It’s a quiet day at Bear Peak mountain. A soft snow begins to fall on the already frosted pines. A soft breeze sways the slowly moving chairlifts. A plume of breath escapes from behind a face mask, slightly fogging up the goggles. Skis clack together in attempt to dislodge the snow that had accumulated on them. Through the haze of snow, the silhouette of a building comes into focus. As the chair continues up, the details become more clear. A small wooden building with a large platform residing beside it. The skier gently dislodges the veil of ice covering his goggles and face mask, he then looks to both sides visually confirming with his companions that their journey ends here, at the mid station. The dual curved tips of his skis slide along the packed snow, as he rests his full weight on the ski, he ducks, avoiding the metal chair that was continuing its journey up the mountain. His edge slices into the snow, cutting through the new snow into the corduroy sculpted by the snowcats the night before. Behind him, a purple clad skier wielding a tripod skates beside him.
“I’m skipping the rails to get enough speed for the first jump, I’ll be down in a minute or so,” the skier says, with a nod the purple cladded filmer skis down followed by two others. The skier looks down the trail, takes a breath and begins down the trail.
Skiing has been around for millennias, according to National Geographic. The first skiers were hunters who strapped pieces of sculpted wood to their feet in order to move faster and farther in pursuit of prey.
Although skiing gets its roots from early Scandinavian hunters, the recreational activity that we have come to know really began in Norway during the mid-1800’s, in the county of Telemark. An influx of leisure time in Norwegian cities led members of the middle class to the outdoors and the slopes. Soon a train from city to the wilderness allowed quick access to mountains.
The first chairlift opened at Americas first ski resort, Sun Valley in Idaho in 1936. It was a single person chair modeled after a system used to transport bananas from dock to ship in Honduras.
“The bigger mountains had a one maybe two person chairlift, but mostly we just had T-bars and rope tows,” remembers Scott Warren, a ski patroller at Wildcat Mountain. Warren began ski patrolling at Loon Mountain in 1975.
Flash forward to present day, when, “kids no more than 14 are hitting 60-foot jumps, and throwing double backflips,” remarked a student from Carrabassett Valley Academy, where he competes on it’s freeskiing team. “It’s gotten to the point where I don’t know what tricks people will do next,”
“Freeskiing is exactly what the word describes. You're free to do whatever you want with two sticks strapped to your feet,” defines Roan Rediske of Alaska, who has been skiing for 5 years.
“I ski to just have something that's really really enjoyable and fun to do. There’s nothing like the feeling of skiing,” continues Rediske.
How is freeskiing different from regular skiing?
“If you are referring to park skiing it's a simple definition that anyone can figure out. It's gone by many names; hot dogging, freestyle skiing, newschool, and now freeskiing. If you are going to encompass big mountain and the like in there too - well, that's where the line starts to get very, very confusing between the separation of 'freeskiing' and the rest of the sport.With the inclusion of 'big mountain', you're really just talking about the sport of skiing in it's entirety, and therefore - freeskiing doesn't actually exist, it's just skiing.” says Darryl Hunt of British Columbia. Hunt has been skiing since 1987, as he grew older he witnessed the rise of freeskiing from the snowboarding culture. Hunt is also the author of the popular Confessions of a Ski Bum articles.
Has freeskiing shaped skiing into what it is today?
“'Freeskiing didn't change the industry. Snowboarding changed the industry. The current model we use in skiing to fuel the industry was a necessary change to keep the sport relevant in the 90's when it was competing against snowboarding for participants.” inputs Hunt.
Snowboarding, an already popular sport in the 1990’s, was a large factor in what is now called Freeskiing. The newer sport attracted a younger generation with its carefree persona that soon clashed with the more established style of skiing. Initially mountains either did not allow snowboarders on the mountain or had small designated areas for the Boarders claiming that they ruined snow conditions. In 1985, only seven percent of U.S. ski areas allowed snowboarding according to John Phillips book, Ski and Snowboard America.
The designated areas soon introduced various features such as PVC boxes and sculpted snow jumps. Though the parks were made for snowboarders, skiers began to use those areas to do tricks, despite some objections from the snowboarders.
