A perfect storm is brewing in Colorado's San Juan Mountains. It has nothing to do with weather systems, and everything to do with this week's Red Bull Cold Rush, a freeskiing competition where 13 of the world's best skiers will prove their versatility on Silverton Mountain's notorious steeps from March 14 to 18.
Sean Pettit and Suz Graham will be on hand to defend their 2010 titles at the invite-only event. Among the other contenders are 2010 men's runner-up Dash Longe, WX15 slopestyle winner Sammy Carlson, and Powder Award favorite Sage Cattabriga-Alosa. Blake Nyman, Rory Bushfield, Dane Tudor, Josh Bibby, Kye Petersen, Logan Pehota, and Richard Permin will also compete. Graham and Grete Eliassen are the only competitors in the women's division.
The Cold Rush, where athletes judge themselves to determine the final results, has been known as one of the most progressive competitions on the calendar since it began in 2007. This year's move from Retallack, British Columbia, to Silverton, Colorado, brings a new element to the event.
"Silverton is the same type of hardcore as events that they like to be associated with," says Silverton co-owner Aaron Brill, who opened the one-lift, expert-only ski area 10 years ago. Silverton has received 38 inches in the last week, which bodes well for soft landings.
To understand what Silverton will offer, consider how Brill describes a late change in the location of the comp's cliffs venue: "The cliffs are now in the Chrome Dome. That terrain is different from Nightmare in that it will probably not kill you," he says. The big-mountain portion will be held "in an area littered with cliffs that are so steep they barely hold snow," Brill adds. The slopestyle jump is being built by hand because it sits atop terrain that's too steep for a cat.
Defending champ Pettit, 18, also won the Red Bull Linecatcher, the French version of Cold Rush, earlier this year. "I'm not really trying to follow anyone's path. I'm just trying to create my own," Pettit said before winning Linecatcher in January. Afterward, he said: "It's not easy to put your health and your life on the line for this contest, but every single person was."
Carlson and Eliassen are both skipping Winter X Europe in order to compete at Silverton. "Being the second year they allow female skiers, to be involved is a huge honor," said Eliassen. "The male skiers last year couldn't stop talking about how blown away they were by the women's field. It's so great to ski with the guys equally and have fun together."
The winner takes the $5,000 prize. The People's Choice Award, a $1,000 prize, will chosen by fan voting between March 17 - 27 on the Cold Rush website. Stay tuned to ESPN Freeskiing for a final recap from Silverton later this week.