Kids gettin’ fresh |

Kids gettin’ fresh

Matt Zalaznick

Downhill racing may be the most dangerous sport in the world, but gates and spandex have grown stale, say those riding high on skiing’s new wave.

Free skiing features events such as the high-flying big-air competition and the hard-charging skier cross, where four racers chase – and sometimes shove – each other down an obstacle-laden course.

And the new wave returned to Vail this weekend, holding the U.S. Free Skiing Open, one of the sports biggest competitions along with the X Games – an extreme version of the Winter Olympics.

“This isn’t the same old guys going down the same old race course,” says Jamie Curcio, a snowboarder from Steamboat Springs who watched Saturday’s skier cross race.

Skier cross and slopestyle – another free skiing event – are run on courses loaded with jumps, half-pipes, “tables,” and rails similar to Vail’s Golden Peak terrain park. A free skiing race, though fast, is a bit different than speeding down an ice-slicked downhill course or swooping through slalom gates, said free skier Drew Stachnik, who’s from Steamboat Springs.

“Everyone’s sick and tried of watching people race in spandex,” Stanchik said.

But the competition can be just as intense as in an alpine race, he added.

“You’ve got to come to the competition and show everyone what’s up,” Stanchik said. “It definitely pushes your skiing and pushes your limits. There’s definitely an objective to obtain.”

What’s that?

“To win.”

Don’t you Steamboaters think the folks in Vail are a spoiled bunch of powder snobs living in a town where it’s impossible to park on a weekend?

“You guys are getting that way,” he said.

Amie Helstad, a skier cross competitor from Norway, said the race can get brutal.

“If a girl’s in my way, I try to get her out of it,” Helstad said. “Once, I jumped over another skier.”

Alex Miyazaki, a slopes-stylist from Whistler, British Columbia, said free skiing is luring more kids to the slopes. Some kids are turned off when they’re thrown right into alpine racing as soon as they finish ski school, he said.

“This adds a new dimension,” Miyazaki said.

“Hey, `dimension’ is a big word,” his friend Sarah Bogner said.

Dimension is hardly a big word, not big like `peregrinate’ or `valediction.”

“If you live in Whistler, any word bigger than `beer’ or `liquor’ is a big word,” Miyazaki said.

We’ll see what the folks in Steamboat have to say about that.

Former Vail residents Anne and Jim Bennett, whose son Cliff made the finals of Saturday’s skier cross, said free skiing was a revolution on the same scale as the free love and hippie movements of the 1960s.

“You see a lot of the rebels of skiing doing free skiing,” Jim Bennett said. “Compared to formal ski racing, there are a lot less politics involved, a lot less of the rules and regulations that take something away from the sport for the skier and the parents.”

The Bennetts said that they, unlike their more daring son, never ski jumps or ski upside down through mid-air.

“My stomach goes upside down when they crash,” she said.

Ann also said free skiing is more inclusive sport.

“They call it free skiing because everybody’s free to join the club,” she said.

Note: `peregrinate’ does not mean to ski double black-diamond runs at Beaver Creek and `valediction’ is not the lingo spoken by Vail Mountain chair lift operators.

Jason Gibb, a skier from Breckenridge, said big air, skier cross and slope-style are more creative ways to go down the slopes.

“You can express yourself,” Gibb said. “The guys can come up with their own tricks and do whatever they want to do.”

Gibb’s friend Jaye Wiessner said she can live on the edge with out skiing upside down.

“I like speed, big turns, trees, powder,” she said.

Maybe free skiing should add a tree race? It could be called tree-er cross.

“I don’t think so, that would be pretty nasty,” Gibb said.

Witnessing the jolt of cool that free skiing has given to skiing, some at Saturday’s races pondered whether a similar movement could rejuvenate other sports that may be growing a bit dull. Like bowling for instance. Isn’t rolling the same heavy ball down the same narrow lane every time a little unoriginal?

Free bowling could be played on steeper lanes, lanes with curves or obstacles, and, instead of those bland balls, free bowlers could roll water balloons, grapefruits or chickens.

“I think bowling is going to need a lot more help,” said Vail’s Josh Wayne. “This probably isn’t a good idea for golf either.”

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