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The birth of big air

Evolution is a vital part of life, and for many people skiing is too. Therefore, the two were destined to cross paths.

Professional backcountry skier Eric Deslauriers, who helped propel the natural process by way of unnatural gravitational feats, knows first-hand about the evolution of skiing.

“It was the beginning of freestyle,” Deslauriers said of the mid-to late-1980s, when Warren Miller films began captivating the ski world. “[The sport] was evolving from classic powder skiing. Cliff jumping was becoming the big thing.”



And that’s how Deslauriers made a name for himself.

Now, as head coach of the Sugar Bowl Academy freeride team, he’s passing on his knowledge to a new generation of evolving skiers.



A 1982 high school graduate whose parents owned Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont, Deslauriers ventured westward in late fall of 1988 in search of powder and “big mountains.”

After stops at resorts in Colorado and Utah, Deslauriers settled in Tahoe, which was getting pounded by November storms.

Deslauriers got a job within a day at what is now Wild Flower Baking at Squaw Valley. His boss, Susan, gave him a ski-friendly schedule. The very next day, Deslauriers said, the Warren Miller gang came to town.

“Robbie Huntoon asked me if I wanted to go skiing with them,” he said. “Inside two weeks I was filming with Warren Miller. It all happened at once.”

As Deslauriers was well aware, only those who went big were on Warren Miller videos. So he went big on his 210 Dynastars ” enough to earn an appearance on the opening segment of “White Winter Heat,” which was released in the fall of 1990.

“It was going off at Squaw,” he said of the 1988-89 winter. “You could ski everything.”

Comprised of Deslauriers’ childhood friend, Tom Day, as well as Scot Schmidt, Huntoon and several other pioneers of radical skiing, the Warren Miller crew was ahead of its time, dropping massive cliffs and ripping through narrow shoots for the camera.

“We were just a pack of friends going out and going big,” Deslauriers recalled. “And we were doing it all on skinny skis. Nobody was doing it but us.”

In his third Warren Miller video, in the early ’90s, Deslauriers hucked himself off a gigantic cliff in the Palisades at Squaw Valley. Estimated in Squaw-calculations at 90 feet, but in reality probably more like 75 to 80 feet, Deslauriers said, he stuck the landing and rode away. It was the largest drop he ever attempted.

“I just backed up and hit it,” he said. “It was fun.”

Body parts inevitably felt the impact over the course of 11 years and 25 Warren Miller videos. Mainly, it was his knees that took the brunt of the landings. But after two surgeries on one knee and one on the other, they seem to be repaired, Deslauriers said.

“They’re good,” he said. “They work.”

Deslauriers still rips around on his 195 Solomons, hitting step-ups in the parks at Sugar Bowl and Squaw Valley and cruising through backcountry powder while instructing his students. But his days of extreme skiing are history.

“Mostly, my days of jumping are over. I’m more about fast turns on big skis,” Deslauriers said. “But now I’m glad I can pass on my knowledge. I feel fortunate that I can make a living doing something I love.”


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