Skiercross: a return to competition |

Skiercross: a return to competition

Jason Starr

COPPER MOUNTAIN – It was Sunsation Weekend at Copper, so I was expecting sun and a sensational skiercross course for my return to competition after a nine-year hiatus.

What we got was the first bulletproof day in a month and a legitimate snowstorm to boot.

As I stood in the start gate Saturday, I realized that skiing contests call for a mindset I left behind in the 1980s when I was doing twisters and spread eagles in New England mogul competitions.

Since then I’ve evolved into a fun-loving, powderhound of a skier, concerned mostly with the search for the best snow on the mountain. My desire to prove myself among my peers waned with every face shot.

Then, this new school wave hit, and skiing competitions became a lot more creative. Over the past half decade, skiers have entered the competitive arena in slopestyle, halfpipe and skiercross. And this year, Copper tried a high-jump and longest-railslide contest. It’s come a long way from the alpine racing mentality, where variety means changing the space between gates.

Of all the new competitions, skiercross seems like the best test of overall skiing (except maybe for extreme contests, but they are far less accessible). Skiercrosses test how you deal with changing terrain at high speed.

“This is just a mix of everything,” said Dillon resident Jason Bretz, in his first year of skiercross competition. “This is full speed over jumps and around turns. It’s everything.”

I was ready for everything, ready to see if I could hold my own against people who are drawn to this type of test.

But really, what chance did I have against Lakewood’s Mathew Bicknell? Someone who’s been doing skiercrosses since they began because they remind him of his childhood BM career? Someone so competitive he “will cheat my mother in Monopoly?”

“I like the speed, and I like the competition,” said the 31-year-old. “This is my thing. It keeps me young.”

The combination of hardpack snow and low visibility Saturday had even the veteran competitors skiing cautiously. Some entrants withdrew. But after planning this for half a season, I was competing, no matter what the conditions.

“You like to put your ability up against other people to see how you compare,” Bretz said. “Everybody thinks they’re the best skier on the mountain until they get in the gate.”

The desire to win rushed back rather quickly for me. My first instinct was to revert to the traditional mindset I developed in competition as a teen-ager – concentrate on laying down your best run, don’t worry about anyone else, and let the chips fall where they may. But that doesn’t really work in skiercross, where you have to avoid being clipped or getting landed on by other competitors. This event is all about getting a clean line out of the start gate and avoiding tangles. I did these things well enough to not finish last.

“It’s four guys barrelling down a hill around jumps and turns,” said competitor Chris Harrell. “It’s banging and bumping. You can’t really get that rush anywhere else on the mountain.”

It’s true. Beating people is fun. It’s a feeling you can’t get by chasing powder.

I’m not about to spend much time training, visualizing or worrying about who I can and can’t beat. Spending hours in a start gate waiting for one or two runs is still not my idea of a meaningful day on the hill.

But I do recommend throwing a few contests into your yearly calendar. It spices up the season and provides a reward you can’t get by just making turns for turns sake.

Jason Starr can be reached at (970) 668-3998 Ext. 231 or at

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