10 Best American Freeskiers Of All Time
The Independence Makers
In honor of 4th of July, we've put together a list of 10 of the greatest American freeskiers of all time. These are the skiers who are not just mind-blowingly talented athletes, but throughout the years, they've contributed in some vast and memorable way to the culture of freeskiing, a sport that got its start as a statement of independence.
Meet the original freeskier. Scot Schmidt can be credited with helping usher in the modern era of the sport. He appeared in dozens of Warren Miller movies starting in the 1980s, and he skied stunts for the 1993 cult classic, "Aspen Extreme." Today, he still retains a few sponsors and works as a ski ambassador for the Yellowstone Club in Montana.
After Glen Plake appeared in Greg Stump's pioneering 1988 ski film, "The Blizzard of Aahhh's," he became known around the world for his mohawk and for his style and skills on steep terrain. One of the original extreme skiers, nowadays Plake, an inductee in the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame, is still an ambassador of the sport who travels around the world spreading the freeskiing doctrine.
Doug Coombs was an incredible skier -- he was a two-time winner of the World Extreme Skiing Championships -- but his largest impact on the sport was introducing the rest of the world to a little place called Alaska. He opened Valdez Heli-Ski Guides in 1994, one of the first Alaskan heli-ski operations. Coombs died from a fall in La Grave, France, in 2006.
You can't talk about freeskiing without talking about Shane McConkey, the sport's original funnyman. He appeared in countless ski movies from Matchstick Productions and others and helped build the first rockered powder ski, and his alter ego "Saucer Boy" and sense of humor reminded everyone not to take themselves too seriously. He died in a ski-BASE jumping accident in Italy in 2009.
Seth Morrison has never searched for the spotlight; it's always just found him. A former big-mountain competitor, he has appeared in dozens of ski films, including a documentary film about him in 2011, and he was one of the first to take big tricks to the backcountry. His most impressive contribution? His longevity. Now age 40, he's still considered one of the best in the game and appears regularly in films.
Tanner Hall, now 30, has been a dominating force in competitive freeskiing for years, and he was among the first to show everyone you should spin four ways to win. In 2008, he became the first person to three-peat in two winter X Games disciplines by earning three straight Ski SuperPipe and Ski Slopestyle victories. In addition to competing, he helped launch Armada Skis, produces his own ski movies and has been an outspoken -- and often controversial -- member of the freeskiing community for more than half of his life.
Nobody has contributed more to the women's freeskiing world than Ingrid Backstrom, who's appeared in Matchstick Productions films for 10 years now, proving that women can ski the same lines as the men. She's racked up more best-female-performance awards at the Powder Video Awards than anyone else and she won the fan favorite in the inaugural X Games Real Women video contest -- and she's done it all with humility and grace.
If anyone embodies the new generation of freeskiing, it's Tom Wallisch, who was among the first to prove that the Internet and YouTube can turn an unknown kid from Pittsburgh into a global ski celebrity. In addition to winning X Games Slopestyle gold, he's helped pioneer street skiing in places you'd never expect.
Chris Davenport's freeskiing career has evolved from ski racer to competitive big-mountain skier to ski mountaineer and more. Along the way, he's pioneered new routes -- including becoming the first to climb and ski all of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks in a single calendar year -- and he's guided and inspired many others to reach beyond their limits. Plus, thanks to his media empire of books, films and television exposure, he's helped bring the spotlight to freeskiing perhaps more than any other athlete.
With 12 World Cup victories to his name, Daron Rahlves was one of the fastest American downhill ski racers of his time. When he retired, though, he didn't just hang up his boards. He competed in X Games Skier X and went to Alaska to film huge lines with Teton Gravity Research, proving that ski racing and freeskiing aren't that different after all. Since then, he's launched a freeskiing race series called the Banzai Tour.