Bringing style to big-mountain comps

The Freeskiing World Tour is annoucing a change in judging criteria that could bring mores tricks (like JJ Schiller's, shown here) to big-mountain comps. courtesy of Freeskiing World Tour

The Subaru Freeskiing World Tour will announce to its athletes later this week a change in judging formats for this winter season. In the past, athletes competing in the tour's big-mountain competitions have been judged on line choice, fluidity, control, technique and aggression. Starting this year, the aggression criteria will be eliminated and replaced with style and creativity. This is the first time the Freeskiing World Tour has formally altered its judging criteria since the tour started in 1997.

The implications of this seemingly subtle change are bigger than you may think: The ultimate goal, say FWT event organizers, is to evolve big-mountain skiing to incorporate more freestyle elements. Ultimately, they'd like to encourage more slopestyle competitors to enter big-mountain contests. "This is a fundamental change in strategy," says Adam Comey, president of Mountain Sports International, the organization that puts on the FWT. "We're taking a quantum leap to try to bring together big mountain athletes and park-and-pipe athletes."

In truth, this transition is already well underway. At big-mountain contests over the last few years, it hasn't been rare to see a skier throwing flips and grabs off a cliff. And at the FWT's junior series, most of the teenagers on the podium are incorporating tricks into their lines. "The athletes are pushing the sport in this direction already," Comey told ESPN Wednesday. "In some ways, we're reacting to what they're doing."

A more gradual shift -- from the "extreme skiing" competitions of the 1990s to the more modern "freeskiing" ones -- started roughly around the same time Comey, Shane McConkey, Brant Moles, Lhotse Hawk and others first founded the International Freeskiers Association in 1996.

In 2012, FWT event organizers say they're planning a large event that will bring together big mountain skiing and slopestyle.

In 2008, 27-year-old Aspen local John Nicoletta died from injuries sustained while competing in the Freeskiing World Championships at Alyeska. "Skiing is a dangerous sport and we have had one unfortunate incident," Comey says. "We have always promoted safe and smart skiing." Comey says that the elimatination of aggression in the juding criteria isn't a reaction to that. "We don't see many injuries, and when we do it's not because of a lack of respect for the mountain or poor decision making, it's just the nature of the sport," Comey says.

In some ways, the aggression criteria will be folded into line choice and the new creativity/style criteria. And as Bryan Barlow, the event director for the Freeskiing World Tour, says, "Progressive skiing is aggressive skiing."

So will competitors have to throw 540s to win a big-mountain comp this winter? "At the end of the day, we're a skiing event. If someone rails a line with perfect fluidity that incorporates incredible features, those can be winning lines," says Comey. "I don't think it's required that someone goes out there and throws a rodeo and Lincoln loop just to win these events. But in a few years, we might expect to see that."