By Jim Harris
Following "Big Mountain" and "Slopestyle" in Days 1 and 2, Wednesday’s third and final day of the 2011 Red Bull Cold Rush at Silverton Mountain, Colo., was accurately called "Cliffs Day." The venue was a north-facing slope that was terraced with cliff bands that got bigger with each drop. The lowest band of rock outcroppings stretched hundreds of feet across and offered a diversity of diving boards and pillows.
One of the unusual things about Red Bull Cold Rush is that it's not open to spectators. It's strange, really. Imagine any other sporting event with the arena doors locked while the teams play inside. Yet, it’s also a practical choice.
The mountainsides where Cold Rush is staged is experts-only terrain. Avalanche hazard dictates that everyone carries a beacon, shovel and probe. On top of safety concerns, there's the challenge of just getting everyone out to the venue. And moving nearly 50 people one heli-load-at-a-time today took a good chunk of the morning. Nope, these aren't roadside attractions. In three days I've traveled by snowcat, snowmobile, chairlift, foot, and, most recently, chopper.
Because access to these slopes is so difficult, Red Bull invites spectating through daily photo and video updates. They put tons of effort into producing really cool media. There's a crew devoted solely to operating the gyroscopic, helicopter-mounted Cineflex camera. Another crew works a finicky 1,000 frame-per-second camera that films Matrix-like slow-mo, and then there's a few more crews that fill in other angles.
What's it like to have an audience that consists only of peers and cutting edge cameras? Shelly Robertson, who spent years skiing in front of spectators on the mogul circuit, says she feels intensely watched when these cameras are rolling. "Of course, you try not to think about that," says Robertson, though two closely circling helicopters are hard to ignore, no matter how cranked one's earbuds are.
"You just try to focus. I think about keeping my eyes up and hands out. Before I hit the lip I try to set it up and pop," continued Robertson.
The competitors went big, tricking drops up to 80 feet from takeoff to landing. I asked a few people what goes through their heads when their skis have left the snow and they're a six-floor elevator ride above the ground. Most said they don't think, they're too far absorbed in the moment. The funniest response came from Richard Permin, who said this: "In the air I spot my landing. Then I close my eyes and wait." Though you wouldn't guess it from watching, these guys and gals are a little bit scared of hitting this stuff.
Following a few hours of smooth stomps and the sort of bomb-holing that would make a chiropractor see dollar signs, the cameras and contestants shuttled back to town for dinner and the awards ceremony. The riders voted Grete Eliassen and Sean Pettit top scores for the day, bumping their rankings to a pair of first place finishes in overall for the three day competition.
See powder.com’s Red Bull Cold Rush coverage from Silverton Mountain:
Day 1, Big Mountain, Dispatch and Photo Book »
Day 2, Slopestyle, Dispatch and Photo Book »
Video: Big Mountain Day at the Cold Rush »
Video: Slopestyle Day at the Cold Rush »
Video: Cliffs Day at the Cold Rush »