christof-schenk

Christof Schenk throws a Flat 3 with a tail grab at The West Coast Session. Photo by Jamie Walter

The remote slope at 8000 feet on the south side of Mount Hood is hidden from the chairlifts to the west and the historic lodge below, and it is packed with some of the top freeskiers in the world.

It’s a warm, sunny day, and the athletes are enjoying the scene and doing their thing, far from the attention and pressure of high-level competitions and high-risk video segments riding rails and catching enormous air. They cheer each other on, take turns dropping in to explore the wall rides and the huge jump below, and then they take off their skis to hike back up and hit it again.

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With a loud thump and an audible groan, a skier lands hard on the knuckle and tumbles down in the wet snow, just lying there. The wet spring snow slowed his approach, and instead of landing on the steep outrun to the 80-foot jump, he smacked into the very edge of the flat top from a height of about 30 feet. There is no way that landing didn’t hurt.

“Hey man, you all good?” asks a skier. “That looked gnarly.”

The fallen skier answers with a few choice expletives and hobbles to the side. His back is okay but he is worried about his heel.

Another skier hikes up beaming, having “made the tranny,” i. e., completed the technical transition from the skate bowl features to the outrun on the far end. “That felt so good,” he says.

The West Coast Session has been a late-spring ritual on Mount Hood for nine years now, and the event is going stronger than ever, with support from Timberline Ski Area, Destoy Terrain Parks and Windells Action Sports Camps. Organizer Ethan Stone, a long-time Mount Hood skier, writer and photographer, has been traveling the world lately building huge terrain features from his new home base in Switzerland, including work on the awesome jumps for the famous Nine Knights event. Stone learns what he can in Europe in the winter and then brings his ideas and techniques back to the West Coast Session.

Here's Ethan touching up the jump, which has a lip about 18 feet high:

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“This is probably our best feature yet,” Stone says in between maintenance runs with his rake and bag of salt. “It’s an 80-foot jump over a skate bowl with two wall rides. Our idea was to put in as many transitions as possible, and then let these guys pick their lines. We have really creative skiers here, so these guys are going to ride lines that we didn’t even think about. That’s the fun part. You just sort of build something that allows for creativity and then see what they come up with.”

The West Coast Session isn’t a competition. It’s an opportunity for freeskiers to try out new tricks, learn from each other, kick back after a long season on the road, and capture some quality photos and video clips for their portfolios. Here Laurent Demartin, a freeskier from Switzerland, tests out his soaring skills:

“It’s basically just a free-for-all,” says Stone. “We provide the features, we bring in the riders, we bring in the media guys, and we just let them go to town for five days.”

This year Stone invited 36 riders from 8 different countries, plus a half dozen photographers and videographers. Mount Hood twin tip pioneers like Griffin Cummings and Jeff Curry are on the scene, as are Olympic slopestyle medalists Nick Goepper (pictured below, photo by Jamie Walter) and Joss Christensen.

“Nick Goepper was coming to the West Coast Session long before anyone knew who he was,” says Stone. “This is John Spriggs coming down here, he’s kind of a legend to the sport. WHOAH! That was sick! Yeah, we’ve got young guys who are on the comp circuit trying to win slopestyle World Cup, and we’ve got guys who are only skiing the streets for film. It’s a very eclectic mix of talent.”

Here's Mt. Hood local Derek Roy exhibiting some serious rail skills:

20-year-old Lucas Wachs grew up in Bend, Oregon shredding Mount Bachelor. He made friends with some older kids with advanced skills, threw his first backflip at 13 and now spends his winters traveling around skiing, filming and trying to get his pictures published.

“I love making edits, being able to portray your footage how you want people to see it,” Wachs says. “It’s not a lot of money but it’s just lifestyle for me. I am able to live this lifestyle through skiing.”

23-year-old Noah Wallace from Spokane, Washington grew up skiing Schweitzer’s parks and got good enough to compete on the freeskiing circuit. “This past winter I got to travel the world and do some contests all over Europe and the US. I did pretty well in a couple of the European contests,” he says. “I was on the podium a few times.”

The podium finishes were key because they kept Wallace going financially. “The majority of the skiers who do the tour all have a sponsor that comes with a travel budget,” he says. “I had that in previous years. This year was the first year I hadn’t had that, so I was surviving off of contest wins. I had some help from family and friends to get through the first couple of contests, and then I got onto a podium, and I’ve just been running off podiums ever since.”

Like Wachs, Wallace says his choice to pursue freeskiing has a lot more to do with lifestyle than money. This past winter he hit the best jumps of his life at a contest in Switzerland, got the royal treatment in Iceland, and stayed at a hotel in Andorra with the best food he’s ever eaten.

The West Coast Session includes video and photo contests, and peers vote for their favorite tricks and session MVP. The awards bring trophies, but no prize money.

“No one’s making any money at this event,” says Stone. “It’s all about the fun. From the filmers to the skiers to the organizers, people are just here because this is what we love to do.”

Canadian rider Zak Mousseau stole the "Best Trick" award with an epic zero spin over the 80-foot jump, while Italian rider Lukas Schäfer was honored with the "MVP" award.

Joona Kangas won the “All Day Syndrome” award, Reed Lewis was named “King Meat” and Jon Marks was honored as “Repeat Offender.”

Jonah Williams won Rookie of the Year.

West Coast Session 10 already has been scheduled for next spring, May 1-5, 2016 at Timberline.

Best Trick Winner Zak Mousseau from Canada