Credit: Aiden Ulrich
Jason Arens is one of skiing’s top judges, but first and foremost, he’s a skier. The Tahoe native tells us how most ski judges still ride the courses themselves. As a skier Jason has competed and was part of the Good Enough crew with Khai Krepela and Pete Arneson. I know I’ve never spoken to such an interesting judge...
“Going into judging was cool because I just feel that I had always paid attention to the sport, in a way that I thought was normal for everybody.”
Between the ages of 15 to 23 Jason was competing at events like the US Open and Aspen Open, but he says he never really had the killer instinct that the top guys had:
“I just went to these contests to see how I stacked up against everybody else and I made semi-finals or finals in every other event. It’s really an expensive and trying process. You really have to keep pushing yourself, to an extent where I wasn’t really matching up to the levels of flipping and spinning that people were getting into. It got to the point where I’d have to start doing doubles and 14s, I wasn’t quite comfortable with that.”
By the time he was 23, he was “completely over competing”. To him, judging just seemed the natural progression from competing:
“Going into judging was pretty seamless, I had just come from competing, I knew how it was judged traditionally, I knew what I thought should be emphasised and, because I was a competitor, I knew what everyone was expecting. It’s a pretty easy transition. It’s cool when athletes can go from competitive skiing, directly into judging.”
He started judging in 2011/12. There was a bit of a crossover when he was competing for the Sierra Nevada College in Incline Village, but he never saw a problem with competing with people one week and judging them the next…
Credit: Christian Raguse
“I never really saw how it could be an issue, judging friends/rivals, I’ve just always been super impartial in that respect
He admits that is always the number one question: ‘Oh well how are you not impartial towards your friends?’ Jason sees it more as a positive for the athletes, judges and spectators:
“In reality, the new generation of judges are so connected with the sport and so in-tune with what people are doing at the high-level of skiing. Having these relationships means there’s a closer gap, the competitors aren’t feeling threatened by the judges, they don’t feel that the people judging their sport are behind closed doors and not accessible. I think that’s a really big part of it, we’re just trying to judge what the athletes want the sport to be doing. We’re a vessel for their purpose.”
He's certainly not alone in coming from skiing to judging, he estimates that:
“99% of the judges I’ve worked with have had at least a sponsored ski career, to some extent. I work with some judges who, even today, are ripping skiers. They sometimes ride the course just like the competitors. They’re just really involved skiers, they’re really interested in the sport and still have fun doing it.”
“Everyone’s getting so damn good these days. It’s crazy just keeping up, you really need to follow the sport on a really in-depth level to even understand what’s happening from contest to contest.”
The level of technicality and just the proficiency of all the skiers these days, requires the judges to stay right on top of their game:
“The further we get into this, what I notice is the rails in Slopestyle are getting more important. So, for me, there’s a really big emphasis on keeping the youth involved in the judging. People that are actually still paying attention, on a really close level of skiing. They’re the only people who are really in-tune with which progressive aspects are coming to the table in rail skiing. It’s a really detail-oriented thing.
“Obviously it’s pretty easy to argue difficulty versus extremely technical rail tricks when people are doing switch tails and switch lip variations onto rails, starting to mix in backslides, frontslides and other variations of grabs, pretzeling spins, continuing spins and doing switch ups. If you’re not very detail-oriented in that stuff, you’re really missing a huge part of modern slopestyle. In the early days, it was very jump-heavy, but now it’s more equal between rails and jumps. It’s been good to see that progression.”
Jason fits his own criteria for a good judge perfectly. He’s injured at the moment, but remains heavily involved in the industry outside of judging. He’s spent recent years as head of marketing at Windells and previously rode for Surface skis. He still lives and breathes skiing and has always had more of a passion for the film side of things. On that front, he’s best known for Good Enough...
Jason with the ender of Good Enough's ender (From 18:18).
“Good Enough was myself and Noah Curry, we’d been skiing together for a while in Tahoe. I was just getting out of competing and we’d been travelling together to some of the smaller contests”.
Jason and Noah would just film their skiing and what they were doing on the road. He’s very open about the inspiration:
“Travelling Circus was very popular at the time. I just saw what those guys were doing and was like: ‘They’ve got it figured out! Skiing, having fun, not having to do contests and travelling around with their buds to weird places’. So we tried to replicate it, we brought in a couple of our buds.”
Garrett Jurach —who had been living in Sacramento— moved to Tahoe to be their full-time filmer. They recruited other friends to help out:
“Kai Krepela and Pete Arneson filmed with us, we just travelled around skiing for a couple years. It was a fun project that ended up being something to focus on throughout the year. The Good Enough crew was us just hanging out and skiing. The videos were a funny by-product.
“Growing up I had always thought that the edits and filming were the most important part of being a skier. The videos and video parts of skiers are what stuck with me as a kid. As much as I like and follow the contests, I just never really had the competitive drive to compete at the highest level.”
Pete Arneson was actually who got Jason involved with judging:
“He got recruited by Steele Spence –the godfather of modern ski judging. After skiing with Pete for a couple years, he said I was kind of judgemental and pretty rude, so he thought I could be a judge too!”
Trip: I had a really solid trip to Norway, with the Good Enough boys a couple years ago, to judge European X Games. If I could recreate that trip, I’d do that in a heartbeat.
To do: Switch 5 Japan, it’s a pretty close toss up with a hand-plant, but I’ll say Japan.
To judge: I’ve been seeing a lot of cool stuff recently, what’s impressed me the most is Alex Hall’s grab variations in the insane rotations that he’s doing now. Grab variations are what thrill me right now.
Track: ‘Gimme the Loot’ Notorious B.I.G