Big airs and big snow highlight the Red Bull Cold Rush

It wouldn't be a freeski competition in Revelstoke without weather delays. Cam Kaegi writes about covering the Red Bull Cold Rush.

tan Rey goes upside down during the Red Bull Cold Rush last week. The Whistler-based skier put on one of the best shows of the event with his many attempted backflips

By Cam Kaegi, Special to the Review

The Red Bull Cold Rush came to town last week. I tried my best to follow the renowned event as it unfolded at Revelstoke Mountain Resort and beyond. It was a spectacle, to say the least.

For those unfamiliar with the freeskiing world, Cold Rush is a big deal. It’s a one-of-a-kind competition that blends all aspects of freeskiing together: Big mountain, cliff hucking, slopestyle and ski touring. An invite-only roster of the world’s top skiers, and a $36,000 prize purse ensure the stakes are high. But unlike other competitions, the athletes judge each other, which keeps the vibes even higher. Something like a team competing against itself.

Cold Rush was all set to unfold last year in Revelstoke, but the weather gods had other plans. After being postponed to a later date it was scrapped altogether. Thirty metre jumps onto rain crust don’t end well – even for the professionals.

Was it going to return this year? No one really knew. Then the answer came: Yes, it would. Fast forward to myself writing this and by golly it actually happened. For the most part…

Day one

PHOTO: Johnny and Angel Collinson scout the big mountain venue. Angel won the women’s comp, while Johnny finished second on the men’s side. ~ By Scott Serfas, Red Bull

Tuesday, February 2. I pick up my media pass and board the gondola with Mark from the Low Pressure Podcast, who I’ve just met. Soon we’re hiking the Lemming Line in dense fog and picking our way down to the viewing area at Greely Lake. Spilt Milk, the massive face above Greely Bowl, is the venue of choice for the big mountain competition and when we arrive below it the name is ironically fitting. Only the lower half is visible as milky fog envelops the rest. Start time is delayed until it clears up.

In the meantime some of the competitors and onlookers session a nearby jump scratched into a bank. The welcome entertainment draws cheers from the growing crowd. One bold jumper lands too flat and emerges with a bloody face. The session ends shortly after. The injured skier is taken down by toboggan. All the best to him.

Noon is fast approaching and visibility is improving enough for the athletes to scope their lines. There are various options and many cliffs of imposing heights to drop. Even the “Thumbs Up” area lookers right of Spilt Milk is in play. My mind drifts to the 2010 FWT, when Julian Lopez took second place by launching Spilt Milk’s largest cliff. Who’s gonna send it today?

Potentially no one. The fog obscures the slope again. Then it parts somewhat. The announcer calls for the first competitors to load the heli. They’re flown up to the start gate to wait patiently. The Almighty Visibility stays elusive. At 1 p.m. the announcer calls it: “We’ll try again tomorrow.” The athletes on the ridge ski casual lines to the bottom while spectators watch with envy. At least the snow is co-operating. Looks powdery all right.

Day two

The next day I arrive at the finish zone and the competition is underway, ahead of schedule. Spilt Milk looks good. The Almighty Visibility has returned, if barely.

One helicopter shuttles competitors to the start gate. Another is on filming duty with a Cineflex camera mounted under its belly. Their rotor-rumble echoes throughout Greely Bowl.

An RMR snowcat sits idling, acting as the warming hut for competitors. Under a giant Red Bull tent is a cooler stocked with energy drinks. “Wow, this stuff really gets you going,” a spectator informs me. “No doubt,” I reply. A hyped crowd is good for business. The drink that gives you wings is owned by a huge one.

Photographer William Eaton fills me in on what I’ve missed. “Yeah some really good runs. Impressive stuff.”

Only half of the first runs have been skied. I figure all the good ones can’t be over yet.

The runs continue steadily and my jaw steadily drops. I won’t describe each since there is video online that will do it better.

