Video: Highlights from the Cliffs competition, cat skiing day, and awards ceremony at Cold Rush, from Jasper Newton Media.

The handful of 20-somethings perched across Greely Bowl are ready. They’ve dug stadium seating into the snowy hillside, chilling a solid buzz worth of beers into a makeshift snow icebox while brewing up some coffee on the Jetboil. Line cooks, front desk clerks, and chauffeurs—these guys are skiers scooped fresh from the flatlands and sprinkled into the mountains, inspired by the moving images of their ski heroes.

Now those heroes stand just down the hill, scoping lines on a steep Revelstoke face and sessioning a makeshift hip jump to get the juices flowing. Needless to say, the fanboy-ing in this ski bum amphitheater is in full effect.

“Is that Sean Pettit?” “Dude, how badass is Angel Collinson?!” “Whoa, Sammy Carlson is kind of short, huh?”

Imagine the NBA All-Star game coming to your high school gym and not charging admission. Now imagine the skiing equivalent. That’s Cold Rush—one of the most ridiculous collections of skiers ever assembled, all staged in this impressive Canadian backyard.

Read more: Highlights from Cold Rush, day one.

From 2008 to 2011, Cold Rush helped bring freeskiing and its unregulated awesomeness to the forefront of the competition world. Combining technical big mountain skiing with the free-flowing freestyle scene, Cold Rush featured a series of high-flying events suited for contemporary skiers, like Big Mountain, Cliffs, and the Backcounty Slopestyle, to crown the best skiers on Earth. Names like Sean Pettit, Sage Cattabriga-Alosa, and Mark Abma suddenly had a platform to qualify what they had been doing for years—and it felt pretty darn good.

Tatum Monod gets pitted #forthegirls. PHOTO: Scott Serfas/Red Bull Content Pool.

Tatum Monod gets pitted #forthegirls. PHOTO: Scott Serfas/Red Bull Content Pool.

Then it disappeared—a four-year experiment that seemingly went the way of other promising alternative competitions like the World Extreme Skiing Championship and Orage Masters.

But as competition burnout has hit more and more of skiing’s promising talent in their prime, the call for Cold Rush’s return only got louder. The freeskiing event represents a shifting focus in comp skiing, reincorporating the film athlete into the competitive fold while dissociating with the strict rules that have risen with freeskiing’s push into the Olympics.

It’s a movement that really started with the first iteration of Cold Rush, and we’ve seen it build in recent years with ESPN’s Real Ski and Real Ski Backcountry. Athletes want to show the world what they are capable of, but don’t want to dilute their craft in the process. For many, Cold Rush, with its peer judging, loose guidelines, and creative competition format, represented that answer.

Watch More: Skiers Throw Down at Cold Rush Big Mountain Comp

So, even after weather and avalanches derailed an attempted Cold Rush comeback at Revelstoke last year, when the call came for a rerun in 2016, some of the biggest names in skiing rallied in response.

“It’s a huge honor and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to ski with the most inspiring people in the business,” says Angel Collinson, the most dominant female skier in the world over the past few years, and a Cold Rush rookie. “It’s really rare that the best riders get to be in the same place at the same time, but I think it’s crucial for progression and analysis. [Cold Rush] is a milepost that’s really important for our future [in skiing].”

From February 3-5 a stacked roster assembled deep in interior British Columbia for a shot at $36,000 in prize money and making a name for oneself at one of the most insane “State of Skiing” conventions of all time. Names like Pettit, Kye Petersen, Wiley Miller, Tatum Monod, Dane Tudor, and Johnny Collinson made up a 16-man and five-woman field for two days of competition (a third, consisting of Backcountry Slopestyle and the skinning-oriented Uphill Assault was cancelled due to weather). Sammy Carlson, the X Games gold medalist who gave up comp skiing right before Sochi, returned to action after a two-year hiatus, and the female Collinson, a former Subaru Freeride Series champion, decided to throw the bib back on.

From steep big mountain lines, to technical cliff zones, Cold Rush put the entire ski gamut to work. Suz Graham showing she's all business. PHOTO: Scott Serfas/Red Bull Content Pool.

