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Copyright © 2001 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of November 21 - 27, 2001


Freestyle skiing past and present

Young innovators propel 
skiingís public appeal

"Every single sport like this has its generational progress. Maybe itís something in the way the sky, stars and moon line up, but it happens, and it can be really big. Itís happening in skiing right now."

Michael Jaquet, publisher of Freeze magazine

"Back then, it wasnít freestyle. It was hot dogging, so to speak. The places to ski were steep runs beneath lifts, where there were moguls. We didnít do anything, per se, other than ski, get air and have fun."

Pat Bauman, 1970s freestyle skiing film star

Express Staff Writer

The "D-Spin," "Underflip" and "Cork Seven" arenít exactly household names for many skiers. Ask a coon-eyed teenager or twenty-something, however, and you might just get an explanation about what these "new school" aerial tricks are about.

Freestyle skiing, a sport with substantial roots in Sun Valley, has grown and evolved significantly since its early days, when spring-kneed men and women shredded moguls while performing miraculous series of linked recoveries as snow cascaded into the cold, alpine air around them.

"Before the freestyle movement, skiing was seen as recreation, as a vacation," said Michael Jaquet, publisher of Freeze magazine, a periodical devoted to the 21st centuryís revolution of freestyle and extreme skiing. "Now itís seen as a progressionary sport. Itís seen almost as a culture or style movement as well. Thatís the contribution these guys have given to skiing."

Jaquet said there are definite parallels between the present ski cultureís new innovations and those of the early 1970s freestyle movement.

"In the `70s, it was such an exciting sport. It was an old and such a new sport," Jaquet said. "The kids now donít know who John Clendennin or Dick Barrymore are, but theyíre exactly like those guys, pushing the limits."

The late-1960s and 1970s were a different time in ski country. Skiing, and freestyle skiing in particular, were just beginning to appear on the nationís radar screen, and Dick Barrymore, a Sun Valley-based ski film producer, helped propel the sport to new levels.

For his film, "The Performers," Barrymore assembled a five-man K2 Skis demonstration team, four of whom were Sun Valley skiers: Charlie MacWilliams, Bob Griswold, Jim Stelling and Pat Bauman. John Clendenin of Lake Tahoe rounded out the package.

Barrymore traveled the United States with the K2 demonstration team, skiing and filming at different resorts. He and the group staged the first hot dog contest in Aspen and even claim to have staged the first ever wet T-shirt contest at the Boiler Room in Sun Valley. A new breed of ski film, and culture, was born.

"The project would take the entire winter, 100,000 feet of film, and 10,000 miles of driving, but the result would be a 26-minute film titled ĎThe Performers,í " wrote Barrymore in his autobiography, "Breaking Even." "It would be the largest budgeted film that I had ever produced and would also become one of my most popular movies."

The five-man crew affectionately came to call themselves The Performers after the film they had made.

"Back then, it wasnít freestyle. It was hot dogging, so to speak," remembered Bauman, whoís still a Sun Valley resident. "The places to ski were steep runs beneath lifts, where there were moguls. We didnít do anything, per se, other than ski, get air and have fun.

"What defined it was going out and having a good time on the mountain, in the bumps, doing what felt comfortable."

Bauman, who at 57 still skis more than 100 days a year, said aerials moves like the "Daffy," "Spread Eagle," "Back Scratcher" and 360 degree spin were commonplace in the 1970s. And not to be outdone by his 21st century counterparts, he added, "We were doing inverted stuff, as well."

The modern freestyle movement owes a lot to early film making pioneers, Bauman said. Barrymore, Warren Miller, Roger Brown and others packaged and screened hot dogging freestyle for the general public, energizing the sport.

"Basically they were the innovators of what we call freestyle skiing. Theyíre the ones who put it out there in front of everybody," he said. "It was back when the scene, too, was really growing."

"The Perfomers" went on to earn a place in skiingís annals as one of freestyle skiingís most important milestones.

Gordy Skoog, who appeared in several Barrymore films, remembered the K2 demonstration team and "The Peformers" in an interview with Mountainzone.com: "In Sun Valley I skied with Stelling, Burnsóthose guys were the ski gods. The Performers was a big deal. I saw that movie and knew that was what I wanted to do."

Early hot dogging eventually evolved into a sanctioned sport and was introduced at the Olympics as a demonstration event at the Calgary Games in 1988. Mogul skiing became part of the official program for the Albertville Games in 1992, and aerials were added in 1994 during the Lillehammer Games. Both moguls and aerials were featured in Nagano in 1998 and will be again in Salt Lake City this winter.

However, Bauman is quick to point out that the rigidity of the sanctioned events is, in his opinion, "not freestyle."

"The (sanctioned) freestyle is more like a diving event anymore," he said.

This is where Freeze, Jaquet, a booming new film industry and skiingís 21st century evolution come in.

"There is a huge connection between whatís happening now and what happened in the `70s," Jaquet said. "Itís come full circle, for sure."

A new breed of freestyle featuring free skiing is the focus of the entire industry, he said.

"If youíre reading any of the magazines, and youíre looking at the advertising, thereís some kind of freestyle element to 75 percent of the ads out there.

"I think itís growing because, as a consumer group, teenagers and twenty-somethings are as powerful as any group out there. That generation of kids is setting the trends, and, luckily, weíve been able to generate some strong personalities, some heroes."

Todayís freestyle skiers, with help from new twin-tip skis, are throwing increasingly difficult aerial tricks in which they can launch or land backward. A multitude of forward, backward and off-axis flips, twists and spins are featured in the new schoolís bag of tricks.

To add style, skiers are grabbing, crossing, or grabbing and crossing their skis in mid-air.

"Thatís putting elements of style into these tricks, and thatís really important," Jaquet said. "To these guys, itís all about style. Being able to do a trick and make it look really cool."

And a lot of skiingís new school style is rooted in skateboarding as well as early freestyle skiing and present-day innovation.

"Skateboading dominates this world of action sports," he said. "Skateboarding sets all the trends. What theyíre emulating is the style that skateboarding has. The style in skateboarding is so powerful and so amazing to all these kids, that they want to bring that into their sports."

One of the latest crazes for young skiers is "jibbing," Jaquet said. Jibbing consists of performing skateboard-related tricks just about anywhere on the mountain or in the back yard. However, an example involves sliding on specially made rails (or hand rails along stairs), similar to skateboard and snowboard "grinds."

Another example of a jib is featured in the current issue of Freeze. Renowned skiing trickster J.P. Auclair is pictured skiing up the roof of a house, jibbing on a chimney and riding back down cleanly.

"Itís one of the most impressive jibs of the year," Jaquet said.

With impressive new talent and names like Auclair, Cusson, Dorion, Holmes, Olsson, Thovex, Hall, Szocs and many others, freestyle skiingís tomorrow appears to be in progressive and competent hands.

So skiingís evolution and revolution continues, as it did in the 1970s, led by innovators who learn from the past, borrow from the present and forge paths not yet trodden.

"Every single sport like this has its generational progress. Maybe itís something in the way the sky, stars and moon line up, but it happens, and it can be really big," Jaquet said. "Itís happening in skiing right now."


The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.