Eventually, teenagers that still skied began to adapt to a more snowboard style, seeking more creativity and style over technique. In addition, the equipment began to change; Jackets became baggy and colorful as opposed to the tight and solid colors typically worn by skiers.
Soon they began to do the tricks, they learned and perfected in the park, on regular trails; forever changing the sport.
“I first heard about 'freeskiing' in 1998 during the Winter Olympics when Jonny Moseley did a 360 mute grab to win the mogul event. From there I found an issue of the new Freeze Magazine showcasing, the release of the first mass produced park specific twin tip - the Salomon 1080” Says Hunt .“Twin Tips” are skis with both ends curve that were inventing as skiers began to ski both forwards and backwards. The first “Twin Tip” skis were the Olin Mark IV Comp in 1974, which sold relatively few skis.
Skis were in a major overhaul in the 60’s and 70’s “I started out on straight wooden skis with no edges, that we had to tar up and wax. When I went to teach my children to ski I converted over to snowboarding... when I began to ski again around 2000, I was amazed to find that that skis were lighter and curved and could carve better than a snowboard. I fell in love with skiing all over again,” describes Warren.
The first widely available Dual tip skis were Salomon’s 1080 which came out in 1997. The market for these skis boomed with new companies like LINE, and Armada. And with their success came fame for the skiers they sponsored. Previously “Ads in the magazines used models, not athletes, relying on equipment specs to move product. The sport was dying and things needed to change.” But with the next generation of marketing, “We [Companies} simply just copied the model that board sports were using and it worked. Use the athletes to sell product, in turn - making the athletes themselves a product.” Says Hunt.
The equipment wasn't the only thing that changed with freeskiing, the entire vibe of the sport changed. “I think the old image of skiing was an aging man shredding a trail, he could ski, but there wasn't much creativity. Now-a-days people are more creative, putting in a grab or a spin when hitting a cliff or skiing backcountry,” says Sam Colby, a skier and photographer.
In the past skiers usually seeked out mogul runs or trails groomed by snowcats. But the new generation of skiers seek out fresh snow in the woods and backcountry, which was previous untested terrain.
A fairly common phenomenon is to ski “out of bounds” which is sometimes illegal and may result in a persons pass being revoked. It is also not serviced by Ski Patrol or Forest Rangers, which means that a person is responsible for their own rescue.
“I am aware of the risks of skiing backcountry and out-of-bounds, but the skiing and conditions make up for them. Very little people know or go to some of these places so their is almost always fresh snow... there's nothing like skiing Thompsons Brook on a powder day,” inputs Colby. Thompsons Brook is a “out-of-bounds” trail at Wildcat Mountain where Colby holds a season pass.
“I’m all for out-of-bounds skiing, we use to rip peoples tickets for ducking lines, going too fast, and skiing out-of-bounds. We would police around the mountain. But now on the back of the ticket it says your skiing at your own risk so we’re not liable for what you do. We try to mark every rock and ditch, and try to close unsafe trails, it’s not our fault if you decide to ignore us, duck a rope, and get yourself hurt. I myself enjoy some out-of-bounds skiing.” says Warren.
(The main lodge at Wildcat Mountain)
A big part of skiing as we know it today are ski films and edits. Ski movies have been around since the creation of video. Many earlier films simply showed skiers skiing down trails and such. But starting in 1949 a man revolutionized the ski film. Warren Miller released his first film in 1950, and soon became recognized for his creativity, photography and witty humor.
Soon others began to follow his suit but none of them gained popularity like Miller, until the 1990’s when skiers doing tricks in and out of the park thought it would be pretty cool to videotape themselves and friends. The new generation of ski film was created, one with twists and flips instead of turns and moguls. Film companies started popping up everywhere. A few prominent ones being Matchbox Films, and Teton Gravity Research.
Most average people didn't have the money or enough footage to release a full fledge film, so they would release an edit. An edit can be anywhere from 30 seconds to a half an hour, and is composed of footage accumulated from days or seasons of skiing put together to display the skills of the skier or skiers.
