World Extreme Skiing Champs returns
After a decade of dormancy, the World Extreme Skiing Championships (WESC) are being resurrected next spring in Valdez, Alaska, on the 20th anniversary of the famed big-mountain contest.
The competition to determine the world's best big-mountain skiers will run from March 25 to April 3, 2011, as part of Tailgate Alaska, a freeride festival for skiers, snowboarders and telemarkers on Thompson Pass near Valdez. WESC first debuted in 1991, when legendary skier Doug Coombs was crowned champion. Chris Davenport won in 1996 and Shane McConkey was a regular competitor. WESC last occurred in 2000.
"[WESC] really changed the face of how we ski today and the events that are being put on," said Karen McCune, who was president of WESC in the 1990s. "Valdez and Thompson Pass are an extraordinary place. The skiing is phenomenal, and I think the venue and the festival are going to bring a lot of experience and excitement to younger skiers. "
McCune is organizing WESC 2011 in conjunction with Mark Sullivan, founder of Tailgate Alaska, and Nick Perata, founder of the King of the Hill snowboarding competition that returned to Tailgate Alaska this past spring. Also involved are Christopher Jerard, publisher of Freeskier magazine, and Michael Spencer, president of Ego Sports Management, which represents Jossi Wells and Simon Dumont. The organizers hope to invite the original WESC judges -- Glen Plake, Scot Schmidt and Mike Hattrup -- to return and work with two new judges.
"Valdez is the snowiest place on the planet and the Chugach Range is 1.6 million acres, which is larger than every ski area in North and South America combined, so it is truly amazing," Sullivan said. "There are lots of great contests with lots of great athletes, but I want to challenge the athletes with the ultimate conditions -- with the best mountains, with the deepest powder -- and see what they're capable of."
But bringing back a historic contest like this raises an important question: Is it possible to re-create what once was? "Many would call that time the golden era of freeskiing," says Chris Davenport. "Valdez was a new discovery to the world of skiing, the athletes who became icons were new, fat skis had not entered the skiing vernacular yet and nobody had any money. While I definitely think Valdez is an epic zone for a contest, I don't think it would be possible to re-create the energy that emanated from the Chugach in the mid-1990s. It was a special time indeed."
The budget for the event has yet to be finalized, but McCune, Perata, and Sullivan are confident WESC will return. It will run in a two-day, two-run format over the scheduled weather window. An extreme day will be held on terrain accessed by helicopters, and a freestyle day will use snowmobiles to transport athletes to a venue on Thompson Pass.
"This is the only place in the United States we have that is uncontrolled. People can get out there and they can do whatever line they want to do depending on their ability levels," Perata said. "It's time to give these kids a forum to step up and see what they can do."
Entry will be by invitation only, and Sullivan said athletes from the skiing community would be involved in the selection. American Ted Davenport and Norwegian Ane Enderud gained entry with wins at the World Heli Challenge in New Zealand.