It was big lines and big air at Breckenridge Ski Resort Sunday as the mountain hosted its inaugural big mountain competition, the Go Pro Big Mountain Challenge, part of the International Free Skiers Association’s (IFSA) Ride the Divide junior regional series.
While spring breakers and wedge-skiing beginners crowded the lower slopes, a group of close to 60 amateur skiers ages 12 to 18 were charging off of 30- to 40-foot cliff drops into the narrow chutes high above treeline in the mountain’s new double-black diamond hike-to terrain.
“I don’t think anyone was prepared to see how great this new venue is,” Chris Carson, freestyle director for Summit County-based Team Summit ski club said. “The Peak 6 terrain has put Breckenridge on the map for big mountain extreme skiing.”
In big mountain formatted competitions skiers and snowboarders charge down extreme terrain that often features a near 50-degree slope with a number of cliff bands, rock outcrops and narrow chutes. Competitors are scored on line choice, control, fluidity, technique, style and air.
This new event is another big step toward a new reputation for Breckenridge as a home to extreme skiing and snowboarding. More commonly known as a destination resort with abundant family-friendly beginner terrain, the resort clearly seems to be expanding toward a new demographic. As host for the annual Dew Tour — pro halfpipe and slopestyle competition — and with an expansive terrain park that a number of Olympians and other pros call home, Breckenridge could soon add hosting a number of big mountain competitions to their list of offerings, catering to the more extreme skiing and snowboarding crowd. That’s what organizers are hoping, and with the success of this first event it could eventually mean national level or even pro big mountain competitions.
“Breckenridge has some great stuff to offer now,” Carson said. “There’s a lot of potential.”
Standing at the top of the Six Senses terrain with some of his team ready to drop, Team Summit executive director Jerry Karl was equally impressed.
“Wow, this is a world-class venue for these athletes up here,” he said. It was his first trip up to the hike-to portion of the resort’s recent Peak 6 expansion. “I always thought Peak 6 is flat and now you’re standing up here going ‘holy cow, this is some of the best skiing in Summit County.’ This is the thing we’ve wanted for this group of kids.”
For Team Summit’s freestyle program it means a local venue for their growing freestyle team, who — prior to this year — has had to travel long distances for these kinds of competitions.
Originally scheduled for Saturday but delayed due to weather, the inaugural competition kicked off under perfect conditions. Competitors were treated to bluebird skies and a few inches of fresh snow.
With minor delays due to avalanche mitigation, athletes took to the hill around 10 a.m. to spend an hour scouting their lines, eyeing potential jumps and preparing for their first run.
While organizers had scheduled to have both a qualifying and final round, they decided to cut the competition to one round due to time constraints and the surprisingly large field of competition for a first year event.
By the day’s end, home field turned out to be an advantage for Team Summit as a number of the club’s athletes made the podium in each age category.
Fifteen-year-old Grifen Moller of Leadville took top honors in the male 15-18 age bracket.
“It feels pretty good,” he said afterwards. “It was one of the fastest lines I’ve skied in competition.”
He topped 25 other athletes in his grouping.
As for the new course, he said he’s glad to have it in the backyard. “It’s so much fun. I’m so happy they opened this all up this year. It’s a blast.”
He went on to say it is right up there with other big mountain competition venues.
“There are so many lines you can do,” he said. “It was probably one of the better venues this year and probably one of the better ones I’ve skied.”
Teammate Caroline Hardy of Golden, 18, won the female 15-18 division.
“It was really nice to have a home advantage,” she said, equally impressed by the course. “I think it was the steepest venue I’ve skied all year. It’d be cool if there’s a nationals here.”
With the variety of terrain, steep grade and length of course, more big mountain competitions would appear to be a very real possibility in the coming seasons.
“It sounds like everyone who was here today wants to see this as a nationals kind of venue,” Carson said, adding that pro level competition would also be a possibility.