The Spirit Of Freeskiing
Freeskiing is a word used to describe the form of skiing where the rider uses natural features and the raw landscape to enhance and diversify their run. I was introduced to the word back in 2006 when my home mountain Fernie Alpine Resort hosted its first junior freeski event. An event that changed and shaped my life into what it is now. Back then the word to me was focused on the competitive side of the sport. Now, ten years later and having attended close to fifty freeride events the word means a lot more then being a competitive big mountain skier. After all these years where competitions have dominated my winters, I came to appreciate the true meaning of freeskiing this past week in Revelstoke, who was hosting the first big mountain competition of the season.
It was the night before the first day of the competition and as I entered Guest Services at Revelstoke Mountain Resort I could feel the energy in the room. With over one hundred athletes gathered to sign in for the event, the vibe was hard to ignore; I sensed that everyone was eager, excited and nervous for the days to come. I walked to the registration table and gave them my name.
“I’m Caleb Brown, here to sign in.”
“Brown?” Asked the event staff member as he ran his finger down the long list of names then back to the top where the B’s were. “You’re not on the list man.” Strange I thought, but I wasn’t worried, “I’m sure it’s a computer glitch. You’ll sort it out.”
“Yeah, you’re going to have to talk to Ben.” I waited as the event director Ben tried to figure out what was wrong, I was confident that I was in the system but as time went on something did not feel right.
“What’s wrong?” Asked a girl at my side. Jess is a Kiwi living in Fernie for the season and we had only met the day before. She is competing in Canada this year and was looking to jump into a car with another competitor. In these high stress situations of travelling and competing even close friends can get tired of each other. It was a bit of a gamble letting someone I had never met into my space for the week but I do find it important to travel with other competitors so you can share the weight on the competition. You can also express your line choices and bounce ideas off of each other. When Jess pushed me over in the parking lot as I was doing up my boots I knew we were going to get along.
“I am not on their list, but I received a confirmation email. Head up to the meeting, I will see you there.” Jess was registered and given a pass so she could load the gondola that would bring her to the Revelation Lodge where there was a welcome dinner and a mandatory athlete meeting. As I waited, I decided to look for the email that I glanced over after I registered for the event over a month ago. When I found it I couldn’t believe the mistake I made. It was a confirmation that the IFSA had accepted my request to be in the event…and that I was on the wait list until further notice. I was reading this when Ben pulled up the wait list and broke the news to me. I was 19th on the list and there were four others in front of me. Chances are I would not be competing. I was “gutted” as my Kiwi companion would say, but I hadn’t given up hope yet.
Jeff Holden is the head judge of this event and has been judging me since that first competition in 2006. All these years he has been a friend and mentor to me. If anyone could pull some strings for me it would be Jeff.
Without being registered I didn’t have ticket to ride the gondola but it was dark at this point and I had an idea. I snuck around the line and slid into an open gondola just as the door was closing, surprising the others on board. As we sat in the darkness of the night ride gondola I tried imagine what I would have to tell everyone back home, and what would my sponsors think? I couldn’t believe I had come all this way and I may not even be competing! When I only have enough money to do a few events and trips like this my thought process at this point was, “No comp? Waist of a trip.”
I listened to the other athletes speak amongst each other. They were talking about the venues and cold temperatures. My inner voice was busy yelling at myself so I sat in what appeared to be silence. When we reached the mid station I bolted out the door and headed down to the glowing lights that illuminated from the Revelation Lodge. I welcomed the warmth of the building and the smell of the food. Revelstoke is the only event I’ve been to where they have dinner for the athletes, and being a travelling ski bum, a free meal almost beats a couch to sleep on. I walked past the buffet, looked around the room and finally spotted Jeff. I ran over and explained the mess I had created. He said he would see what he could do. It was not his call to make so I hung around, and yes, I ate some food even though it was technically for the athletes, which I was not, but I’m still a ski bum after all.
During the classic Jeff Holden athlete meeting with Jeff beatboxing and rallying the crowd Ben announced that the start list would be ready shortly. At this point I knew I would not be competing. I sat there thinking about the three bald eagles we saw the day before wondering why I was supposed to be there. I knew there was a reason, but this one was just not apparent to me yet. The eagles were a sure sign of good things to come so I stayed positive and patient. After the meeting they confirmed that there were too many athletes to let me in so I suggested I could be the fore-runner and they accepted my offer. The fore-runner is the first one to ski the venue allowing the judges to put their pens to paper before the first competitor. Jeff reminded me the main job of the fore-runner and we stood around and laughed at the ridiculous mistake I had made. It felt good to laugh even though I was choked. I awoke that night wondering if the grief I felt was the feelings of a bad dream, but no the feelings were real. I needed to find a way to make the most of this trip.
The next day Jess and I woke to an incredible sunrise, the pink and orange sky was glowing above the Gold Range of the Monashees and I stood and observed the famous Mt. Begbie from our balcony at the Sutton Place Hotel. It was a new day, already beautiful, and I was eager to see what else it would bring…
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