2010: Freeskiing's year in review
The year's 10 biggest stories in the sport of freeskiing
This was a landmark year for the sport of freeskiing, one filled with highs and lows: devasting tragedies, mindblowing new tricks and accomplishments we never thought possible. For skiing's biggest stories of the year, check out the Top Moments in Action Sports in 2010. And see below for 10 other huge moments, people and ideas in skiing this year.
1. CR Johnson
When 26-year-old CR Johnson died from injuries sustained from a fall at Squaw Valley last February, news of his death shook the ski community to its core. Johnson, who survived a traumatic brain injury in 2005, was a pioneer of the modern freeskiing movement. "He's the defining person who put halfpipe skiing on the map," said two-time Winter X superpipe champion Simon Dumont. "He's a huge part of how halfpipe skiing is right now." Since Johnson's death, money has been donated to a scholarship in his name -- in part through sales of a CR Johnson memorial gear package -- to the High Fives Foundation, a Truckee-based nonprofit that helps support athletes in the winter action sports community who've suffered a life-altering injury.
2. Arne Backstrom
In June, pro big-mountain skier Arne Backstrom, the 2010 winner of the Freeskiing World Tour, perished while skiing Peru's 18,871-foot Nevado Pisco. He was 29 years old. "Arne's talents as a skier were only surpassed by his incredible persona," said Keith Carlsen, visual media director for Mountain Sports International, which puts on the Freeskiing World Tour. "He was a humble, quiet, caring and compassionate man." This fall, Matchstick Productions' new film, "The Way I See It," included footage from Squaw Valley with Arne and his older sister and fellow pro skier, Ingrid Backstrom; the segment was a tribute to his life and the people he touched during it.
3. Olympic Countdown
The waiting period to see if ski slopestyle and ski halfpipe will become Winter Olympics sports by 2014 continues into the new year. It's been a long and tortuous process. In June, the FIS Congress voted unanimously to support ski halfpipe as an Olympic event. Then in September, the IOC Program Commission announced that they were getting ready to deliver recommendations on new disciplines for Sochi 2014. We all waited anxiously for their word. But then in October, at the IOC Executive Board Meeting in Acapulco, Mexico, officials said they weren't ready to make a decision yet and we'd all have to wait until next spring, after the respective world championships of the various sports. ESPN columnist John Symms accused the IOC of taking an unproductive beach vacation to Mexico. Athletes hoping for Olympic glory hang their heads low and continue to wait. The good news in all of this is that ski slopestyle is now on the docket for consideration as well.
4. Fredrik Ericsson
Swedish mountaineer Fredrik "Frippe" Ericsson set out in August to climb and ski Pakistan's 28,253-foot K2, the world's second-tallest peak. He hoped to become the first man to ski from K2's summit to base camp, and he was also setting out to ski the world's three highest mountains. K2 would have been his first successful attempt. But while climbing above Camp 4, on his final push to the summit, Ericsson fell to his death. Some people called what Ericsson attempted to do crazy, but his spirit and courage to conquer new feats inspired many. "Frippe always had a tremendously positive attitude," says friend and fellow climber David Schipper, "and he brought with him a positive outlook wherever he went."
5. Warren Miller
An 86-year-old man has never been so popular amongst young freeskiers as Warren Miller was in 2010. The story began in the fall of 2009, when Warren Miller Entertainment filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against Level 1 Productions for using WME's registered Warren Miller trademarks in Level 1's 2009 film, "Refresh." Then Warren Miller, the man, intervened, and went into arbitration with the film company. Young skiers seemed to unanimously support Miller and Level 1 in the debate. Then, in the fall of 2010, that lawsuit ended, with WME retaining rights to Miller's name, likeness, voice and endorsement in ski movies (Miller retains the right to use his name anywhere outside of ski films). And to cap off his year-long popularity surge, in December, Miller launched an evening speaking tour to a sold-out audience in Seattle.
6. Jon Olsson
When Jon Olsson, known for his big air tricks and X Games medals, qualified for his World Cup race this December, it was the definitive "I told you so" Olsson needed to flash in the face of naysayers who said a freeskier could never compete on the most elite level of ski racing. Typically, it works in reverse: Ski racers like Jeremy Nobis, Julia Mancuso and Daron Rhalves have had success in big-mountain comps and filming. But never before has a park-and-pipe athlete transitioned so successfully into racing. "It feels kind of unreal," Olsson said upon hearing of his first World Cup start. "I have always believed in what I have done, but I guess a part of me has still listened to all the people saying that I would never make my alpine comeback and that it was a terrible idea." Granted, Olsson didn't finish his first race, but still, he has high hopes for making the 2014 Olympics as part of the Swedish ski racing team.
7. Candide Thovex
French freeskier Candide Thovex was off the radar for nearly two full years after a bad crash at his own invitational event in 2007. But in 2010, Thovex came back with a vengeance, by winning the overall title at the Freeride World Tour. People seemed surprised that an athlete who'd previously won Winter X Games big air, superpipe and slopestyle was now on top of the big-mountain game. But we weren't surprised -- and neither was Australian pro skier Christian Sirianni. "I don't like to use the term 'best ever' because it gets thrown around so much," Sirianni said. "But I will say this: If you're a human being, past or present, and you've tried skiing, once or regularly throughout your life, Candide Thovex does it better than you do, or ever did."
Sure, 2010 saw a lot of major storms. But only one of them was named by President Obama. Dubbed Snowmageddon, the storm may not have touched much of ski country, but the recorded 32 inches that dumped on Washington D.C. broke records for most snowfall ever in the area. The storm crippled business and politics for days. Meanwhile, freeskiers like Keri Herman and Grete Eliassen and the Meathead Films crew made it out for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to jib our nation's capital city.
9. Year of the Webisode
You heard it here first: 2010 is the year of the webisode. For the first time, a Best Webisode category was introduced at the 2010 IF3 Freeskiing Film Festival (Line's Traveling Circus nabbed the prize). You can now purchase and download almost all ski videos online (might as well toss that DVD player), and free, bite-sized webisodes are being produced by everyone and their nephews. Companies like Salomon and Line have had great success using webisodes as marketing tools. Ski movie companies like TGR and Nimbus Independent have used web edits to find a home for their extra content. And athletes like Colby West and Jon Olsson have dominated the web video world.
10. Landing Pads
Air bags in terrain parks started showing up a couple of years ago, but 2010 is the year they started making a real difference in athletes' performance. Frenchies Kevin Rolland and Xavier Bertoni have had access to an unequaled amount of airbag training in recent years and perhaps not coincidentally, Winter X crowned a new French champion in men's ski superpipe in 2009 and 2010 -- after six straight American wins in previous years. Resorts and amateur athletes are taking advantage of the air bag trend, too. This fall, Mammoth became the first resort in North America to install a permanent landing pad in its park. There's no telling what tricks skiers will come up with now. "We have these 15-year old-kids with decent air skills and they're going to learn some crazy tricks," says Mammoth's action sports brand manager Josh Chauvet. "It's going to progress the sport really fast."