Telluride Ski Resort has not hosted a World Cup snowsports event since 2011 — and that was for snowboarders. But for the past three days, and continuing today (Sunday), Telluride has borne witness to some of the finest athletes competing in the FIS (Fédération Internationale de Ski).
Though Telluride and the FIS are not staging a World Cup competition this weekend, the freestyle skiers on the U.S. Ski Team have been ripping up the precision-groomed moguls and table-top jumps on Hermit (which unspools beneath Village Chair, Lift 4) since Thursday and will continue training there through today.
Because Telluride Ski Resort did not encompass substantial above-timberline terrain until the 2001 opening of Prospect Bowl and Gold Hill, the ski area has always been best known for its bumpy, egg-carton runs, especially those off Plunge Chair, Lift 9.
Those mogul-strewn slopes fueled the ski team rise of Caleb Martin, who graduated from Telluride High School in 1994. Five years later, in 1999, Martin was ranked No. 3 in the world for mogul skiing. And now he’s the moguls and freestyle coach of the U.S. Ski Team, and was instrumental in arranging the team’s four-day training block in Telluride this week.
In a Thursday interview with the Daily Planet, Martin said, “This time of year, it’s hard to find good training venues with good snow conditions.” Noting that the freestylers train primarily at Park City, Utah, he added, “It’s definitely helpful to get to different venues to mix things up and stay fresh. We appreciate Telski for stepping up and providing us great training.”
Martin said his skiers tend to spend winters competing, or traveling to competitions, in lieu of training sessions, so they’re making the most of the opportunity to showcase their talents without the pressure of making podiums.
Scott Pittenger, Telski’s director of mountain operations, has been in charge of constructing bump runs and table tops. “It’s more or less the same build that we do for freestyle skiers with Telluride Ski & Snowboard Club,” Pittenger said.
“It is sized a bit different for more advanced competitors. And there is a ton of hand-made work that goes into building a (World Cup-worthy) course. But it wasn’t like we had to do a great deal of expediting, because Mother Nature has helped us quite a bit.”
Pittenger said the U.S. Ski Team and Telluride Ski & Golf honchos “indicated in preseason that it could be a possibility, based on forecasts” that freestyle training would occur here. He said, “Hermit is an excellent training venue, and we’re happy to see folks use it” to its maximum potential.
Saturday, he said, was a prime exposition for the athletes, with Winter Olympian Hagen Kearney rocking the mic as MC while making splashy introductions of the skiers.
Martin said the benefit of training demonstrations was “interacting with fans and helping our team with visibility. We try to get out and get around the country. It helps with fundraising and everything, and lets us give back to local ski programs like the Telluride Ski & Snowboard Club.”
For his part, Pittenger praised the “upper echelon of athletes skiing down our local course. We’re super excited to have the team here. And it’s great that Caleb gets to show the U.S. Ski Team the course where he trained back in the day.”
Freestyle skiing includes aerials and moguls competition, and consists of a skier performing flips, jumps and spins while skiing down a mogul-covered trail. The FIS recognized freestyle as a sport in 1979, and the first FIS Freestyle Skiing World Cup was staged in 1980. Freestyle skiing was a demonstration sport at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, and mogul skiing was added as an official medal event at the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville (when American Donna Weinbrecht won the first freestyle skiing gold medal in women’s moguls). Aerials were added to the Olympics at the 1994 Games in Lillehammer.
Interestingly, when the largely machine-made Hermit course first supplanted Lower Plunge as the resort’s freestyle venue in 2011, Martin — then a coach for TSSC — told the Daily Planet: “It’s good ... Perhaps, with this new course, we will be able to hold a World Cup someday.”
Cross your fingers, freestylers — and if the trick calls for it, go ahead and cross your tips.