What is Big Mountain Skiing?

What is Big Mountain Skiing?

Big Mountain skiing is basically skiing down a venue in an interesting and fun way. Skiing down an “easy” way is “boring” for an onlooker, so we try to use the more difficult looking terrain, and then throw in some airs and maybe some tricks.

In competition, there are judges that determine your score. You will be judged on 5 criteria

1. Line Choice
Each competitor chooses his/her line or route down the course
High scores are given for choosing difficult routes
Difficulty is determined by steepness, exposure, air, snow and course conditions

2. Control
Competitors must remain in control at all times
Any loss of control will result in a lower score
Skillful recoveries will reduce penalties

3. Fluidity
Constant direction towards a goal
This includes continuity, pace and smooth transitions between sections of the course
Falling or stopping can have a negative impact in this category

4. Technique
Competitors are judged on style and turn quality relating to big mountain freeriding

5. Style/Energy
This encompasses the pace, energy and creativity with which a competitor attacks or descends his/her chosen line or route.
Style focuses on freestyle execution of maneuvers.

Traveling to a competition:

When we go to a competition at a different resort, we like to go at least one day earlier so that we can explore and get used to the venue. We also start deciding on a competition line. Athletes will always get an opportunity to inspect the venue before a competition. Usually, there is also time for inspection in the morning, before the competition begins. During the inspection we are not supposed to ski the line we have chosen, but we want to make sure the conditions haven’t changed too much from the previous day. Am I going to be able to ski the line I have chosen? Surprisingly enough, most venues are easily accessible (you might not even have to hike!).

The junior competitions are broken down by gender and age. Junior girls 12-14, Junior boys 12-14, Junior girls 15-17 and Junior boys 15-17. Snowboarders are competing in their own categories. A regional competition is usually a one day event with registration and skiing on the venue the day before. A national event is usually held during two or three days. In both regional and national events, qualifying runs are held to qualify for the finals.

Training for a Big Mountain Competition

Taos Ski Valley provides us with some of the greatest terrain in the US. We have so much technical terrain here from narrow chutes to big cliffs. During the season, we like to make sure you feel comfortable on your skis in all situations and terrain. Therefore, I like to ski everywhere, including the terrain park. Because we have been to many different competitions, we now know the terrain at that resort and can better train for exactly that venue. We like to ski hard and hike for strength and endurance. Some of the venues are quite long, so we want to make sure we don’t get too tired during a run. It is during training that we learn how to approach an air, how to land, and how to ski in different terrain and conditions.

IFSA (International Freeskiers Assosication) is our “ruling body”. They are the ones that set the rules, get qualified judges, keep scores, etc. I’d encourage you to visit their website and read the handbook. www.freeskiers.org


Many parents and people that are not familiar with Big Mountain, or Extreme skiing think this is very dangerous. Of course it can be, but so can any sport. However, I have very rarely seen injuries in a competition. It is ALL about progression and you and your coach knowing your limits. While coaches like to push you a little bit, we will not make you do something that is too dangerous for you. We always start small and then go bigger and bigger.

All junior events are held in-bounds, in areas covered by ski patrol. IFSA also has their safety standards that have to be met during a competition. Though not required, a beacon is always recommended as a precaution.

What is Freeski?Freeride?Freestyle?

What is Freeski? Freeride? Freestyle?

The terms “freeski” and “freeride” can be very confusing and are both misnomers. The fact is we all pay to ski in some way! These terms are derived from the fact that they do not involve racing gates. The term “freeski” is used to describe the time spent outside of gates. The term itself is confusing and be construed as wasted time or unstructured time. This is NOT true. “Freeski” time has two main components both with equally important long-term outcomes. “Directed” freeski time is time spent working through a progression of structured drills designed to effect change in someone’s skiing. It’s called learning the fundamentals, and fundamentals are King or Queen, whoever is ruling at the time… These drills are the foundation of the pyramid of development in sport. Without quality time spent doing the drills, we can’t hope to excel in the sport. “Directed” freeski time will establish the core skiing skills that every athlete needs to succeed, no matter what the competitive focus. As a coach it is extremely sad to see athletes skipping the “directed” freeski time. I see this as an attempt to build a house without laying the proper foundation. The building will collapse! The other component is “undirected” freeski time. These are your powder days. These are the days that athletes “cut-loose” and get crazy on the hill. This still serves a purpose, it cultivates the passion for the sport, it boosts fitness, it serves as a reward for all the hard work, and it serves by upping the fun factor. During this time a coach will still throw out reminders of specific skills that need improvement, but will do so in a light hearted manner. As you can see, the term “freeski” is anything but free. It is essential to your athlete’s development within the sport. The learning of new skills happens in the “freeski” environment and then we see if the athlete can bring the new skill into the training venue and then into competition.

