Live from Crested Butte: www.summitdaily.com/extremes
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It only took an instant for Rex Wehrman, the two-time U.S. Extreme Freeskiing champion, to decide he’d competed for the last time on Crested Butte’s famously perilous terrain.
Hucking in the “Extremes” for the seventh time last February ” and six years removed from his last victory there ” Wehrman took a line through the Butte’s Bodybag pitch, an aptly named, ultrasteep cliff band with enough mature trees to call it a forest.
He rocketed into a double rock drop that, really, only a tiny fraction of the world’s expert skiers would be able to handle. But Wehrman, who lives in Dillon Valley, has long been at the top of that list; he earns a living by making this sort of stunt look possible.
When he hit the middle of his double, however, he punched through the snow and was suddenly in big trouble. He launched off the bottom of the cliff at an estimated 50 miles per hour, his body turned sideways, with only one ski touching the snow.
Somehow, Wehrman righted himself in midair and landed with both feet on the snow, avoiding an almost certain collision with a stand of trees in his path. Who knows what consequences he missed by doing so. (The following month, a skier in the telemark Extremes, E.J. Poplawski, lost control in virtually the same spot and ended up having his leg amputated due to the resulting crash.)
Reached by phone on Thursday, Wehrman initially called his near-miss “a little mishap.” However, when asked why he won’t be entering this year’s Extremes, which are slated to begin Tuesday at Crested Butte, Wehrman elaborated.
“That scared me out of it,” he said of his experience. “After that I just decided, I don’t need this kind of danger in my life anymore.
“I could’ve ended up just like (Poplawski) if I didn’t pull it off,” said Wehrman, a 37-year-old father with two young kids at home.
In a nutshell, such drama is the reason we are headed to Gunnison County next week to cover the famous Extremes. Much like we did with the Primal Quest Utah adventure race last summer, we intend to deliver stories and photos ” and, new this time, videos ” that take you inside the guts of not only this competition, but this sport and those who are addicted to the risks it presents.
Because, for every Rex Wehrman there is a Gary Fondl. Fondl hasn’t enjoyed the type of success that Wehrman has, but the 40-year-old Frisco resident and A-Basin Freeride Team member has twice finished fifth at the Extremes, including 2006. This year’s event will mark his 12th straight appearance there.
Fondl, like Wehrman ” who still is slated to judge next week’s competition, along with Breck’s Matt Bellville, a 12-time Extremes competitor ” has two young kids at home, ages 5 years and 20 months. He is a local drywall contractor whose wife wishes he would retire from hucking 40-foot cliffs onto hardpack.
He reassures her (and himself, perhaps) by saying, “I don’t take the risks I used to take” and “My style of skiing is not the huge air, but I ski fast and strong and technical.”
Like it did for Primal Quest, our coverage will include a website designed exclusively for the 16th annual Extremes: http://www.summitdaily.com/extremes. There you’ll find stories on each day’s competitions ” with locals highlighted ” as well as profiles of the athletes, blogs that take you behind the scenes, Crash of the Day features, photo galleries and a multimedia center full of video footage so you can see for yourself what the event looks like at full speed.
The site went online Thursday and will be updated all next week, live from Crested Butte.
Devon O’Neil can be contacted at (970) 668-4633, or at email@example.com.
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