After a short break the second runs commence. Some standout more than others:

Joe Schuster and John Collinson air large 360’s off the top cliff. Greg Hope cleans a technical run. Angel Collinson stomps her run like a dude. Leah Evans, the local, shows why she’s a local. Riley Leboe (chief of jump construction) lays down a solid run with a hefty drop in the middle. Stan Rey sends a lofty 15+ metre backflip, disappears into the white, and emerges triumphantly. Josh Bibby launches a drop into a chute, catches a ski and tumbles furiously, losing his skis. Gasps from the crowd. But he’s up quickly and hiking to retrieve his gear.

PHOTO: Sean Pettit spins of a cliff during the Red Bull Cold Rush. ~ By Bryan Ralph, Red Bull

A number of athletes opt to ski Thumbs Up on their second run. The lookers right side is highly exposed, supported by day-ending cliffs. Colston VB, who’s already been down it, skis the slope gracefully, putting on a visual clinic in sluff management. Dane Tudor and Dave Treadway follow suit.

I join some friends at the fire that was once surrounded by athletes and their families but has since cleared out. It’s about -10 C and my toes are becoming icy. Spectating is its own discipline I’ve decided. Some time by the fire and the problem is solved.

Only a few runs to go. Kye Peterson steals the show with a precise run, stomping a textbook cork 720 off a bottom drop. Sean Pettit ups the ante, starting with a switch cork 5 off the drop-in cornice, into a large hip-style air. The crowd watches intently. “Now that’s how you ski a line,” proclaims onlooker Jake Teuton. Charging into the bottom cliff area faster than anyone, Pettit drops the high part with a huge cork 360, but doesn’t quite stick the landing.

Sammy Carlson is up next. My friend Jordy sums up the situation: “Well look at this boys, we’re next to a toasty fire, watching Pettit and Sammy shred Cold Rush! Weeeooo!!”

Carlson starts his run with a cork 720 off the drop-in cornice, continues off the hip cliff Pettit aired, then across the slope to lookers left of the venue. An airplane turn takes him down a near vertical rock slab, and cruisy turns bring him to the finish gate.

A few more runs close out the day. I ambush some competitors before they take off.

Revelstoke local Leah Evans, who has skied the venue in past competitions, tells me, “It was probably the best snow I’ve ever skied on Thumbs Up. I’m stoked that I got to ski what I wanted to ski.”

Vernon-raised Joe Schuster seemed pleased with the competition venue: “It’s really good, has a ton of variety. There’s some big exposure and airier lines, so it allowed for a bit of everything.”

Colston VB also praised it as “everything we needed for a big mountain venue.”

Mike Henitiuk was “happy to be at the bottom.”

“I’m looking forward to the cliffs, that’s probably my better event,” he says.

Thirty minutes after the last run and the Red Bull crew has everything packed up, Red Bull cooler and all.

I watch two workers high five.

Day three

PHOTO: Skiers stand at the top of their lines on top of the cliff venue during the Red Bull Cold Rush.~ By Scott Serfas, Red Bull

I wake up Thursday and it’s snowed 20 centimetres overnight. I get up to the hill promptly to find the top of the Stoke chair fogged out. Not ideal for a backcountry slopestyle competition. Touring could be easier but that’s lower priority. There’s helicopters here for a reason.

The slopestyle course is in Montana Bowl, south of the boundary line, and is likely fogged out as well. A ski patrol confirms my hunch: “It’s on standby for now. They might do Cliffs if the visibility doesn’t improve.”

Story of the week… all well, I’ll do some hot laps while they deliberate.

I see some of the competitors doing the same. No one wants to wait around when there’s powder to shred.

By mid-afternoon the whiteboard at Stoke bottom makes it official: “Cold Rush Slopestyle cancelled.”

I assume they’ve gone ahead with the Cliff hucking option but am not positive. Later that day I get confirmation they did, and it was a success. The fog stayed out of the zone.

Located on the hard-to-access backside of Kokanee Bowl, the venue provided various options for the competitors, who took full advantage. With cliffs of up to 25 metres, air time was not in short supply. Kye Peterson, Stan Rey, and Johnny Collinson delivered stand-out runs among the men with burly spins and flips, including a double-backflip attempt from Rey.

