When Shane McConkey founded the International Freeskiers Association (IFSA) in 1996, the idea was to create an umbrella organization under whose auspices the sport's radical roots would grow. Since then, big-mountain skiing (and, in a similar vein, big-mountain snowboarding) has evolved into a global phenomenon, with competitions sprouting across continents and events filling up in minutes.
In response to that growth, last month the three biggest competition circuits united to form one mega tour -- the Swatch Freeride World Tour presented by The North Face -- that will crown undisputed world champions in freeskiing and snowboarding for the first time. Insiders heralded the move as one that will change the sport for the better, yet it also distances the elite level from its grassroots foundation more than ever.
That's where Jason Frazier comes in. Frazier, a 35-year-old Utah businessman who competed on the Freeskiing World Tour the past three years, was named president of the IFSA this week. He succeeds Rob Greener, who remains on the board as vice president. In another move announced this week, Eric Schmitz was elected head judge and will succeed the late Jim Jack.
Frazier's goals as president are broad and ambitious. He wants to bridge the gap between the FWT and North America's regional ranks; attract non-endemic sponsors to big-mountain freeriding; and establish unilateral judging and event criteria, from the Verbier Xtreme down to the Tahoe Junior Freeride Series.
"The most important thing for us is to see growth in the sport," Frazier said.
It comes from an unlikely leader. Frazier's background is in market growth and development for billion-dollar companies, far from the nonprofit sector. His best finish on the Freeskiing World Tour -- where he often showed up to registration in a suit and tie -- was 25th.
When he got laid off from his day job in May, he started looking for another just like it. But a week later, he fielded an unexpected offer to lead the IFSA. "I had some other things in the works, but when they approached me I was like, this is the job I've wanted since I was a little kid," Frazier said.
As president, Frazier intends to further a longstanding IFSA mission -- "make the sport attainable to everybody who wants to participate." That includes preteens through masters, he said.
Most of the roughly 50 IFSA-sanctioned events (the full schedule will be released in mid-September) will be junior events, Frazier said. Moving forward, he hopes sanctioned adult competitions will help U.S. and Canadian competitors qualify for the FWT. "Hopefully we can form somewhat of a pipeline for the world tour, almost like a farm league," he said. "What they've put together is fantastic, but the qualifying process" -- with many top events overseas -- "makes it difficult. The North American athletes are at a disadvantage."
"Ten years from now," he added, "I'd like to see the IFSA be the governing body for the sport and have the events run by the companies that are running them now. We want to make sure big-mountain freeriding stays under our umbrella, just the way Shane intended it to be."