In five seconds, my life changed forever. I didn’t completely comprehend this life-changing event at the time, because I was 6 years old, but the images flickering across the screen, spit out from the 90’s era VHS player, would shape my life, my love and my career forever.
According to my parents, I was already madly in love with skiing by age 6. My home mountain, the mountain I learned to ski on, was Alpine Meadows and every weekend was spent convincing my parents to take one more lap down the icy, bumpy luge run that was my favorite run on the mountain, “Hot Wheels Gully”. I was the rare kid that had to be bribed with hot cocoa and Snickers bars to come in from skiing, not continue on in the cold. So it’s not surprising that when Warren Miller’s “Ski Country” (1984) was put on my home video player, I was completely entranced.
But it all came down to one singular moment that would change my life. That moment was when a blond-haired, blue-eyed, red-one piece clad skier made gravity-defying, airborne turns down the steep face below the KT-22 chairline. Even in the grainy 80’s footage, you could tell every chairlift rider had the eyes transfixed on the man placing turns where no one else dared; above the towering cliffs of the Fingers. Without a track in sight, the skier rhythmically bounces down the 50 degree face as the pitch steepens and the cliffs near. As the edge comes closer and closer, the narrator, the late legendary Warren Miller says, “Scot Schmidt can put new tracks in places no one else in the world can,” and suddenly Schmidt picks up his 220cm long skis and flies off the edge in perfect controlled flight.
The entire segment is chock filled with iconic in bounds lines, from the near vertical chutes of the Palisades to the rounded sandstone of The Rock Garden, Scot Schmidt skied like no one I’d ever seen before. It defied all notion of skiing, physics and human limitations I’d thought existed. It was like watching my superhero comics come to life. And it was all happening just next door to where I skied.
It wasn’t long before I had convinced my parents that Olympic Valley was where I wanted to ski, where I wanted to be Scot Schmidt, where I had planned out my life goal of being a “skier” would take place. When my parents and I made the switch to the mountain next door, little did I know I was stepping into a world where the history of freeskiing was already developed by legends like Scot Schmidt, Glen Plake and Tom Day, and the future of the sport was being formed in real time.
I’ll never forget the first time I saw Shane McConkey in the KT-22 line. Here was my Michael Jordan, my Niel Armstrong, my personal Joe Montana, standing in line just like I was. The guy who dropped my jaw in ski movies, who made me laugh uncontrollably with his off the wall skits and who defined a generation of skiers right in front of me. I didn’t have the gall to say anything to Shane but I quietly decided I was going to follow him and two other legends of the sport, JT Holmes and Scott Gaffney as close as I could until I couldn’t keep up or they told me to beat it. For the next two hours I would straight-line everything I could at mach-a-looney speeds to make sure they wouldn’t lose me. I’d stand on the edge of a cliff they just jumped and force myself to jump off quickly, despite my complete fear of doing something I’ve never done before, just so I could keep them in my sights. I summoned every ounce of ski skills, bravery and lunacy I had to chase them around. Eventually, I got noticed. “Shit, they stopped and are looking at me.” JT said, “Hey kid, you want to ski with us?” I don’t remember what I said, because I think I blacked out with the anxiety of my heroes actually talking to me but next thing I know I was riding the chair with them.
A few years after that moment, after I was taken in by my heroes, my friends started making history. My brash and talented best ski buddy in Mighty Mites, CR Johnson would do the first ever 1260 and 1440 on skis in the Riviera Park. Kent Krietler would redefine what is possible by throwing 720’s off cliffs in the middle of a ski line. I stood on the lip of the halfpipe as Skogen Sprang did the first ever alley-oop flatspin in the pipe, thusly named the Skodeo. Legends like Jonny Moseley, Shane Anderson, Aaron McGovern, Evan Raps, Tanner Hall, Jamie Burge, Ingrid Backstrom were revolutionizing what was possible all on the slopes of my home mountain. The history of freeskiing was happening around me.
The years passed as I exited my teens and got into my twenties. The excitement of a generation of freeskiers firmly implanted inside me. I became lucky enough to carry the torch that those heroes passed on to me and I have been a professional freeskier ever since. Without those lines, those legends, the terrain of my home mountain, I don’t think I would’ve had the inspiration or the spirit to pioneer lines like “The Crack” or take all that I have learned into the biggest and baddest lines in North America for my “Fifty” project. The craziest thing about it all though, is it all started with a grainy VHS tape and a moment I’ll remember for the rest of my life.