Dominick Malaussena learned firsthand how a strong performance in the Ski The East Freeride Tour can propel a skier onto the world stage. By winning STEFT's men's division last year, Malaussena prequalified for the Freeskiing World Tour. Last month, the Vermont resident finished 11th at the Subaru Canadian Freeskiing Championships in Revelstoke, BC.
As the second year of the Ski the East tour kicks off this weekend at Mad River Glen, organizers point to Malaussena -- as well as last year's female winner Ashley Maxfield, who sits in third place after three stops on the women's Freeskiing World Tour -- as examples of STEFT's success. Still, organizers realize they need to build upon last year's tour. "We literally threw this together pretty last-minute last year," said tour co-founder and event director Chris James.
James, along with Tim Fater, Kevin Joudrey, Geoff McDonald and former Freeskiing World Tour competitors John Witherspoon and John Egan, created the Ski the East tour by uniting existing competitions at four Vermont resorts: Mad River Glen, Magic Mountain, Sugarbush and Jay Peak. They hope to eventually expand the tour beyond Vermont with stops in Maine, New Hampshire and New York.
"After living out west, competing on the world tour for quite a while and then moving back home, I saw that there was a cool little bunch of events already," said Witherspoon, who now heads the freestyle team at Jay Peak. "It made sense to try to ... make that work a little bit more. Tie it together."
Witherspoon and Egan used their connections to involve the International Freeskiers Association, which puts on the Freeskiing World Tour, to provide the East Coast stops with more standardized scoring and to allow the tour's overall winners to prequalify for the FWT.
IFSA President Rob Greener said STEFT enlarges his association's presence in the competitive ski world. "We're just excited to expand the support and be involved," Greener said, noting that skiers should join IFSA before competing in the Ski The East Freeride Tour (athletes can register with IFSA for $50 at freeskiers.org). "We need to have support from the athletes up front if they want to be prequalified."
There have been changes for this year's tour. After the Sugarbush stop last year, for instance, a number of skiers complained about being blocked from competition when many of the limited spots were given to the resort's youth freestyle team; this year, the tour has a separate junior division.
Jim Sullivan, president and general manager of Magic Mountain, said last year's Black Magic Challenge drew approximately 75 competitors. This year, he expects about 100 skiers to show up at Magic on Feb. 26.
"We've got a nice event here, but it's part of something bigger," Sullivan said of the Black Magic Challenge. "It's better from a competitor's standpoint. There are more and better competitors. From a marketing perspective, it gives more buzz and exposure."
So as skiers descend upon Mad River Glen on Saturday for the East Coast's second annual freeride tour, they can heed the advice of Maxfield: "Do the lines you want to," she said. "Have fun and don't focus on the results. If you're not having fun, the skiing is not going to be there."