Vail opening day 2011: Master of the steep and deep |

Vail opening day 2011: Master of the steep and deep

Special to the Daily

VAIL, Colorado – While a few chairlifts have fired up on Vail Mountain today, Drew Rouse has already been out in the powder.

Rouse, 33, a free skier, had knee surgery earlier this year. Part of his rehab routine has been hiking in the mountains. When the valley received its first shots of snow a few weeks ago, Rouse put the skins on his skis and headed uphill.

“I’ve probably had 10 powder days already,” Rouse said. “I’m just trying to get in shape.”

Rouse grew up in Maryland, and was working at a ski shop there in the mid-1990s when he first saw video of free skiers by Matchstick productions. That sparked his interest, and a few years later Rouse was in Vail, seeking his own powder stashes.

These days, Rouse works as a dispatcher for a local taxi company to pay the bills, and tries to line up sponsors to help get him to events.

He’s lined up a few companies, including Optic Nerve, but Grace Skis of Denver came to him.

“It’s nice when someone wants you,” Rouse said.

Free skiing is a little different than World Cup. Events still draw crowds, but Rouse is the ultimate privateer. His sponsors help with equipment, entry fees and the like, but Rouse still pays his own travel expenses. When the next competition is in South America, that can get expensive.

Free skiing is a little like competing to be in the next video or movie. Competitors are judged by the lines they take down impossible-looking slopes, as well as their control, fluidity, and style.

The sport has been growing over the last few years, especially as former terrain park skiers take their tricks up to the mountaintops and fly through periscope-depth powder.

“(The sport) hasn’t come close to what it’s going to be in 10 years,” Rouse said.

For this season, though, Rouse wants to put his mark on the sport.

“This year I think I’ll be able to bring some terrain park stuff,” he said. “The judges want to see corkscrews.”

Support Local Journalism