Freeskiing stars like Darian Boyle and Chris Davenport may live out West, but guess where they (and plenty of others) got their start.
So you thought all those big-mountain freeriding stars were, like Romulus and Remus, born of wolfish parents in caves high in the mountains of Alaska or Colorado. After all, those are the only places you ever seem to see them: ripping down big mountains in Alaska or hucking off cliffs at Squaw or getting rowdy just about anywhere but in the East.
Well, guess again. If you had been at the Winter X Games last year at Mount Snow, you might have discovered a surprising reality: The East is the real source of much of the free-riding talent. Plenty of the participants who came to the X Games might have arrived with business cards showing Western addresses, but if you did a little digging and asking around, you might have been surprised at how many had roots in the East.
Take Darian Boyle, for example, the cinematic queen of big-mountain speed-balling now famous enough to have her own clothing line. Sure, she now lives in Squaw Valley, the epicenter of extreme skiing, just as you might expect. But it turns out the flamboyant Miss Boyle actually grew up as an Eastern ski racer, a regular on the junior circuit in places like Mount Snow. "The sense of nostalgia is so strong," said Boyle, looking around at the hills she once called home. "We used to have downhills here all the time. When I heard the X Games were going to be at Mount Snow, I got really excited. East Coast skiers are the real hardcore of skiing as far as I'm concerned."
And there's Chris Davenport, the 1996 World Extreme Skiing Champion now living in Aspen. Turns out Davenport is a native Easterner, too, a guy raised in Marblehead, Massachusetts, who learned to ski and race in Vermont and New Hampshire. "The East Coast has such a passion for skiing," said Davenport. "You get the vibe immediately when you get up on the hill."
The vibe was certainly at Mount Snow, where crowds estimated at more than 20,000 showed up for the weekend. They came despite a classic blast of Eastern frigidity that drove the temperature to well below zero, with a brisk wind that made it feel even colder. They cheered loudly and partied harder and generally behaved with the kind of meteorological obliviousness you would expect from the hardcore of skiing.
In that respect -- in terms of enthusiastic crowds -- the Mount Snow games were a giant leap forward from the X Games the previous year in Crested Butte, Colorado, where attendance was modest. To be sure, Crested Butte is a long way from anywhere, whereas Mount Snow is a three-hour drive from something like 15 percent of the U.S. population. Even so, those hardcore Easterners made an impressive showing, throwing out the welcome mat for all the long-lost Easterners, or any of the other competitors for that matter.
And there were plenty of long-lost Easterners. There was Noël Lyons, the 1993 World Extreme Skiing Champion, who finished fourth in skiercross. Her entry form might have said that she was from Colorado, but her birth certificate says Massachusetts. There was Heather Paul, the telemark goddess who switched to Alpine gear to compete in skiercross, and who now calls Crested Butte home. It turns out Paul, a New Hampshire native, grew up skiing at Mount Snow.
Many of those high-flying Canadian tricksters who are at the cutting edge of big-air freeriding -- guys like J.P. Auclair and J.F. Cusson -- are originally from Quebec. Yet none of them was on the list of 26 "East Coast Athletes" in the X Games' media guide. Nor were Boyle, Davenport, Lyons, or Paul, for that matter -- all Easterners incognito. One noteworthy athlete who was on the list was the rising freeskiing star Charlotte Moats, a winner of events in big-mountain locales as far away as New Zealand. She made the list because she still lives with her parents in Fairlee, Vermont, although she spends most oof the winter elsewhere. She's young; don't be surprised to see her move West, too.
The list also didn't include athletes like Jeremy Nobis and Shane McConkey, current headliners on freeskiing's A list, who spent their teenage years at ski academies in Vermont. They might have grown up in the West, but as developing ski racers, they felt drawn to the East. "The majority of big-mountain skiers cut their teeth in academies," said Davenport. "This is where they got good." Or as Boyle said, "This is where you learn the best fundamentals. Skiing here in the East forces you to be a great skier."
And maybe it does, because the typically hard snow of the East is technically more demanding than the softer stuff out West. But times are changing in the East. The coming of the X Games to Mount Snow also represents an evolution (or revolution?) in skiing that may be bringing a new level of respect to the East. As Boyle said, "This event is made for New England." Where better than the East, after all, with its track record for state-of-the-art snow-making and grooming, to sculpt the kind of skiercross and slopestyle courses that are currently at the cusp of cool in skiing?
"If it had been like this when I was growing up," said Boyle, "I would have been in the terrain park all the time." So maybe the flow will reverse, and the Western migration will cease. Is it too much to imagine that all the hot, young studs growing up in the West right now will consider moving East, to be where the hardcore, X Games-level terrain-park action is?
The X Games will be held at Mount Snow, February 1-4. For information, call 800-245-SNOW.