Chris Tatsuno is one sick-bird.
At least that's what the judges at the Telluride Freeskiing Open thought when Tatsuno threw a front-flip off a 60-foot cliff at the southwestern Colorado resort the first weekend of March.
Meanwhile, Griffin Post, 22, another Sun Valley Ski Team alum, won a Freeskiing Open at Crested Butte in late February. It was only the second competition on the circuit for the Denver University student.
As Crested Butte is also the flagship event on the U.S. Freeskiing Series, it also brings with it the largest purse of the year. For his first place finish, Post earned a windfall $6,500.
"It was a good one to win," he said.
For the victory, Snowbird resident Post chose a sketchy line that had him jumping and landing consecutive "pillows" that topped each cliff band he launched. Post is one of the younger competitors on the tour and wasn't favored to win at Crested Butte.
"I dark-horsed 'em," Post said about the win.
Though Tatsuno has not won an event yet, he accomplished the next best thing—the Sick Bird Award—at Telluride a week after Post's triumph.
In Post's words, the Sick Bird is "whoever does the craziest thing on skis." The award is given for the racer who, regardless of success, attempts the biggest jumps and most challenging (or "sickest," in big mountain lingo) lines down a mountain face.
The highly coveted award goes to "the guy who best exemplifies the sport of freeskiing," said Tatsuno. He also won, he said with a laugh, "an awesome belt buckle that (Post) was kind of jealous of."
For Breckenridge resident and University of Colorado grad Tatsuno, 23, the Sick Bird nod brings with it some serious street credibility and visibility on the freeskiing tour.
Tatsuno didn't land his front-flip huck, and is modest of the accomplishments.
"I ended up kicking both shoes," he said, referring to his double binding ejection on landing.
He added about his runs, including the competition's fastest at just 14 seconds, "I skied a couple of lines that were fun, but people told me they were crazy."
Tatsuno has competed in Crested Butte's freeskiing open three years running. Prior to discovering big mountain contests, he raced two years with the UC-Boulder alpine team.
"In the (terrain) park comps, there are guys who can huck and spin, but they can't ski," said Tatsuno. "A lot of (terrain park skiing) comes down to acrobatics as opposed to skiing. The freeskiing tour shows someone who can do it all—make a solid line, go big and throw in some progressive tricks."
He admits there is a rush inherent to the sport. "Fear is a definite factor. We are all adrenaline junkies, that's why we are out here," he said.
Post, who has been attempting cliffs as large as 60 to 70 feet this season, said he is well aware of the risks.
"Whenever I drop something that big, I take a while to concentrate and know what I am getting into. I never haphazardly put myself at risk," Post said. "The fear makes you focus."
For both Tatsuno and Post, there is no telling where freeskiing might take them. Ski careers today are ripe with opportunities in video, competition and sponsorship. Both will be competing in the North American Freeskiing Championships this weekend at Kirkwood, Ca.
Their careers are, one might say, just getting off the ground.