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From local snow legends to a sit-skier, Kings and Queens test their mettle

The second iteration of the Corbet’s Couloir freeride competition turns up the talent.

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Kings and Queens of Corbet's

Parkin Costain launches a backflip into the legendary Corbet’s Couloir on Feb. 12 during his first run of the Kings and Queens of Corbet’s event at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. More than 20 skiers and snowboarders competed in the second-annual event.

Trevor Kennison sat in his sit-ski above the run-in to Corbet’s Couloir.

Between heats at the second annual Kings and Queens of Corbet’s competition, Kennison steadied himself, then dropped. With a good deal of speed, he launched off the couloir’s nose, where an unknown number of skiers before him have tested their mettle.

As he landed he bounced hard, maxing out the springs of his sit-ski, and pitched forward, tumbling to a stop in the deep snow midway down the chute. Kennison is, in all likelihood, the first sit-skier to take that leap.

“It was so sick,” he said. “I had the time of my life.”

Kennison’s drop, which earned him the Bryce Newcomb Riders’ Choice Award from the competitors, was an intermission in a wild day of skiing down what may be Jackson Hole Mountain Resort’s best-known shot. Framed by imposing rock walls and with an infamous entrance — the “goat path” — Corbet’s Couloir has the fortunate distinction (or unfortunate, depending on whether you stick the landing) of directly facing the Aerial Tram, meaning many who are chewed up dropping in have an audience.

Trevor Kennison at Kings and Queens of Corbets

Trevor Kennison launches into Corbet’s Couloir during the Kings and Queens of Corbet’s Couloir ski and snowboard competition. He is the first adaptive athlete to ski into the couloir with speed, and was honored by other competitors for his pioneering run.

ABOVE: Adaptive skier Trevor Kennison, of Winter Park, Colo., hucks into Corbet's Couloir on a sit-ski Tuesday at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. Kennison, who said he's been sit-skiing for almost three years after breaking his back in a backcountry snowboarding accident, almost stuck the landing in Corbet's and came away unscathed.

But on Feb. 12 more than 20 skiers and snowboarders fed off the energy of a crowd that dwarfed the one that attended the inaugural event last year. At 10 a.m., the original time athletes were slated to drop, just a couple hundred people had gathered in Tensleep Bowl at the base of Corbet’s. By 10:30, when the first skier dropped, the crowd had nearly quintupled, with skis and boards laid everywhere and amped-up spectators cracking beers, despite the prenoon start.

“It’s amazing to see the mountain highlighting what Jackson has to offer and turning it into an amazing event for people to come watch,” said Ashley Rice, the younger sister of a well-known Jackson snowboarder who joined the competition this year.

Rice’s brother, Travis, set the tone for the event with his first run, stomping a huge 540 off the nose, spinning a pair of 360s off features in the middle and sticking a flip off the kicker built at the bottom.

“It’s really fun to be here today,” his sister said, “as I probably haven’t seen him in a live competition since the X Games in 2009 or 2010.”

Rice didn’t ride in the inaugural Kings and Queens, but he was part of a new crop of athletes that the resort said upped the ante in terms of skiing ability.

“We really wanted to step up the athlete rosters,” Jess McMillan, the resort’s events manager, said before the event. “We were looking for a more international field.”

Taking Rice’s lead, the men and women vying for the title threw down.

Skier Veronica Paulsen back- flipped off the nose, though she over-rotated and back flopped. Snowboarder Mikey Marohn looked like he was flying on a 360 out of the cave on the skier’s left. Blaine Gallivan tried to billy-goat a line through the cliffs at the bottom and found himself in a bomb hole that ski patrol had to help him out of. And Teton Brown found himself short a ski after going too big; he had to ski on one plank to the bottom (a feat in itself), though ski patrol later retrieved the one he lost.

Kings and Queens of Corbet's

Veronica Paulsen launches a backflip into the legendary Corbet’s Couloir on Feb. 12 during her first run of the Kings and Queens of Corbet’s event at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. More than 20 skiers and snowboarders competed in the second annual event.

Kings and Queens is not your typical ski competition. It’s set up like a surf contest, and the resort had a six-day window to pull it off, with officials looking for the day with the best combination of snow and visibility, both for athletes and the assembled masses.

Just a week before the competition window opened, the snowpack didn’t look as if it would cooperate with the resort’s plans. Hard north winds in the early season had stripped out much of the snow from the couloir, McMillan said. Thin coverage and hard landings would likely mean smaller tricks and gun-shy athletes.

Resort officials called on the Parks and Pipe crew to build features in Corbet’s, thinking that if the athletes weren’t going to go big off the lip of the couloir, which was the M.O. last year, they should have jumps lower down to play with.

