For three years now, I’ve made the annual pilgrimage to the quirky town of Big Bear Lake, California to compete in the freeskiing competition called War of Rails. Held at Bear Mountain, War of Rails is unlike any other rail jam or freeskiing competition. It features a gigantic, chaotic, and highly creative course designed by the competition’s brain child, Craig Coker. Some of the best freeskiers from North America, and even a few from Europe, travel to Big Bear the first weekend of March for their shot at the massive $30,000 prize purse and a chance to take home $15,000 for first place.
This year, I made the 10 hour drive from Utah with fellow competitors Giray Dadali and Sam Hurst. Giray, being a pro skier himself, was prequalified for the big show on the second day of the event. However Sam and I needed to place in the top 15 in the amateur competition to even get a shot at the finals. I was lucky enough to place 3rd in the amateur competition on Friday and was able to compete on Saturday where I made finals and finished 14th overall. So now I’m prequalified for next year’s pro competition. Not a bad weekend to say the least.
Competing in freestyle events is a learning process which requires, time, patience, knowledge, preparation and even a little bit of luck in order to succeed. This is especially true in regards to high end competitions like War of Rails that require you to travel out of state and compete against some of the best freesking athletes in the business. Over the years I’ve learned a few tricks of the trade that I hope will inspire those interested in competing at the next level.
Choosing the Right Competition
If you are interested in competing in larger, higher end freesking competitions, you must first decide which ones to attend throughout the season. This can be a daunting task as there are a variety of competitions in all shapes, sizes and skiing disciplines. The first step is to figure out what type of skiing you want to compete in. There are rail jams, slopestyle events, half pipe contests, and big mountain competitions. Just because you are new to the scene and trying to make a name for yourself, does not mean that you should enter competitions in every discipline.
You need to prioritize which disciplines you are strongest in, enjoy the most, and have the best chance at achieving great results. The more that these three things coincide, the easier it will be to determine your competitive niche. For example, if you’ve competed in a bunch of amateur half pipe competitions, but have never placed or done well, it probably doesn’t make sense to compete in the half pipe at the pro level.
Personally, I am most comfortable on rails but am also used to hitting large features and jumps. I had a lot of past successes at small and local rail competitions, so it made sense for me to step up to a pro competition like War of Rails. Even then, I still had to slog it out with the amateurs just to qualify as a finalist and earn the chance to compete with the pros.
Where to Look for Freestyle Competitions
Once you have decided what type of competition to enter, you must decide which events to attend. The best way is to compile a list of what competitions exist in your niche for a particular season. The formation of the Association of Freeskiing Professionals (AFP), has made this process a bit easier. At the start of every season the AFP compiles a calendar of events that will be occurring all over the world. They range from the Dew Tour and the X Games to relatively smaller, high-end amateur events such as the USSA Rev Tour. The competitions are also ranked by AFP points. Generally, more points mean more competitors, a larger course, and a higher level of skiing.
While AFP is great resource, it is not all inclusive. There are other large, open events that are not AFP sanctioned (like War of Rails) that don’t even appear on the AFP calendar. This is where online resources like Freeskier and Newschoolers, come into play. These are the two biggest news sites for freeskiing and Newschoolers is also the largest online freeski discussion board. Actively visit both of these sites throughout the fall and winter to find out information on existing events and learn of new events throughout the season. Freeskiing has a very active and closely knit online presence. Staying involved will help you learn about competing and the sport as a whole.
Set A Budget And Stick To It
Trying to make a name for yourself at the larger amateur and low end pro competitions can be a challenge without a travel budget, like the sponsored athletes. If you are like the majority of freeskiers out there who are trying to become the next big thing (myself included), you are going to need to create your own budget that is planned down to the penny.
When creating a competition budget, be sure to include every single item. Plane tickets, gas money, food, hotel rooms, competition fees, lift tickets, ski wax, rental cars, and the list goes on. It’s also a good idea to leave a little spare room in your budget for that spur of the moment emergency or sudden change in plans. Life on the road can throw you for a loop very quickly, and it’s good to have a little cash to fall back on if necessary.
When selecting competitions it’s a good idea to determine those are going to give you the most bang for your buck. Generally speaking, the longer the duration of the competition and the bigger it is, the more money it will cost. Figure out which competitions you would like to attend first, then go back and see which ones will fit within your budget. Some events, like War of Rails, include lift tickets in the competition registration fees, while others offer lodging discounts to competitors. If you aren’t sure of the total cost of a competition don’t hesitate to email the event organizer. These folks can be a big help when it comes to deciding on events and planning your budget.
Competing is fun and can play a huge role in taking you to the next level as freeskier. It just requires some hard work and preparation. While the entire process is an ongoing learning experience, some of these tips should help make your transition to the next level a little bit smoother. Check back here next week for more insider tips.
Brendan Trieb, JANS Athlete Team Member