Look to the ‘pipe for the sickest tricks on skis
Six weeks later, the debate raged on.Which is “sicker,” the “1440 cork” or a “switch rodeo 720”? What about a “D-spin 1080”? Maybe a “900 toxic,” or “540 Japan,” tweaked out with extra-slow rotation and big amplitude?Everyone from “E-Dog” to the “Jibmaster” seemed to have a different opinion about BigAir1440’s initial inquiry in the Freeze Online chat room: What is the sickest trick out there?It wasn’t until “Bill the Glove” chimed in with the voice of reason a month and a half later that the debate finally subsided.”The sickest trick has to be the perfect blend of difficulty and style,” typed the Glove. “Obviously, Tanner (Hall)’s switch rodeo 7 tail grab is one of the sickest tricks out there, because he does it huge, with tons of style and everyone knows it’s really hard to stomp. But something can also be said for an alley-oop flair in the ‘pipe with a tweaked mute or a tail grab. That trick is so tough because you are blind to the landing almost the whole time. Also, it looks butter smooth. Check out JF (Cusson) in ‘The Game.'”Better yet, check him out in the halfpipe.Cusson, a young Canadian credited as one of the founders of skiing’s “new” freestyle, is joined by a handful of daredevil jibbers currently taking their high-wire act into that notorious ice ditch previously reserved for snowboards. After its ironic initiation, the sport has exploded onto the scene as one of the most challenging and visually compelling in the world of skiing.No longer are the best freestyle skiers being judged exclusively on their form in the moguls or the number of flips and spins they pull off a jump (540, 720, 900, 1080 and 1440 all refer to degrees of spin rotation). Halfpipe skiing demands all that and then some.Like anyone who has ever attempted the feat, Bill the Glove understands just how treacherous skiing the ‘pipe can be. And with a discerning eye, he also recognizes the beauty it offers when done properly.There’s no single trick that makes a successful halfpipe rider. Rather, it is the series of tricks, woven seamlessly together with the fluid motion of a tango dancer and the propulsion of power forward that makes this sort of skiing among the most difficult ever invented.By now, most everyone who has ever seen snow is somewhat familiar with halfpipe snowboarding. Sliding sideways up icy walls some 15 feet high, popping out to perform a series of aerial spins and flips, then dropping in to do it over again on the other side is challenging enough. But add two more edges and another 15 centimeters to your boards, a pair of poles and a truly blind backwards landing, and the difficulty level is almost off the chart.According to the experts, halfpipe riding is quickly emerging as the definitive skill test for freestyle skiers.”Back in the ’70s, every resort had a signature bump run. Usually it was right under the lift and everybody saw you and would hoot and holler when you skied it,” says Mike Jaquet, founder of Freeze Magazine, the de facto freeskiing Bible. “These days, the halfpipe is that ultimate venue, where people can go and figure out who the hot dog of the mountain is.”To ski the ‘pipe well, you need all the skills. You have to know how to edge, how to work the transitions and have a complete feel for your skis just to get above the coping consistently. Then, after you do all that, you add the tricks in.”Jaquet and Freeze are instrumental to the advancement of halfpipe skiing, offering the first major competition two years ago at the Freeze-sponsored U.S. Open of Freeskiing in Vail, which returns to town Feb. 6-9. For the second time in as many seasons the discipline has supplanted Big Air competition at the ESPN X Games Jan. 30-Feb. 2 in Aspen.”It just makes sense,” Jaquet says. “You can’t define talent with just one hit, like in a Big Air contest. You’d see guys with horrible technique, poles flailing, knees together, wiggling down the ramp, then stick a sick 900 and land fakie, but could barely stop. The top skiers have outgrown the competition.”All the more impressive is the fact that skiers were once banished from the halfpipe the way snowboarders were (and in some cases still are) from entire resorts. It wasn’t until the winter of 1998-’99 that the bans were universally lifted and skiers could practice their skills. Even then, the relationship could be tense.”You definitely had to prove yourself a little bit and gain some respect so the snowboarders didn’t throw snowballs at you,” says Greg Tuffelmeyer, a member of the Copper Mountain Free Ride Team who skied SuperPipe in last year’s X Games. “That was back in the early days of ‘pipe riding, like four years ago. Now everybody’s cool.”As with previous types of freestyle skiing, “cool,” and all that it entails, is the ultimate objective in the halfpipe. Difficulty is imperative, but style and flow rank equal in the judge’s corner as halfpipe skiing ekes out its own niche on the cutting edge of the sport.”This is kind of like a new freestyle,” Tuffelmeyer says. “I used to compete in moguls, so I don’t want to bag on it, but it’s just stale. It should be something younger, edgier, similar to snowboarding, but different. I think this is good for the sport. Maybe it will get some more people on skis doing something a little different.”Scott Willoughby is a Minturn-based freelance writer whose work appears regularly in the Denver Post and The Vail Trail, among many other fine publications.
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