Normally, I avoid contests and stick to the filming and photo side of freeskiing because I hate the limitations of a set course and discipline, with judges, scores and strict rules. Standard slopestyle, halfpipe and big air contests don't always allow people to ski the way they would like to.
Luckily, the Vars Tournament, which wrapped up this week in the southern French Alps, is unlike all other ski contests, which is why I decided to sign up for my first contest in very long time. Its unique format accommodates a larger variety of styles and allows for more creativity than the average contest, while still keeping a high level of skiing.
"It was super interesting battling people from all around the world with different styles, trying new tricks and having fun," said competitor Jeremy Pancras. "No one really cares too much about the final result, because that's not the point."
Instead of waiting at a start gate to hit specific features in a certain way, there is more freedom to choose how you ski. A bracket system divides up the field into individual match-ups and skiers compete head-to-head in a format similar to S-K-A-T-E in skateboarding or H-O-R-S-E in basketball. Riders play rock, paper, scissors to see who sets the first trick and to win you must give your opponent the four letters of the French resort's name: V-A-R-S.
The element of suspense plays a big part in competition because you never know what you might have to try next. The mystery of the unknown keeps things exciting for both riders. It sort of felt like being a kid again: When you grow up skiing with a crew of friends, you dare each other to do new tricks and try to keep up with your friends when they learn new things.
Instead of the newest double or triple winning the contest, at Vars, you never know what's coming next. It could be simple and stylish, it could be technical and crazy, or it could be a mix of all of the above.
"This is my favorite event of the year," said competitor Matt Walker. "The format is perfect because it really shows who can do the most tricks and who is the most adaptable to other styles."
And not that results really mattered at Vars, since we were all there to have fun, but Canadian Vincent Gagnier took first place, followed by Finland's Antti Ollila in second and American Karl Fostvedt in third. And for my first contest back in ages? I ended up fourth.