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Friday, February 10, 2012
Stumps, ice and glory

By Dana Allen

The start of the Magic Mountain, Vt., stop of the Ski the East Freeride Tour.

Though winter hasn't been particularly kind to Eastern skiers and their resorts this year, the third annual Ski the East Freeride Tour is scheduled to start next Saturday, Feb. 18 at Mad River Glen, Vt. The venue will be held on Lift Line under the legendary single chair.

For the past three years, the Vermont-based Ski the East Freeride Tour (STEFT) has offered the only organized freeskiing competition on the East Coast. It all started in the the winter of 2009-2010, when Ski the East combined four separately occurring freeskiing events into one tour, including Sugarbush's now 15-year-old Castlerock Extreme Challenge, Mad River Glen's Unconventional Terrain Challenge, and events at Jay Peak and Magic Mountain.

"This year we've implemented some important changes to ensure more consistency and allow the tour to continue its growth, while maintaining each event's individual integrity," said event co-director Tim Fater. In addition to an increased cash purse of $1,000 for each event winner, there's also a new junior division and a new tour-wide judging system, Fater added.

The new judging system, developed with the International Freeskiers Association, now brings the Ski the East Freeride Tour in line with criteria used by the Subaru Freeskiing World Tour, meaning that athletes who place well in the East could earn pre-qualified spots on the FWT. "It's truly an unbelievable opportunity for Eastern athletes who want to take their passion for competition to the next level," says Chris James, one of STEFT's co-founders.

"Over the past 15 years, many of the top big mountain skiers have come from the East Coast, such as Lars and Silas Chickering-Ayers, Ashley Maxfield, and John Witherspoon," says IFSA President Rob Greener. "I would like to see STEFT continue its progress in developing adult athletes into big mountain skiers."

Head Freeskiing World Tour judge Jim Jack says that he has definitely noticed an influx of Eastern skiers making their way out to the Western competitions. "There are traits the Easterners have that help them stand out from the rest of the crowd," Jack said. "The Eastern skiers are usually fast, aggressive and technically stronger skiers. They're exposure to firm, more demanding snow conditions has made them stronger skiers."

Event organizers are hoping to expand the tour outside of Vermont, as well. "We currently we have our sights set on additional events in Maine, New Hampshire, and New York," said Chris James. "We have a final big picture goal that's in the works, but we're not ready to let that cat out of the bag quite yet."

Next Saturday's event will be followed up with tour stop number two on March 3 at Magic Mountain's Southern Vermont Freeskiing Challenge, on March 10 with Extreme Challenge at Sugarbush, and will finish up at Jay Peak's Extreme Competition on March 17 and 18.