SNOWMASS VILLAGE - Forget the cheetah-pant-wearing, Cali-bred hotshot Shaun White - local kids can jump, too.
Beginning Friday, Feb. 10, at 2 p.m., the anticipated Bud Light Big Air Fridays series will kick off its 10th year at Snowmass Mountain, beckoning local athletes from all age groups to take a plunge off the 40-feet jump on Fanny Hill and showcase their best snowboarding and freeskiing tricks to locals and vacationers alike.
With the competition unfolding over an eight-week period, including a Little Air contest with a mini-jump for the younger athletes, a panel of top skiers and snowboarders will decide who moves on to the finals with the freshest corks and grabs, and who stays behind to wallow in their successors' tracks.
Back and ready to woo the crowd this year is freeskier Nathan Berkel, who won "Best Overall" in last year's Big Air and plans on doubling his mark this time over.
"Those little kids are good," Berkel said of his competition. "The 18 year olds are the ones who showcase the most progression when it comes to tricks, so I have to work to keep up with them."
Joining Berkel on the slope will be his best friend and fellow freeskier rival Lance Ammerman, who will aim for a prominent return after missing last year's Big Air due to an ankle injury.
Perhaps the local breadwinners of the sport as they continue to land their best interpretations of inversions and flips, Berkel and Ammerman in their mid-20s practice side by side in the terrain parks with their high-school counterparts almost everyday of the week.
"It's fun because we are all friends," Ammerman said. "We push one another to meet goals and enjoy going head to head on an event like Big Air."
But according to Berkel, when Friday hits and the competition begins, there is nothing but do-or-die attitudes when it comes to who goes home with a win.
This year's trick of choice for Berkel: a Double Misty 900 complete with two forward-flipping backside spins for a 900-degree rotation, while Ammerman will shoot for a Cork 10, hitting three off-axis rotations with a front-ski grab.
Tyler Lindsay, the eight-year snowboarding program director of the recognized Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club, which credits itself to teaching some of the top young skiers and snowboarders in the Valley through its multi-level programs, looks forward to see what his up and coming athletes can bring to the jump.
Expecting at least four or five kids from AVSC to participate, Lindsay believes the event to be both challenging and rewarding.
"Big Air allows our local talent to show off what they've been practicing all week," he said. "The kids get some publicity while they gain a feel for real competition, and parents, locals and visitors can also witness a really good show."
For each Big Air Friday, judges will evaluate participants by a cumulative point system where the top three from each sport will obtain up to $350 in cash prizes. Top competitors from the Little Air event will also be entered in to a weekly prize purse. Athletes who accumulate the most points over the eight-week series will have the biggest advantage when it comes to winning best overall at the end of the series on March 30.
Practice for competitors will begin each Friday at 1 p.m. with the main event kicking off promptly at 2 p.m. Finals will be held from 2:45-3 p.m. followed by crowd giveaways and live music entertainment throughout Snowmass Base Village.
"We look forward to the event each year because it brings talent out from all parts of Colorado to showoff their best," SkiCo's Senior Manager of Event Marketing Deric Gunshor said. "Most guests are already out on the hill by the time Big Air begins, so it's a way to get them down to interact and see the great competition our local kids can bring to the stage."