it was afternoon and the mini-shred corral was waiting. “What haven’t you done today?” quizzed Shalbot, picking out individual skiers. Learning something you were stoked on got you a prize out of the big box. If you didn’t sound stoked on anything new, Shalbot threw out a challenge. Sticking that hand drag between the pill and propane tank= Hook up! Now the true genius of this format became apparent. Instead of a comp organizer setting up objective standards for winning, the organizer is coming up with a way to shred better that works for you.
At the end of the day, the prize stash was cleared out for those who were deemed the winner of each zone in a semi-democratic method in the true sense of a jam format. That kind of defeats the purpose, though. When Shalbot was comparing where newschool is to the timeline of freestyle, he pointed out that technology is on freeskiing’s side. Ski companies can do different things with construction and physics are thoroughly considered when sculpting huge park jumps at comps like the Super Sessions. More importantly though, how are you reading this? Newschoolers has it in the title: This is an online COMMUNITY. It’s stoked the flames from Quebec to South Korea. All of the namesare missing from this story and the pictures for a reason. Like I shouted out at the comp, get on here in the comments and point yourself out. Wondering who snagged that wallet set up on top of the pill? Ask, and if it was you, shout back. You might have met each other at the comp but you also might have been embarrassed to ask, “What’s your screenname?”
Oh, and especially give a shout if you’re those kids who are actually from Poland. Your mom promised piroshkis for next year’s comp… On that note of next years comp, everybody go watch “Hot Dog: The Movie.” So many skiers were asking what a Polish Donut was on Saturday. It will go down next year, too.
“In the past, we’ve had ski comps and it felt like kids wouldn’t get stoked if they didn’t think they could win,” said Kulesza after the comp. “Today was totally different.”