So has freeskiing shaped skiing into what it is today?
“I don’t think skiing would be in the place it is now without the innovation and style of freeskiing, it really revived a dying sport,” says Jake Garner.
Patrick Mulhern, a skier since age 5, carves through a jungle of of metal, PVC, and sculpted snow that makes up the various features. His skis lift up an inch as he flies up a small hill of snow. In his ear the song transitions from the funky Mr. BoogieMan by BoomBox to the rowdy rap of Sofa King by DangerDoom. In his mind he begins to pump himself up, imagining what he is going to do. Mulhern accelerates in front of a ragtag group of kids with shirts down to their knees. Ahead he spies the jump, and to the left the stands Colby, camera in hand. Mulhern continues to build speed as he makes his way down, but breaks from the slight tuck in favor of a balanced stance. Bending his knees slightly as he approaches the upcurve of the jump, he explodes just before the lip of the jump. Leaning back, the tip of his skis tap his head, he stutters but completes the loop, landing slightly backseat. He regains his balance and hockey stops, a plume of snow follows in his wake.
A chorus of ecstatic yells echo off the surrounding pines and birch trees.
“Filming that Edit was one of the most rewarding video projects I’ve worked on so far,” remarks Colby. Colby was the main filmer of the 3 minute edit displaying his filming abilities and the freeskiing style and skill of Patrick Mulhern.
(Colby filming on a knoll of a jump)
Freeskiers are often stereotyped as troublemakers, park rats, and partiers. Though some fit the profile, such as wildly entertaining Hood Crew, who have released many videos of them skiing park, partying, and wreaking havoc on the mountain. Most freeskiers are not like this .
“I have skied by parents who have taken their kids through the park, and had them yell at me that i'm being reckless by hitting a jump where their kid is hanging around the landing. Why are you taking them through an area meant for tricks in the first place much less let them hang around the landing?” inquires Nick Avery-Leaf, a Junior at Exeter High School.
Another belief is that freeskiing is substantially more dangerous. “At least at Wildcat, our freestyle zones don’t pose any greater risk than a black diamond trail. Most injuries I take care of are inexperienced skiers on easier trails,” says Warren
A topic that showed up in most of my interviews, the addition of Slopestyle and Halfpipe to the Olympics. Previously the only skiing events were Moguls, Aerial and Ski Cross. This marks a major landmark for freeskiing as a competitive sport, as the most prestigious sport event recognizes its significances.
What is going to become of skiing in the future?
“I think we are going to see quad corks, then that will plateau. People will start making triple corks more technical, people will start winning comps with different kinds of doubles hopefully. I also think freeskiing will get bigger and we will have more talented young kids start freeskiing,” says Rediske about the future of competitions.
“I think the future is really in films, they are really a driving force of freeskiing. I think there will be more cinematographic films that really tell a message, and more ridiculous movies that show the more goofy vibe of skiing,” says Sam Colby,
“ I won't even pretend to know what the future holds for skiing because it is too closely related to society in general and that's a whole different story. Park skiing's future will become the arena of fun vs freeskiing (aka - the industry) where it will turn into any professional sport similar to Hockey or Football. Sure, people play recreationally still, but there is a massive separation between recreational football with friends and a serious attempt at going pro.,” says Hunt.
“I think the mountains will get bigger and there will be more of them as more young athletes turn to skiing, and the middle class expands. I think new technology will allow skiers to be more extreme, and evolve. I just know its going to continue to get better and I’m excited for what's next,” says Warren.
“I have too many moments on skis that have given me the feeling of accomplishment over the years. It is the constant feelings of accomplishment that keep me skiing after decades. Hunt explains, “Shit never gets old. I ski because it is incredibly fun, and personally rewarding/satisfying. I've been skiing since I can walk. So um... 27 years,” says Hunt.
“How would I define skiing? Exhilarating,” says Warren.
Skiing is more than a sport or recreational activity to serious skiers, for them its a lifestyle. Its a part of who they are. The grew up doing it, and probably won't stop till they are physically unable to continue.
Finished Edit that was featured in this article