“We had to start big,” said Rich Goodwin, a Park and Pipe crewmember who also emceed the event. “They were looking like triple-backflip minimum, but we built them knowing they’d fill in.”

Mother Nature took pity on the resort, and a pair of storms in the eight days before the competition dropped 70 inches of snow on Rendezvous Bowl.

“It was amazing to get those storms right before,” reigning Queen Caite Zeliff said. “We were so lucky [the weather] opened up.”

The strange snowpack, with a hard layer below the storm snow and varying layers of density, made for some weird skiing, though the athletes did their best to manage the terrain. Several of them, particularly the snowboarders, seemed to struggle with the funky conditions, washing out on big jumps and having trouble scrubbing speed after the big initial drop-in.

Just as in last year’s event, the athletes were called upon Friday night to judge their peers and crown the winners from among their ranks. In a field of athletes who all threw huge tricks, they were looking for the best combination of big air and control. Many of the skiers, including Paulsen, Brown and Parkin Costain, went bigger than their compatriots but couldn’t stick the landings on their massive tricks.

Ultimately, Zeliff retained her title as queen, impressing her peers with a huge shifty into the chute and lightspeed turns down the gut, riding out her huge drop and celebrating with a Daffy off the kicker at the bottom. Snowboarder Hana Beaman followed her in second, and Ashley Babcock, a ski patroller at the resort, rounded out the podium.

On the men’s side, Karl Fostvedt lost his crown to Rice’s smooth, controlled run. Last year’s King took second with a switch 540 off the lip, a backflip in the middle and a huge 720 off the bottom kicker. Gallivan came in third on the men’s podium.

After an imbroglio swept through the competition last year when the female winners were paid less than the men, each of this year’s winners was paid the same amount: $10,000 for the King and Queen, $5,000 for Fostvedt and Beaman, and $3,000 for Babcock and Gallivan.

All the elements of Kings and Queens — the internal judging, the week the athletes spend together skiing Jackson waiting for the day of the contest and the culminating celebration at the end of the week — combined to create an experience for the athletes that went beyond what you might expect from a competition.

“Everyone knows it’s a comp,” Zeliff said. “But there’s no aggro, ‘I’m going to beat you’ thing.”

With the pressure of the competition tempered by the community feel, the athletes were free to focus on what they really love: skiing. Most of them spent the week ripping around the resort making new friends and discovering secret stash spots.

“I really like this event,” Zeliff said. “It’s the highlight of my season for a lot of reasons. It’s just a great group of humans.”

Kings and Queens of Corbet's

Caite Zeliff showboats off kickers at the bottom of Corbet’s Couloir on Feb. 12 during her second run of the Kings and Queens of Corbet’s event at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. More than 20 skiers and snowboarders competed in the second annual event.

Zeliff and the other contestants, to varying degrees, are used to the thrills of competition, to having the opportunity to see different mountain ranges and resorts, to hearing the roar of the crowd as they stick their landings and push their skiing skills. But for a skier like Kennison, his time in the Kings and Queens of Corbet’s was an experience like no other.

Before a back injury that landed him in the sit-ski, Kennison wasn’t a pro, just someone who snowboarded “because I loved it.” Three years into his new discipline, he is discovering ways to push the sport, and he finds himself in situations he would have never imagined just a couple of years ago.

“On Friday it was me, Sander [Hadley], Karl, Travis Rice, Parkin, all these rippers that I look up to,” he said. “We had 12, 15 people, and it was the most amazing time. That was the best ski day of my life.”

The Riders’ Choice Award that Kennison won was a tribute to Bryce Newcomb, who died from injuries he sustained in a skiing fall on Cody Peak last year. A professional skier, Newcomb knew many of the competitors, and, Kennison said, many of the contestants approached him with stories about their friend and to congratulate him, telling him they couldn’t imagine a more fitting candidate for an award named after Newcomb.

In a star-struck week of powder skiing, however, one moment stuck out to Kennison.

“Last night I met the captain of the Jackson Hole Air Force,” he said Sunday. “After my run on Corbet’s, Benny Wilson gave me an Air Force patch. That means so much just meeting him, and everyone else.

“I’ve met lifelong friends here.”

This story was updated to correct the spelling of Benny Wilson. — Eds.

Contact Tom Hallberg at 732-5902 or thallberg@jhnewsandguide.com.

Tom Hallberg covers a little bit of everything, from skiing to long-form feature stories. A Teton Valley, Idaho, transplant by way of Portland and Bend, Oregon, he spends his time outside work writing fiction, splitboarding and climbing.

(1) comment

Susie Bouchard

Boys were the show.

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