In the 1970’s “freestyle” became mainstream with moguls, aerials, and ski ballet. Luckily, ski ballet fell by the wayside and what has developed over the years is an interesting mix of creativity and use of terrain features, both human made and natural. Today, freestyle events consist of mogul skiing and aerials, which are both Olympic sports. They are both judged events. “Freeride” has two components- slopestyle and big mountain. Slopestyle is now an Olympic sport and utilizes terrain park features. Athletes string together features of the park and are judged on a variety of factors. Big Mountain uses the mountain as the terrain. Athletes will ski within a defined area of the mountain and be judged on their control, fluidity, and technique. These modern “freeride” events have been evolving over the last 20 years and have really come of age with regards to organization and professionalism.

Plan and Visualize for Success

Visualize/Prepare for Success

         We have entered the competition season and our training sessions are beginning to ramp up. Watching the last two weekends of competition has shown me an aspect of our preparation that needs improvement. I see two things that I hope you will share with your athlete(s).

First, athletes should train like it’s a race. Too often, I hear it’s “just training”. These words potentially will create race “jitters” for a young athlete and impede performance. As an athlete a better approach is to come out for every training session with the same sense of importance as a race day. Create routines in preparation on training days that will help on race day. Here are some suggestions that might help your athlete establish routines to achieve success.

1)   Athletes should get a good sleep before training and wake up early enough to allow for a good breakfast, a breakfast that will provide long lasting nutritious energy. I will never forget the day that a young mountain biker ate a big breakfast burrito less than an hour before his start. Guess where that burrito ended up. Avoid simple sugars and strive for a balance of slow burning carbs (oatmeal, fruits) and protein.

2)   Arrive at training in plenty of time, allowing the athlete to be focused on training. Avoiding the distractions of “rushing” will help the athlete to be focused on the session. Just like going to the airport, if you can keep things calm in the time sense, then stress is reduced allowing athletes to have a better experience.

3)   Be prepared for the session. Bring snacks and water, have skis waxed and tuned, take a bathroom stop before leaving the lodge, and dress appropriately for the weather using layering.

These simple steps will really help your athletes get the most out of training, thus getting the most out of competition.

Next I would like to talk about the technique of imagery or visualization. At any event, whether it’s ski racing, slopestyle, or Big Mountain, athletes get a chance to inspect the venue before the competition. Inspection is super important and the techniques used are imagery and memorization. First the athlete must memorize the venue and then imagery will consist of tactical, technical, and physical components. As athletes inspect they should be committing the venue to memory. Where are the turns? What do they look like? How will the body move and feel during the run? Athletes with established inspection skills will be seen with heads down, eyes closed “running the course” in their mind over and over again. They do this during inspection, they do this during warm-up, and they will do this right before the start. Hands and body will sway back and forth to the rhythm of the venue. Here are some useful tips for implementing imagery. 1) Athletes must focus during inspection, paying attention to all the details of the venue. 2) If possible, athletes should stand exactly on the line they chose to ski. This will give them the mental images that they need. The body will go where the vision/images lead. If an athlete inspects the course while standing 20 feet away from where they will be skiing they will not have a clear picture of where the body needs to be during the run and will probably not be able to ski the right line. The goal here is to get athletes to stand and slip following the correct line. Then they should replay those collected images over and over again until the run starts. Each time you replay the run in the mind the athlete imagines that they “nail it”!

For those freeriders who say that this is a racers technique I would like to debunk this thought. When I traveled to Whistler I helped my friend Brian inspect a very intense line. Brian and I spent a great deal of time watching and looking at the line and came up with a plan. Then Brian (the trained gymnast) would close his eyes and go through the body movements required for his run. Brian was using imagery skills he learned from gymnastics and was visualizing success for hours before the run. The footage is floating around the valley. Brian threw a “heli” off a 60 footer and then threw a front layout off an 80 footer. Brian landed the 80 footer exactly on the spot in the snowdrift that we had looked at for so long. His imagery skills were perfect and his run that day was ground breaking for the sport.

In closing, I would hope that we can all work together to help our young athletes develop routines for preparation and develop imagery skills. Google visualization in sport or try this article http://skiracing.com/?q=node/9676 by Dr. Jim Taylor.

Train like you race! Visualize Success!