Ski, board contests launch this week

Brent Gardner-Smith
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Freestyle Fridays at Aspen Highlands are changing with the times and becoming “Freeride” Fridays.

The oldest freestyle skiing event in the country is coming back Friday for another year. But in addition to seeing who’s got the best bumps and jumps, the contest is also going to throw in a little skiercross and slopestyle action.

The head-to-head format will stay the same as in years past, but now skiers will start down the mogul field on Scarlett’s Run and go off a small kicker.

Then, they’ll come together on one course, go down a straightaway section and into two banked turns. After the turns, they’ll hit a spine, or a fin, which is a steep wall of snow running vertically down the slope, somewhat resembling one wall of a halfpipe.

The skiers will catch air or bank off the spine and then head back into their respective mogul fields. From there, they’ll bump their way down to the big air jump at the bottom.

But wait! There’s more. After the big air jump, and presumably after they’ve landed the big jump, the skiers will hit a terrain park feature – either a rail or more likely a picnic table.

“I think it is going to add some freshness and excitement to the event,” said Jeff Hanle, Aspen Skiing Co. spokesman. “I think it is going to bring in some of the newer competitors who are doing the new-school tricks. It will be fun to watch for new and old alike.”

The midsection of the course was built by Greg Boyd, the Skico’s terrain park manager and designer.

“He was up there on Tuesday,” Hanle said. “He built the fin, the banked turns and the kicker at the bottom. So it’s pretty good to go.”

Hanle said he was pretty sure the picnic table at the bottom of the course wouldn’t be a safety factor, even if somebody hucked it huge.

“I think it will be well out of range,” he said.

Competitors will still be judged on speed, style and jumps. In each round, one skier will advance and one will go drink beer on the Merry-Go-Round deck.

The first-place purse has also been upped to $750 each week. The 12:30 p.m. event will start Friday and run on Fridays through March. The event is open to people on skis only.

And a new event at the Snowmass Ski Area kicks off Thursday and will be held every Thursday through March.

The Fanny Hill Big Air competition is open to people on both snowboards and skis.

The Snowmass Village Resort Association and the Skico got together during Wintersköl to test out the new gap jump a few yards up the slope from the end of the Snowmass mall.

Competitors got some big air, and a crowd of spectators got their thrills by watching from the side of Fanny Hill. The jump can also be seen from the deck at the Cirque.

“It was successful from an athlete and spectator point of view,” Hanle said. “It was cool that we could bring a bit of the Snowmass terrain park down the mountain so these guys can showcase their skills in front of a crowd, which they like to do. And it brings some excitement to the base of the ski area.”

The competition is open to all comers – although it would be prudent to have some big-air experience – for a cost of $10. Competitors have to be 18 years old and can sign up in advance at the ticket pavilion at the end of the mall.

There will be a weekly $600 purse with $300 going to the winner. Plus, Alpine Bank is laying down a $100 weekly prize for whoever catches the biggest air. (Rumors that the “most air” prize was sponsored by a local orthopedic doctor could not be confirmed by press time.)

Trials for the competition start at 2 p.m. on Thursday, and the finals start at 3 p.m.

And starting at 3 p.m. each Thursday, a live band will begin playing in the ticket pavilion on the mall. The doors to the pavilion will be thrown open, and the band will be playing to an audience on the mall.

Thursday, the band Little Blue, which recently backed up John Oates at the Wheeler Opera House, will be playing.

In addition to the tunes and people hucking themselves into space, clowns will be strolling the mall offering balloon sculptures and face painting. This, presumably, is for the kids in attendance.

To cap off the new Thursdays in Snowmass, there will be a fireworks display each week at 7:30 p.m.

[Brent Gardner-Smith’s e-mail address is]