Ayumu Hirano competes in the Dew Tour High Air & Best Trick Jam at Copper Mountain MIKE YOSHIDA
If you overhear someone today commenting on the “rivalry” between skiers and snowboarders, chances are they were around in the ’70s when snowboarders began to join the ranks of skiers at resorts in the U.S., resulting in a period of growing pains.
Or perhaps you do know recreational skiers and snowboarders who just can’t seem to tolerate one another, even in 2023, when they’ve been sharing space on the mountain for more than 40 years.
Among the pros in each discipline, however, far from a rivalry, there’s a mutual respect and appreciation that has even progressed to something of a symbiotic relationship. And more events are dreaming up contests to throw the two groups together, to the delight of the athletes and spectators alike.
Currently, skiers and snowboarders compete together on the world’s top big-mountain terrain on the Freeride World Tour, and Kings & Queens of Corbet’s in Jackson Hole combines skiers, riders, men and women in one competition—mixing the run order—for one discipline-agnostic male and female winner.
This weekend, Dew Tour added another event along these lines to the mix with its Superpipe High Air & Best Trick Jam. The controlled jam session, which immediately followed the men’s snowboard superpipe final on a snowy Sunday, was open to all Dew Tour 2023 competitors regardless of gender or discipline, throwing everyone together in the 22-foot-halfpipe with raucous results.
The cash jam saw judges, including Snowboard Magazine editor-in-chief and Dew Tour host Mary Walsh, handing out crisp (but quickly turning soggy in the wet weather) $20 bills at the bottom of the halfpipe when they saw tricks they liked.
Dew Tour host and Snowboard Magazine editor-in-chief Mary Walsh hands out cash at the bottom of the … [+]DEW TOUR/MARK CLAVIN
Title sponsor U.S. Air Force awarded $2,500 to both the ski and snowboard Highest Air winners, as well as $1,500 to the athlete deemed overall MVP.
Beijing 2022 gold medalist Ayumu Hirano, who also won the men’s superpipe final immediately preceding the jam, took the prize for Highest Air among the snowboarders, reaching 22 feet, 8 inches (and rolling down some windows) on an air to fakie.
Hirano also took MVP, walking away with $4,000 in addition to his petty cash from the judges.
Hunter Hess took the honors for ski Highest Air at 14 feet, 5 inches.
Olympian and Colorado native Aaron Blunck, who took third in the men’s ski superpipe final, snagged the “Best Drip” award with his golden yellow kit, standing out amongst his fellow competitors in the driving snow. And 11-year-old Copper Mountain athlete Patti Zhou, in her Dew Tour debut, earned “Best Time” with her positive attitude and childlike joy at being part of it all.
“It was really fun and I think that all these people just inspire me instead of making it feel weird and stuff,” Zhou told me after the jam. “These girls and all these riders and skiers, they inspire me. I want to go high; I want to be like them. I want to be part of that group, you know?”
11-year-old snowboarder Patti Zhou, who won the “Best Time” award during the Dew Tour Superpipe High … [+]DEW TOUR/MARK CLAVIN
After earning a second-place finish in her first-ever Dew Tour competition, the women’s snowboard superpipe final, Zhou has certainly proven she can hang.
Blunck and snowboarder Danny Davis praised the novelty and camaraderie of the format, each sharing words of admiration about the other and about how skiing and snowboarding have become so complementary.
“Skiing kind of birthed the mountain experience and then snowboarding sort of birthed freestyle; freestyle skiing got a lot from snowboarding, so it would only be natural that we’d all ride in the halfpipe together,” Davis told me after the event.
Davis built his career on halfpipe competitons, including making the Olympics, but has since transitioned more to big-mountain freeriding and filming.
“I spend a lot of time in the mountains freeriding with lots of skiers so in the backcountry it’s very normal, and we never share the halfpipe all that much, whether it’s practice or contests,” Davis added. Male and female snowboarders in the same discipline even get to “rip together in practice,” Davis said, but not skiers and snowboarders.
“I love to see more stuff that’s just free-flowing like that—you know that’s my avenue,” Davis said.
Blunck echoed Davis’ thoughts about the ways the two sports borrow from one another and how fun it was to compete alongside Davis and the other snowboarders in the superpipe.
“I think skiers are taking a lot of inspiration from snowboarders, and you kind of see that vice versa in the backcountry right now,” Blunck said. “In park and pipe I feel like we’re kind of chasing after the snowboarders but in big mountain I feel like snowboarders are just chasing after skiers. It’s so sick.”
Blunck specifically cited Raibu Katayama, Hirano and Davis as huge influences on his skiing, even though they’re all snowboarders. “They’re people who like I kind of look up to in my skiing,” he said. “They’re obviously snowboarders, but in the way they flow, their style.”
“It’s just a really cool environment to be around because we don’t really have events where it’s skiers and snowboarders, and even in training during events most of the time they split up skiers and snowboarders,” Blunck added. “So it’s cool to just cruise and everyone has a smile on their face and we just push each other.”
Any snowboarder who has ever run out of speed on a cat track knows it can be essential to have a skier buddy who can give you a tow with a pole, and that same principle apparently applies in the halfpipe.
“I was talking to Raibu up top and I was like, ‘Do you want a push in?! We gotta get you going big!” Blunck said with a laugh.
The crowd, too, loved the unstructured nature of the jam—so refreshing from the typical buttoned-up, pressure-cooker event of a ski or snowboard medal event. Rather than performing a run with multiple double 900s, athletes were doing smaller, more stylish tricks an amateur could do as well.
“That is so much more relatable and hopefully gets the kids out, to be like, ‘That was fun, I wanna just do a slash, I wanna do an air to fakie like Danny and Ayumu,’” Blunck said. “That’s the stuff. That’s what we live for, for sure.”
As skiers and snowboarders continue to ride the mountains, the park and the halfpipe together in harmony, it would be a positive step forward to see contests looking to combine the two disciplines divide prize money into four buckets: male and female skier and male and female snowboarder.
About Michelle Bruton
Michelle has been writing about action sports and the Olympics and Paralympics for more than a decade, having covered Summer and Winter X Games, Summer and Winter Olympics and Paralympics, Dew Tour, world championships, and more. She covers the industry from every angle, but her favorite pieces to write are always profiles of the athletes that make these sports so compelling. She’s originally from New Hampshire, where she cut her teeth as a snowboarder (and cut up her knees and elbows…a lot), and now lives in Chicago, a city that holds a gold medal in her heart despite its lack of elevation.
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