NOTE: If you like this article, also check out this blog/video: BASE Jumping With Skis and Wingsuits in Norway and this YouTube video: Peak 7601 Alaska (Terje on a snowboard). Cheers, Chris. PS: I never got as extreme as these guys, but I hucked myself off some rocks back in the Colorado dayz (1989 to 1993). Good times (except for two nasty accidents, both of which resulted in broken bones and surgeries and could have killed me).
From the New York Times:
January 24, 2008
Out of Deep Freeze: Freeskiers Make Sport Cool Again
By MATT HIGGINS
ASPEN, Colo. — The freeskier Tanner Hall comes from Kalispell, Mont., population 20,000. He is towheaded and resembles a young Ron Howard. So it is a testament to his flair for reinvention that he answers the telephone, without irony: “Yo, what up? This is T.”
But then Hall, 24, and his fellow freeskiers — who compete in superpipe on opening day at the Winter X Games here Thursday — are adept at radical transformations. Using twin-tip skis, they have taken a sport that was headed downhill and literally turned it upside down with back flips and other aerial maneuvers.
Along with an attitude and an aesthetic that hew closer to pop culture, they have helped reinvigorate skiing, allowing it to reclaim its place of primacy on the slopes from snowboarding.
“A lot of stuff that we’re doing now is opening the eyes of the general public, especially the youth, that skiing is not just a dorky sport anymore,” said Peter Olenick, who won bronze in superpipe at the 2007 Games. “We can do all the stuff snowboarders do, only better.”
After years of steady growth, snowboarding participation surpassed Alpine skiing in 2004, according to the National Sporting Goods Association.
In 2004, there were 6.5 million snowboarders and 5.9 million skiers. But the next year, the trend reversed course. And in 2006 — the most recent year for which figures are available — there were nearly 6.4 million skiers and 5.2 million snowboarders.
Although overall sales for Alpine skis have been down in recent years, sales of twin-tip skis are soaring. From August to November 2007, twin-tip ski sales were up 50 percent over the same period last year, said Alicia Allen, a spokeswoman for the trade group SnowSports Industries America.
“It has revitalized the overall Alpine category,” Allen said about twin-tip skis. “You see a lot of kids back on the mountain.”
Unlike traditional downhill skis, twin-tip skis have upturned tips and tails, allowing skiers to launch and land aerial maneuvers forward or backward. With twin-tips, skiers can perform the same tricks as snowboarders in parks, halfpipes, and in backcountry terrain.
“We owe a whole lot of credit to where skiing has gone to snowboarding,” Hall said. “They helped pave the way for us.”
A decade ago, skiing was on the decline. The sport suffered from a perception that it stunted progression with rules prohibiting inverted tricks in freestyle competition.
At the first Winter X Games in 1997, there were no skiing events. During the 2002 Olympics, Jonny Moseley needed permission to pull an off-axis trick during moguls competition. Snowboarding had no such restrictions.
“Back in the day, before freeskiing was going on, everybody knew snowboarding was the cool thing to do,” Hall said. “I was almost ready to change for a snowboard when I was skiing moguls right around 11 years old.”
Instead of switching, Hall adapted snowboarding tricks to skis. But this approach caused him to clash with faculty at a ski school in Park City, Utah, where he was training to compete in moguls.
When the first commercially successful twin-tip skis appeared in the late 1990s, Hall embraced them. He soon dropped out of high school to join skiing’s new school as a competitive freeskier, a catchall term for several forms of freestyle skiing.
“From the very first twin-tip that came out, I thought it was the coolest,” Hall said.
Other top competitors were lured to freeskiing in a similar way. Olenick, 23, grew up in Carbondale, near Aspen, and was enrolled in a ski racing program. He first saw freeskiing in a video.
“It just opened my eyes to this whole new sport that was going down,” he said. “People skiing backwards, and grabbing and doing tricks — that was kind of what I always wanted to do.”
During the late 1990s, Jon Olsson was a member of the Swedish junior national ski racing team. But in his spare time, he enjoyed launching off jumps. Through his relationship with the national team, he acquired twin-tip prototypes. In 1999, he entered a freeskiing contest and won, leaving downhill behind.
Today, Olsson, 25, a winner of eight X Games medals, is regarded as the most progressive freeskier.
Hall has won the last two gold medals in the superpipe at the X Games. He is a co-founder of Armada Skis, one of the top five twin-tip ski manufacturers, according to SnowSports Industries America. He has used his success in competition and as a businessman as a platform to proselytize on behalf of freeskiing and twin-tips.
Although freeskiing has a three-stop professional series, it is still somewhat outside the mainstream. Unlike downhill skiing or snowboarding, freeskiing has failed to gain entry to the Olympics. But there is a movement to add a skiing halfpipe discipline to the 2014 Winter Games. And Hall has been one of its most vocal advocates.
“We’re just trying to beat down the door as hard as possible and make these people realize, Yo, halfpipe is the thing,” he said.
Hall has been especially critical of the Olympic and skiing hierarchies for adding skiercross, a racing discipline, to the Olympic lineup in 2010 ahead of halfpipe.
“This is the type of mentality we’re dealing with — old-fashioned, old people that are scared of some young kids coming up, doing some cool tricks, changing skiing,” Hall said.
Still, with momentum on the side of freeskiing, Hall says he believes any battle for the soul of the sport will end in his favor.
“Halfpipe is taking over,” he said. “Slopestyle is taking over. The X Games is almost bigger than the Olympics now.”
Perhaps the skiing establishment will take note, and begin practicing its hip-hop patois.