With the competition season on the horizon, Powder.com is running a two-part series from professional skier Colby West on his experience dropping into the Winter X Games slopestyle course. Part two will be available next Friday on Powder.com.
At contests, I get an entirely different kind of adrenaline rush, one that I try my hardest to stifle. Right before I am supposed to compete, without fail, I always have to pee. After that, my legs get a bit weak, my face starts to tingle, and my fingers curl uncontrollably. It’s almost like I am having a stroke. Sometimes I feel dizzy and my mind tries to get away from me, but as long as I can keep my run replaying in my head, I seem to stay calm and just barely confident enough to get through the contest. It helps if I keep the situation light hearted and remind myself that it’s only skiing. It’s not like I am about to charge into battle against a ferocious army of evil warriors. Although, sometimes when I am on the back of a snowmobile, being shuttled to the top of the course, I like to pretend that I’m off to war on a planet of ice and snow, like Hoth from The Empire Strikes Back. My competitors, speeding along beside me on sled transports of their own, seem like fellow soldiers with helmets, futuristic boots, and skis for weapons. But again, we’re just skiing.
In 2008, I qualified first in the X Games Slopestyle opening round, which means that I was last to take my run in the finals. Talk about stressful. I paced around nervously in the riders’ staging area, which is just a big tent at the top of the course. I cracked jokes with the other competitors, who are usually my close friends, but during contests, they mostly wish I would just sit down and shut up. It seems talking and joking around is my way of dealing with my nerves.
After my second run, I was in third place. In the tent, I watched the little monitor with the live feed, waiting to take my last run. I watched the other boys leave and do their final runs. Some crashed, most landed and by the time it was my turn, I was in fifth. I sat alone in the tent, humming aloud because there was nobody left to chat with. When one of the starters called my name, I immediately had to pee. It’s the same thing every time.
I closed my eyes and pictured my run for what seemed like the thousandth time, as I relieved myself outside at the back of the tent. I imagine the starter telling me to drop. Pushing off with my poles and sliding into the first rail. Jumping and spinning onto it with ease. Then gliding to the next feature, a double-kinked box, setting my momentum for a spin onto it and another off of the end to the landing. Feeling my legs take the impact. The next feature, a flat box. This is where I have my weakest trick of the run, but I dare not change it. It’s been working so far. A simple spin off of the end will do. Into the “cannon box,” a feature that launches you about 30 feet to the landing. Again, imagining the impact of the landing, and then I even picture adjusting my jacket, because I will land backwards and the wind will catch the back of it. Turning to hit the first jump, looking over my right shoulder, spinning hard towards the landing and grabbing my ski. Hands in front, landing again backwards squarely. A small speed check for the next jump, which is a huge transfer gap. Locking my eyes on the landing as I throw down over my shoulder. For a moment I will be staring straight into the gap, then suddenly landing forward and staying low to keep my speed for the final jump. A mellow cork nine to finish it off. Elation. Hopefully.
After my visualization, I went to the starting gate to drop in.