Is freeskiing ready for the mainstream?
This winter, freeskiing will be presented to the world on center stage at the Olympics in Sochi, Russia, in February, after being nurtured under the radar for years by skiers, brands and the action sports community. This weekend, those same people who nurtured the sport gathered in Aspen, Colo., at the ninth-annual, The Meeting, wondering if freeskiing is actually ready for the mainstream.
The Meeting is a long weekend of ski and snowboard film premieres and industry gatherings. With the year's best ski and snowboard films being showcased and a full day of conferences and panelists, it seemed like an ideal place to search for answers to this burning question.
But as an autumn snow squall fell in Aspen, Level 1 founder Josh Berman had a different question: Is the mainstream ready for freeskiing?
"As long as they can call tricks the way they're supposed to, then yes, the mainstream is ready for what they're going to see, which is a super watered down version," Berman told me. "Freeskiing has been doing it just as well if not better than all these other genres of action sports, but it hasn't had the spotlight, hasn't had the media attention. The public is going to embrace it, seemingly surprised at what they're seeing even if it's nothing new."
For Berman, the hype of the Olympics presents an unnatural shift. "Whoever does triples on these 45-foot jumps is probably going to win the contest for the sake of it being a contest and get the most attention with half of the core community hanging their head in shame," he said.
The residual effects from the Olympic spotlight can be used to build upon the mainstream's understanding of the sport. With movies like "McConkey" and Sweetgrass Productions' "Valhalla," which both screened at The Meeting and will be available on iTunes this week, the big mountain and cultural side of freeskiing may already be shifting to a wider audience.
One of the more thought provoking conferences at The Meeting, and one that proposed what freeskiing can offer to the mainstream, was Steven Kotler's The Rise of Superman. Kotler's book, "The Rise of Superman," will be released in March, 2014, and a collaborative film with producer and Teton Gravity Research co-founder Dirk Collins is slated for 2015.
Kotler's research highlights that freeskiers have been experiencing an exponential growth in performance due to flow, in other words, being in the zone.
"It's the freeskiing movement," Kotler said this weekend in Aspen. "Because creativity mimics risk, you're getting double the neurochemical reactions. The way to win was to show something creative, that was the driver and that is what started moving freeskiers up."
"If you sit down and look at the science, it legitimizes what freeskiing has been doing for the last 15 to 20 years, the athletes have helped create the science," Kotler added. "Now we can take what we learned from freeskiing and apply it to life, business, art and creativity."
Perhaps this winter during the Olympics, a popular freeskier will become the new poster boy or girl, much like freestyle skier Jonny Moseley did after winning gold in moguls at the Nagano Games in 1998. Freeskiing could step out of the shadows. It's only then that we will see if freeskiing can hold its own and maintain its roots in creativity and nonconformity, even on the main stage.