Poulin: Big mountain skiing on the rise at Winter Park Resort
Big mountain skiing is gaining popularity in Winter Park’s Competition Center. Big mountain is when athletes navigate natural terrain including tress cliffs, chutes, drops, etc, using creativity and style.
Most competitors have a solid background in ski racing , but want to test their skills on more extreme terrain. Many athletes were burnt out from competing in alpine racing and moguls, and use their skills for cliff drops and big air instead. Competitors must be between the ages of 12-18 and be expert skiers or boarders, according to the Competition Center regulations.
The International Freeskiers and Snowboarders Association (IFSA) was founded by Shane McConkey in 1996 with the intent of focusing on aspects of skiing other than alpine racing. IFSA is now the governing body of big mountain competitions.
Big mountain athletes learn unique skills such as ski mountaineering and avalanche awareness. There are many factors in big mountain, like conditions at the time of the competition and a variety of lines athletes can choose, making the judging system different from other styles of ski competitions.
There are five categories of judgment for the IFSA: line choice, control, fluidity, technique, and style. Judging big mountain skiing is unique in that there is no time limit, but stopping or hesitation will dock competitors points from their fluidity score.
It is no surprise that big mountain competitions are on the rise in Winter Park, as almost 26 percent of the competitors are from the Rocky Mountain demographic, according to the IFSA. Scott Mahoney is the president of the IFSA and parent of a Winter Park Comp Center big mountain skier.
“The Comp Center really stepped it up hosting events last year,” Mahoney said, “The feedback from Colorado athletes was great.”
About 220 athletes competed in the two day event held at Winter Park in 2015.
Winter Park Resort now has the largest big mountain team in the state of Colorado with the largest feeder program, the All Terrain Program (ATP). There are currently 62 athletes in the big mountain program with about 400 in ATP. The resort also invested in a roller packer for the cirque to get big mountain terrain open much quicker.
Mike Miller, a coach of the big mountain snowboard team, has seen great results from his athletes in the competitions: “The majority of our team has been invited to the IFSA North American Junior Freeride Championships each year and we have also had a rider invited to the Freeride Junior World Championships two years in a row.”
The big mountain snowboard team consists of athletes who started out riding Park and Pipe, and eventually began riding big mountain as well to really test their skills.
“The best part is the fact that no two people look at a venue the same way,” Miller said about big mountain riding, “You never see the same run twice. Competing in a big mountain competition takes all the skills learned in the different disciplines of snowboarding.”
This year the IFSA will hold an event at Winter Park on Feb. 26. Both the Winter Park big mountain snowboard and ski teams will be competing. The event will ideally be held in The Cirque depending on conditions.
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Due to current public health guidance, there will not be an in-person wilderness campsite lottery for Rocky Mountain National Park this year.