Suz Graham made the women proud with the only front-flip of the competition. Tatum Monod opted for a technical line through a steep chute. Leah Evans took a nail-biting fall on top of her line, tumbling for a ways before some trees stopped her descent. She was able to collect herself and ski to the bottom with only minor injuries.

Video of the day can be viewed online.

Day four

PHOTO: Tatum Monod enjoys a bit of freeskiing after too much snow forced the cancellation of the slopestyle event. ~ By Scott Serfas, Red Bull

Friday morning comes and I hoof it over to the viewing area for the final day of competition – Slopestyle & Touring, take two. I break trail through the night’s fresh snow, catching glimpses of the venue through yet more fog. The wind howls and my hopes for the day aren’t strong.

I make it to the viewing ridge just in time to catch the competitors… piling into the cat. Other media guys are there too. “What’s the deal?”, I ask. “They just pulled the plug. Too much snow to run it,” replies a patroller. Huh… since when is that an issue. No one wants to openly grant The Fog another victory, but it’s won again, with a two for two record.

The patroller leads us media folk down to the bottom of the slopestyle course. Through flat light we gaze up at the hand-crafted jumps, decorated with sponsor banners. Oh how awesome it could’ve been…

But not all is lost. Far from it. The athletes are going to spin some group cat-skiing laps, and take advantage of this confusing problem/blessing: excessive snowfall. With two solid days of competition accounted for, plus bonus powder footage of the team, Red Bull has recorded enough content to be at peace with the outcome. Besides, this is Revelstoke. Weather days are normal days.

Day five

PHOTO: Athletes sign autographs for the fans outside the Roxy Theatre on Saturday. ~ By Bryan Ralph, Red Bull

It’s Saturday evening and the Roxy Theatre is sold out. As I approach the entrance, music blasts from a Red-Bull-Mobile parked on the cobblestone, and the lineup extends out the door. The lucky ticket holders are here to watch footage from the week’s events and the athletes must switch into judge mode. Cold Rush champions will soon be crowned.

Inside, the atmosphere is festive. The lobby is packed with excited spectators, athletes and their families. Mt. Bebgie Brewery is providing the beer and Red Bull Girls hand out posters.

I grab a drink ticket, then a Kolsch and find a seat — one of the last available. Box seating is reserved for the competitors-turned-judges. The screening begins.

Cheers erupt with each stomped cliff and hair-raising fall. The footage looks incredible, especially that from the helicopter with the Cineflex camera. Not once is an athlete lost out of view. The soundtrack compliments the action well. These Red Bull people really know what they’re doing…

The last of the runs play out and the lights come up. We are told to head to the Traverse where the results will be announced in a couple hours. Spectators empty the theatre while athletes remain at their comfy benches, judging away.

The clock strikes midnight at Traverse and the place is hopping. DJ Invizible keeps the dancefloor bouncing.

The music stops and a voice projects: “Everyone, the results are in!” The noise of chatter subsides. The men’s results are announced and the medalists take the podium to raucous applause:

  • 1st – Kye Peterson, 93.50

  • 2nd – Johnny Collinson, 83.50

  • 3rd – Greg Hope, 80.50

The women’s podium is announced:

  • 1st – Angel Collinson, 69.30

  • 2nd – Tatum Monod, 65.90

  • 3rd – Lexi Dupont, 57.80

Rowdy cheers continue and photos are snapped of the medalists. Soon the music returns and the dance floor is bobbing again. I consider trying to interview the winners but deem it too difficult a task. They’re pretty pre-occupied and it’s a tad noisy. I can tell you they looked pretty damn stoked. And so did everyone else.

PHOTO: Kye Petersen admires his first place trophy. ~ By Bryan Ralph, Red Bull

The competition isn’t over. Red Bull has posted the videos of each athlete’s runs online. Watch them, like them and share them. The skier with the most views will be named the People’s Champion.

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