A Hollywood production? No, this was the scene last weekend at the Winter Mountain Games presented by Eddie Bauer, where free-heel skiers hucked off a giant ramp backlit by a pyrotechnics crew on a ski slope.
Held at night on Vail Mountain, the spectacle that was the Telemark Big Air contest drew together a rare group of free-heel freeskiers from around the world.
The winner, Sweden’s Andreas Sjoebeck, twisted through the air like a corkscrew. He rotated on horizontal and vertical planes, his heels free, a giant fireball exploding behind him in the night sky.
Sjoebeck won $2,500 for his off-axis move, called a “double-cork 1080.” We caught up with the 22-year-old for some insight into the unique activity of Telemark Big Air and what it’s like to boost up through the sky at night near a fireball with your heels flying free. —Sean McCoy
GearJunkie: Telemark skis for big air. Seriously?
Andreas Sjoebeck: Yes, you can tweak some tricks harder and do different grabs with the free heel. You can do pretty much the same trick as any skier, but we can free our heels. From my perspective I think it’s so much easier and more fun.
How do you get started in this sport? It sounds insane.
It’s pretty much the same start as alpine but a lot harder to get dialed on some tricks and landings. In the air it’s much the same as on alpine gear. You need good bindings and boots to start out with. If you are using bad gear, it’s really hard.
What kind of gear do you use for big air Tele?
I ride for Surface Skis and ride the My Time ski. It’s not on the market now, but is pretty much the same as the No Time park ski. For bindings, I use Rotafella and Scarpa TX Pro for boots.
How’d you get started on Tele?
I have friends in Sweden who ride in the parks a lot and told me to try it out. I got a pair of skis and borrowed some boots from a ski shop I was working at. I tried it out the first day. We opened up on a 2-meter gap jump. I ended up doing double-backflips the first day. I sold my alpine skis and have never ridden them again.
Double backflips on the first day?
I rode alpine for four seasons. I could already do double backflips and 720s, but I had no style. I liked to ride park, which is popular because there is not much snow in my part of Sweden.
Tell me about the double-cork 1080 move.
I’ve been practicing a lot for that trick. In summer I’d been working on the trampoline and at water jumps. I started with the tramp, then water jumps, then took it back to the tramp, then to the park and tried it out. I landed it on the first try. It took maybe from June to the end of November to get it wired. The summer was all day practice. I never just throw it out there and see how it goes.
Do you think there’s a future for the sport of Telemark?
I like that a lot of younger people are getting into Telemark now. We can do creative things you can’t do on alpine. We need to show people, a lot younger, that there are things on Tele that you can’t do on alpine with your heels locked down.
—Sean McCoy is a contributing editor. He competed in the “Ultimate Mountain Challenge” at the Winter Games this year. Read his post “‘Ultimate Mt. Challenge’ a leg-killer, lung-crusher in Vail.”