In the February issue of Snowboarder Magazine there was a brief interview with snowboarder legend and ambassador Terje Haakonsen. Among other gems of knowledge gleaned from this omnipotent shredding dome, came this final question and answer. What’s the trick to dropping cliffs?
"The most important thing to dropping cliffs is knowing that the snow is good. It needs to be soft and the cliff should have a steep landing with no rocks in it. Jumping a big cliff with a flat landing means that you're most likely going to feel some pain and you're an idiot. You don't need much speed for most cliffs, so make sure you don't overshoot it. Landing is the most difficult part, and I mostly ride pow boards with a short tail so I can have my body weight centered almost forward. Lastly, don't lean back."
For the past two months I was constantly thinking about dropping into the start gate, but forgot halfway through my run what Terje had said. Don’t lean back. My mind went blank and I broke that cardinal backcountry rule. Did I ever think I would win this contest? Hell no. What about top 20? Probably not. Top 50? Mabye. That’s what it really came down to when riding in a big mountain contest. There are guys virtually willing themselves down rock cliffs, half-cabs into chutes and insane double lines good enough for the movies. Kyle Clancy showed up to the event with a cab-5 into out of the starting gate. Joey Stokes rode the only line down an exposed chute with a mandatory air to exit. Brandon Reid also chose an open and exposed line with a no-look 15’ drop into another chute. Transworld Snowboarding cover shred-head Lucas DeBari threw down a great run and returning champ Tim Carlson found shark teeth and big cliff drops to secure him in the top 31 riders that advanced.
I may have underestimated the caliber or riding and the history the judges brought to the table as well. Tom Burt, Temple Cummins, Julie Zell and Andy Hetzel have been riding big mountain lines for the past ten years and laying down winning runs at the Legendary Baker Banked Slalom course. The atmosphere was great to be around and the camaraderie between riders is one of the highlights to the event. Everyone gives out high-fives as a greeting and many have been involved in this particular event for five years and many more big-mountain events over the years. It’s truly a big mountain community that wants to challenge each other, throw down the best lines with the biggest cliffs with the most technical lines involved.
For the first stop on The North Face Masters Tour and my first line in a big-mountain event I feel pretty good about making it to the bottom standing up with only one butt-check. Would I have been better placed had I landed all three of my hits? Maybe another ten up the list from 53 out of 67, but to actually get in on the finals I would have needed to throw down a totally different line. Exposure, cliffs, mandatory airs and chutes matters in this event and if you could possibly put down a backside 360 or 540 over any of the above-mentioned features than you could place pretty high. Failure to billy goat the mountain for big lines will result in drinking a cold Sierra Nevada a little earlier on the final day.
With only a few weeks between the event at Crystal Mountain and the second stop at Kirkwood Resort there is plenty of planning and anticipation humming around the athletes. For me however, I have plans to continue riding Utah’s Greatest Snow on Earth with bottomless drops and a few high-fives with friends. When the NFM makes the last stop at Snowbird, UT I will be warmed up and ready for round two on my own stomping grounds. Hopefully a little more relaxed and a little more fire in my belly to get that line and cliff that will bump me up a few more spots in the standings. However, if I don’t, it’s still only snowboarding and I’m having a good time either way.