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Accessible Extreme

Tom Winter

You’ve watched The Session. You’re planning on going to Aspen to check out the Winter X Games. And you’ve seen the Olympics on TV.

Sure, being a spectator is great. But wouldn’t it have been nice to be chilling in the VIP tent at the base of Golden Peak during The Session while the riff-raff froze their butts off next to the fencing?

Sure, it would have.

That’s the problem with these events. They’re awesome, but unless you’re a top pro who is competing with the big boys, you’re stuck outside the fences. Watching is fun, but it’s better to be on the inside, to be part of the party and to have VIP credentials yourself.

Guess what? You don’t have to be a pro to enjoy the lifestyle that the pros live. Because as good as the X Games or The Session are to watch, it’s even better to compete in one of the many accessible events that hit the mountains each season.

These events don’t have live TV coverage. But they do feature parties, VIP treatment for competitors and the chance to win a couple of bucks over the weekend.

And, because they’re designed for the common man, they provide the perfect opportunity to experience what it’s like to be on the inside, as an athlete, even if it’s only for a day.

Chris Albers knows about being a hero for a weekend. A raw kid who moved to Vail from South Dakota with $300 bucks, a backpack and his snowboard, Albers decided to enter the Colorado Freeride Series at Snowmass two years ago. He found success at the event, pocketing a bunch of cash and finishing at the top of the overall standings for two years running.

The experience eventually led him to the U.S. Extreme Boarderfest in Crested Butte, where he finished in the eighth spot.

While Albers has parlayed his success at the Colorado Freeride Series into a budding career as a snowboarder – he now gets support from Mountain Hardware and Steepwater – he started entering competitions because they were fun.

“The Colorado Freeride Series treats everyone like they’re a pro,” he says. “There’s VIP parties and the atmosphere is great. It’s relaxed and the focus is on having a good time.”

These attributes are shared by a variety of other events happening at a ski area near you. While the Colorado Freeride Series and Championships is a big-mountain extreme event for skiers and snowboarders which pits competitors against the mountain – judges rank athletes on degree of difficulty of line, aggression, fluidity, control and form and technique – there are plenty of other events that cater to park and pipe riders as well.

“We wanted to create a pipe event that’s really accessible,” says Freeskier Magazine’s director of business development Chris Jerard. “What the Jib Fest allows us to do is have top pros intermingle with regular skiers. The pros jam with the locals, but when the event starts, the pros step away from the pipe and the event focuses on local athletes. They’re the ones who are competing and they get the glory.”

The Jib Fest has installments in Aspen and Keystone this year as well as Mount Snow, Vt. Featuring a jam format, skiers spend 30 minutes in the pipe doing their thing. Then judges, including top pros, pick the best 15 riders to compete in an afternoon session. The winner walks away with a ton of swag, but everyone who competes gets VIP treatment including entry into a party and the chance to hang out with pros and members of the media.

“We wanted to make this event as inclusive as possible,” admits Jerard.

“It’s about living the dream for a day, even if you have to return to a 9-to-5 job on Monday morning.”

Then there’s the Snowboard Outreach Society series of events. For those with a conscious, SOS offers athletes the chance to not only live the dream of being an athlete for a day, but support one of Eagle County’s top nonprofit organizations.

Founded in Vail, Colorado in 1993, the Snowboard Outreach Society (SOS) is a grassroots, nonprofit snowboarders’ charity that helps underprivileged and at risk youth through learn to snowboard programs. One of the major components of SOS is its competition series.

With halfpipe, slopestyle and boardercross events scattered across a variety of Rocky Mountain resorts including Vail, Beaver Creek, Keystone, Breckenridge and Steamboat Springs, the organization hosts a packed schedule.

The events benefit the nonprofit and they’re also inclusive, with athletes of all ages competing. Even skiers are welcomed to compete in the halfpipe and slopestyle events. Sure, the competition is important, but the ultimate goal of SOS – to impact the lives of the kids it teaches to ride and to provide the opportunity for adults to make a profound impact on the world around them – is even more important.

No matter what you do this season, if you live in the mountains and ski or ride with passion, you owe it to yourself to become a VIP for a day. Whether it’s testing your skills against the mountain at the Colorado Freeride Series, chilling with a pro at a Jib Fest event or competing in the SOS series and helping change lives, there’s a thousand ways to be a hero.

After all, why let the pros have all the fun?

Tom Winter is a freelance writer based in Vail.


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