Print and Go Back Freeskiing [Print without images]

Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Updated: May 16, 3:07 PM ET
Hanging around Jib Academy

Willie Borm got his start at a Salomon Jib Academy. Now he's a full-on pro at age 13.

The Salomon Jib Academy Finals just wrapped up and John Symms wasn't there to cover it. So I, a big mountain skier who rarely sees groomed runs much less groomed jumps, decided to spend the week with a whole mess of hyped up groms at the fifth annual Jib Academy Finals in Mammoth Mountain, Calif.

As any good reporter does, I did some research before arriving. The first thing I learned about the Salomon Jib Academy was that its old tagline was, "The Best Underage Party of the Year." Which seemed a little creepy to me. But then when I got to Mammoth and watched the kids hit jumps, I realized that what is far creepier is how ridiculously talented all the acne-spotted, under-developed teenagers are. Seeing 14-year-olds soar confidently-grabbed double flips over 70-foot step-downs makes me quiver in my boots. Not because I'm scared for them, but because I'm scared what insane tricks they're going to do when they reach a mature park-skiing age -- in other words, when they turn 16.

Mike Douglas passing on his wisdom to the groms.

As I hung around as the guy who was always just hanging around -- knee injury -- I learned that the groms rarely speak to people outside their age bracket. Which is weird because they down enough sugar and energy drinks that you'd think their mouths would motor at an auctioneer's pace to anyone who crosses their paths. But they were channeling the glucose into their skiing. For four days straight the kids pounced on the frozen park at 9 a.m. and skied non-stop laps until the park was boot-top deep mush at 4 p.m. I've seen ultra-marathoners with less stamina. At the end of the week, Kai Mahler won the Salomon Team Camp in Breckenridge, Colo., and Oscar Wester was the summer camp winner.

The last thing I learned is this: There is a new generation of female park skiers that is going to upend skiing. Tiril Sjåstad Christiansen, Jackie Kling and Emma Hogland -- all three of whom were Salomon hard-good set-up winners -- stole much of everybody's attention with 9s, 10s, stylishly grabbed rodeos, superman front flips over 70-foot gaps -- the trick that won this big mountain skier's heart -- and enough drive to make the top pros check their 401k plans.

All in all, I limped around the week with wide eyes, impressed at what the youth of skiing is up to in the park and happy to learn that while they might scare me a bit and shy away from talking to people of my age -- and I'm still in my twenties -- the kids are all right. Actually they're pretty damn awesome.