2016 GoPro Big Mountain Challenge brings 170 youth skiers to The Six Senses on Peak 6 | SummitDaily.com

2016 GoPro Big Mountain Challenge brings 170 youth skiers to The Six Senses on Peak 6

GoPro Big Mountain Challenge schedule

Saturday, March 19

What: First runs, U-12 and U-14 boy’s and girl’s skiers and snowboarders

9-10 a.m. — Course inspection, The Six Senses on Peak 6

10:15 a.m. to 3 p.m. — Competition runs, The Six Senses on Peak 6

4:30 p.m. — Qualifying results posted at Peak 8, One Ski Hill Grill (back right corner)

Sunday, March 20

What: First run, U-18; Second run, all qualified riders

9-10 a.m. — Course inspection, The Six Senses on Peak 6

10:15 a.m. to 3 p.m. — U-18 qualifiers and finals, The Six Senses on Peak 6

4:30 p.m. — Final results at Peak 8, One Ski Hill Grill (back right corner)

There’s nothing quite like hucking off a cliff with nothing but skis and (hopefully) soft, luscious snow to break the fall.

This weekend, more than 170 athletes from across the region will taste the adrenaline rush of cliff crashing at the third annual GoPro Big Mountain Challenge. It’s the only event of its kind at the resort and in Summit County, held on the relatively new (or at least newly accessible) extreme terrain on Peak 6, most notably the dastardly cliff band known as The Six Senses.

“It’s definitely some of, if not the steepest, terrain in Summit County that holds snow consistently,” said Chris Carson, the Team Summit Colorado freeski director and former technical director for the Big Mountain Challenge. “It’s on that north-to-northeast aspect, with lots of blower snow. As long as we’re blessed with some sunshine we should be good. Here’s hoping we can show off some incredibly skiing from these young athletes.”

But, of course, Mother Nature had other plans. On Friday morning — the first day of competition — the fourth day of a weeklong blizzard brought 11 inches to Breckenridge overnight, plus another two or three inches during a snowy, windy, overcast day. The top of Peak 6 was blasted with gale-force winds for most of the day, which was enough for event organizers with Breckenridge Ski Resort and Team Summit to postpone first qualifying runs for the U-18 (15 to 18 years old) division until tomorrow.

With any other discipline — alpine, halfpipe, slopestyle — nearly a full week of thick, heavy snow would be enough to throw off the groove. But that’s not the case with big-mountain athletes. Even though the first day of competition was called off, nearly 40 inches of fresh snow at Breck means everyone will go bigger, harder and crazier off a slice of the craziest lift-accessible terrain in the county.

And Carson can’t wait.

“This snow will prime the course for a really good show,” he said. “It’s just going to open things up, open bigger features, let athletes go faster and more fluid. Firm conditions are when you lose control.”

Carson’s coaches can’t wait either. When I ran into him and two others on the wind-whipped ridge overlooking the Peak 6 glades and Highway 9 far below (not like we could see much of it), I offered to head out with them for a few photos in the fresh snow — a little love for the guys and gals behind the scenes.

“To be honest, I’d rather just ski,” one of the coaches said with a tinge of guilt. But I could tell that his fellow coaches agreed.

“I’m sure you can round up a few athletes to go take photos,” the other coach offered. “They’re all over the place, like 40 kids with this same jacket.”

The big mountain appeal

The Big Mountain Challenge is a testament to the surging popularity of big-mountain skiing and snowboarding, especially at the youth level. In just three years, the number of registered athletes has more than tripled, from 68 competitors the first year in 2014 (the same year Peak 6 opened for the public) to more than 170 this year. It’s the type of growth organizers like to see, but with events like this — events held on wholly natural features at nearly 13,000 vertical feet — there has to be a limit.

“You can’t make these things too big,” said Dave Little, competition services director for Breckenridge. “You can only run so many kids through a venue in a day and that limits things. But the kids love it, the spectators love it — it’s been a good setting for us.”

The Big Mountain Challenge debuted at an ideal time for the resort and Team Summit. It put a spotlight on Peak 6, a nearly 600-acre addition some 10 years in the making that has fast become a haven for alpine extremists, similar to Imperial Express SuperChair in 2012 and Peak 7 a few years before that.

“This brought great exposure to Peak 6 when we were opening that, but it also gave us a way to partner with our community and find something that was important for them, something they could bring back to their kids,” Little said of the collaboration between the resort and Team Summit. “This is their home terrain. They have the home-court advantage, so why not hold it in their backyard?”

Clean lines, big wins

But the big-mountain realm isn’t quite so simple. Sure, Carson and the Team Summit crew of 45 big-mountain athletes train regularly at Breckenridge and Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, but again, in a discipline known for unpredictability, even a touch of familiarity can be a crutch.

“The unique thing about big mountain skiing is that the home team can sometimes get set in their lines, then another team shows up and sees it differently,” Carson said, then took a brief pause. “But the Team Summit kids have been on a roll and we’re looking to continue it.”

Big-mountain athletes are judged on four main elements: control, technique, style and energy, and fluidity. From there, judges determine an overall “line score,” which is the formal term for just how impressive the run was from start to finish.

This weekend, three feet of new snow means judges will be looking for flawless lines with nearly flawless form — the hallmark of any good big-mountain line. But, that doesn’t necessarily mean the winners will throw down the type of show-stopping cliff drops found in Warren Miller flicks.

“If you leave the ground — if you go for a trick off a cliff or feature — you have to stomp it,” Carson said. “We’ve really been trying to focus on keeping kids out of the rocks over the past few years, (finding) ways to show off their ski technique instead of just getting gutsy. We want to see longevity in our sport, not just have a bunch of guys who are old and crusty like me.”

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