Local skier, shooter discuss Squaw Freeskiing Open
If you happened to be at Squaw Valley Thursday, you may have witnessed something strange: Lots of skiers riding terrain that’s normally only skied on powder days, hucking cliffs and looking for the gnarliest route down the mountain.
That’s what happens when you get almost 100 of the top freeskiers in the land together competing for podium spots at the Subaru Squaw Valley USA Freeskiing Open.
Freeskiing competitions allow competitors to pick their own line down extremely technical terrain, with the skiers being judged on five criteria: the degree of difficulty of a competitor’s line choice, style/fluidity, technique, aggressiveness and control.
The subjective nature of the criteria allows for quite a bit of creativity, as well as some truly impressive runs (and crashes).
To get a sense of what spectators at today’s final round of competition will be in for, the Sierra Sun’s Paul Raymore spoke with two guys who will be there.
One is competitor and Squaw regular Kevin O’Meara, who won the Tobias Lee Memorial Sickbird award ” a belt buckle presented to the competitor with the most spirited competition run ” last year at the Squaw competition, and is aiming for a podium finish this time around. The second is filmmaker Shennon Sarich of 17 20 Films, who produced “A Senders Rodeo,” a documentary about the 2007 U.S.
Freeskiing tour that will be showing at Zenbu after the awards ceremony Friday.
SS: Can you start by telling me a bit about your documentary, “A Senders Rodeo?”
Sarich: It’s a documentary on Kevin and a guy named Drew Tabke, who rides on Praxis skis also, and the tour that they compete on ” the U.S. Freeskiing Tour. And we traveled around last winter: We went to Snowbird, Jackson, Kirkwood … and I just captured all the moments in the competitions, interviewed some people in the movie and put it together.
SS: Why a documentary on the freeskiing tour?
Sarich: Well, I’ve always attended these comps, and I’ve always had friends in them, and I’d always go film at them, so I thought it would be a great story to tell if I followed them around, showed all the highlights, heard what the athletes had to say about it and just kind of captured the moments that happen on the tour. There are a lot of great people out there and good times.
SS: Kevin, maybe you can comment on what draws athletes to compete on the freeskiing tour?
O’Meara: I think it’s kind of a breakthrough event for a lot of people. A lot of people have been doing this tour year after year, and they are pretty well established. But there is probably half the field where it might be their first comp. And I was really drawn to it when I went and watched a couple of them … The level of skiing that I witnessed was so spectacular, and I decided that I wanted to be a part of it.
That was about the same time that I started working with my cousin Keith O’Meara ” the owner of Praxis skis ” and at that point we just had an idea. So that next year (2006) I signed up for Kirkwood and Snowbird. So I took our first prototype to Snowbird and skied these virgin skis in the competition and took first place in the qualifier. They had me hooked at that point.
SS: What was really interesting about the tour last year that made it into the movie?
Sarich: At Snowbird, on the final day, they took the final 10 or 20 people and sent them back up for another run to figure out the top 10, and so they had the finals and I had filmed the whole thing. And I got a call from one of the judges because the judges couldn’t make up their mind (as to who was first and second). So I went down there and gave them my camera, and they watched it for like an hour, and finally decided that they had tied.
SS: One thing I really like about films like yours is the chance to see athletes skiing in less-than-ideal conditions sometimes, instead of the typical perfect powder in some hidden-away backcountry spot that a film crew spent hours snowmobiling to. Kevin, how do you prepare for the infinitely variable conditions you might find come contest day?
O’Meara: The only way is experience and training. I’ve been kind of looking at it that way this year and have been burning my legs to the point where I’m laying down cramping on the mountain. And now I feel really strong going into this competition. I haven’t just skied powder days this year. I’ve been working my body on all these variable conditions so I feel ready going into this. I know it’s firm out there, but the mentality you have to go into it with is: Everyone else has to ski the same conditions, so no one really has an advantage because of the conditions.
SS: Given the conditions we have currently at Squaw, what do you think the competition will be like?
O’Meara: Well, I think you’re going to see a lot of the same lines skied this year as last year because we’re looking at similar conditions and the same venue … And I can predict that a lot of times you think the conditions are going to inhibit your riding, and then you go watch the competition and that doesn’t happen at all. It has to be really crappy before it starts to slow people down, especially at that level.
Sarich: A lot of the things that you’ll see people skiing in the comps, and especially at Squaw, are things you’d see people skiing only on powder days. And now it’s definitely not powder, but they’re still going to hit it.
SS: Do you expect the locals to do pretty well?
O’Meara: I think there are a few that will. It’s kind of a matter of who goes out there and attacks their lines ” because [the judges] are looking for aggressive skiing. And last year it was a pretty good showing ” myself and Kip Garre and Christian Gesler, Erv Wolf … and I hope I’m not leaving anybody out ” a lot of us made it on to the super final. It all depends on their mind frame at the start gate. Whoever settles in and says, ‘I ski this every day’ is going to do well, and whoever is up there struggling with nerves probably won’t.
Sarich: And there are still the guys who do good every year. Guys like Cliff Bennett, Craig Garbiel and Josh Daiek.
SS: When you’re trying to pick out a line that will score high enough to get into the finals or onto the podium, what do you look for?
O’Meara: I’m basically trying to push myself as far as I can and ski the most difficult line that is within my ability. A lot of times in these competitions you’re out there putting it on the line and you’re going for the fifty-fifty line ” which is a 50 percent chance you’re going to stick it and 50 percent chance it’ll be the end of your run. And I try not to subject myself to any lines that are potentially life-threatening, or even injury-threatening. So it’s kind of a balance between all that.
I also look for something that I can ski fast and fluid, because that’s important. If you’re getting hung up on your run, [the judges] don’t like that.
SS: Shennon, can you tell me a little more about 17 20 Films? When did you get started making movies?
Sarich: I’ve been making movies with my friend Dana Mackie ” she has 4Reel Productions ” and we made “Jusimi” and “Stomp.” And I just went ahead and made this movie and there you go. I had always wanted to make a documentary about the U.S. Freeskiing Tour.
Something more than just skiing and music. I find that boring. You want a story, you want to follow something. It’s kind of like reading a book: You want a beginning and an end and something in between …
Grew up: Virginia (outside of Washington D.C.)
Current residence: Carnelian Bay
College: Sierra Nevada College (B.A. in Graphic Arts)
Other jobs/goals: Hopes to go back to school for master’s degree in Fisheries Biology and then make a documentary in that field.
Grew up: Vermont
Current residence: Squaw Valley
College: Sierra Nevada College (B.A. in Humanities)
Other jobs/goals: Builds handmade skis with his cousin Keith O’Meara at Praxis Skis in Truckee. Hopes to grow that business.
Check out Shennon Sarich’s film “A Senders Rodeo” on Friday in the Zenbu Tapas Lounge inside the Olympic House at Squaw Valley (after the finals of the Subaru Squaw Valley USA Freeskiing Open). Doors will open at 8:30 p.m. and the film will likely start around 9:30 p.m. The film will be shown in conjunction with the closing party for the ski competition. Party-goers can also expect a live DJ and raffle prizes. Check out the trailer at http://www.1720films.com.