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UP CLOSE: Free As A Bird … On Skis
NYSEF Freeride Program Helps Skiers With Creativity
by Griffin Kelly (Lake Placid News)
WILMINGTON -New York Ski Educational Foundation Freeride Program Head Coach Justin Perry sat in front of his Apple computer editing a video from his ski team’s latest excursion to the Area 51 terrain park in Keystone, Colorado.
A picture of The Notorious B.I. G. hangs on the wall above. Perry tacked a Santa hat at the top of the picture because who doesn’t love Santa and Biggie Smalls? Set to free-domain YouTube music, the video shows skiers going off jumps and grinding on rails.
“Memorializing in video is a huge aspect of freestyle,” Perry said.
On a shelf across the room sits Perry’s own ski film, a DVD tilted, “True Story.”
Perry coaches athletes in NYSEF’s Freeride Program at the Whiteface Mountain Ski Center.
Freeride isn’t one particular discipline; Perry and the program’s director, Mike Kirchner, use it to describe their skiing and snowboarding program that involves seven different styles – freestyle, slopestyle, skiercross, boardercross, giant slalom, slalom and rail jam. They’re all either trick or competitive race oriented. It’s pretty much everything but traditional alpine ski racing.
The two like to define it as an all-encompassing division that focuses highly on style and self-expression. Where alpine skiing and distance skiing is all about time and length, freeride is judged on its creativity.
“There are not many sports where style is a key,” Kirchner said. “You have a personal style on everything you do.”
Perry showed a video as an example where a skier performed a cork 180, an off-axis half rotation. He explained that a cork 180 is incredibly rare and almost physically impossible because corks tend to require a full rotation. Stopping the trick halfway through takes some real skill. A creative and barely seen trick like the cork 180 would definitely place an athlete high in a competition, according to Perry and Kirchner.
“Every year, pros are doing tricks that have never been done before,” Perry said.
This year marks Perry’s 10th season with NYSEF. He’s an alumnus of the program and was still a competitive skier when he began coaching the team.
Perry, born and raised in Lake Placid, started his skiing career when he was only a toddler.
“I owe everything to my mom, who put me on skis when I was 2 years old,” he said.
Going down the slopes at Whiteface, Perry had a tendency to ski aggressively, not recklessly. He would speed down the mountain, sometimes cutting people off, making it a goal to go off every jump and mole hill he could.
His mother thought it’d be best to put him in competitions where his enthusiasm could be properly trained.
After a few years of recreational skiing, Perry began competing in distance skiing at the age of 8. He still has his box full of first-, second- and third-place ribbons. Perry remembers the days when he would zoom down the jumps in excess of 50 mph and leap the distances of football fields.
“It’s the closest thing the human body can get to flying,” he said.
Perry admitted that the ski jumps like the 90- and 120-meter towers in Lake Placid can be intimidating, but once you go off them, it’s one of the best rushes in the world.
“You’d say to yourself, ‘Don’t do it. Don’t do it. Don’t do it,” Perry said, “but there was no turning back.”
However, the distance jumping became less of a concern when he received a new pair of skis one year.
“I got twin tipped skis at 12 and went over to the dark side,” Perry said.
Twin tipped skis curve up at either end allowing the skier to ride backward, unlike distance skis, which would most likely dig into the snow.
With the new skis, Perry started performing grabs and rotations. This was at a point where some freestyle tricks weren’t even allowed on most mountains. Flips were seen as too dangerous, according to Perry.
“You’d get your pass pulled if you did a flip,” Kirchner added.
It’s just that type of creativity that is highly rewarded in freeride and freestyle nowadays.
Perry and Kirchner agree their students aren’t just part of the NYSEF team because it’s a fun hobby; the students are with the program because it’s almost all they think about.
“Some will train two, four, six days a week,” Perry said.
“It’s very much a lifestyle sport,” Kirchner added.
Just like him, Perry said, “This is the type of thing where our athletes try to find a way to do it for the rest of their lives.”