From steep big mountain lines, to technical cliff zones, Cold Rush put the entire ski gamut to work. Suz Graham showing she’s all business. PHOTO: Scott Serfas/Red Bull Content Pool.

After spending two years at Colorado’s Silverton Mountain, Cold Rush headed back to the True North, dropping base camp in one of Canada’s premier big mountain ski destinations, Revelstoke Mountain Resort. With a history built upon the tracks of the Canadian Pacific Railway, the town of Revelstoke has established itself with a different kind of tracks of late, offering a variety of deep turns from one world class resort, a handful of heli operations, cat skiing, and a slew of sled and ski-touring access. Boasting over 380 inches of snow annually, Revelstoke Mountain Resort sits in the cradle of the Selkirk Mountains, an interior British Columbia range with a drier snowpack than its coastal neighbors.

The resort has hosted big events in the past, including several Freeride World Tour qualifiers and a 2012 FWT event. But Cold Rush holds a different spot on the mantle place, one reflected by the 350 townspeople that packed out the public screening of the week’s action at the Roxy Theatre downtown.

This was an honest look at ski movie athletes, one that saw some rise to the occasion more than others, but a rare glimpse at the raw abilities of the skiers gracing silver screens each year. It’s one thing to nail a trick in a few takes and put the end result on Vimeo, but it’s quite another to watch someone stomp their first line complete with spins, cliffs, and steeps in an area they’d never skied before.

Read more:
Cold Rush By the Numbers

“I think [Cold Rush] changes the spaces that we’ve all become accustomed to,” says Leah Evans, a local Revelstoke athlete, and one of five women in this year’s Cold Rush event. “I’ve skied these spots before, but I’ve never seen people ski it the way [these athletes] do. It just reinvents the way you see the terrain.”

During the Big Mountain competition on day one of the event, that was manifested in Stan Rey turning an 80-foot cliff into his personal diving board, throwing not one, but two massive backflips (stomping the last to a rowdy ovation and the admission that this was, in fact, his first ever big mountain comp). As much as athletes claim Cold Rush isn’t about the competition, the rest of the field took exception to Rey’s challenge, turning the former FWT course—a jagged 2,000-foot line of cliff and craggy tree outcroppings called Spilt Milk—into a playground of floating 360s, backflips, and 720s interspersed between no fall drops and sloughy chute busting.

A dramatic drop-in at Revelstoke's Big Mountain venue. PHOTO: Scott Serfas/Red Bull Content Pool.

A dramatic drop-in at Revelstoke’s Big Mountain venue. PHOTO: Scott Serfas/Red Bull Content Pool.

“Honestly, it almost feels like we’re filming,” says the Angel Collinson. “People are picking their lines based on how they’ll look on camera.”

It’s a departure from the increasingly strict structure of the competition world, one welcomed by skiers that would normally consider themselves anything but a competitor.

While there was a physio on hand for the bumps and bruises that come from hucking off of five-story rock faces (four competitors ultimately withdrew from action with minor injuries), downtime was spent playing “Headsup” in the warming tent or late night jamming to a Josh Bibby guitar, establishing a little slice of the community these pros promote but often miss during jam-packed winter seasons.

“I know a lot of these [athletes] through Instagram and social media,” says Rey, a 27-year-old former skicross racer turned big-sending freeskier. “It’s pretty interesting to actually meet them in person and see how humble and rad this crew is.”

But is it the most effective way to determine the best skier in the world?

“One hundred percent,” says Rey. “It’s the pinnacle of the sport and shows who the best all around skier is over [multiple] event days. I think you get a really good sense from that.”

The Collinson clan was a little more apprehensive, but the duo sees merit in the claim.

“It’s hard to determine the best skier in the world,” argues Angel Collinson. “But I think [Cold Rush] is as good an all-around format as you can get.”

A big part of that format is the idea that the athletes involved ultimately determine the Cold Rush winners. Admittedly an imperfect system (“It’s impossible to totally judge anything fairly, that’s the nature of judging,” says Angel Collinson), Cold Rush’s peer judging implies that no one knows skiing quite as well as the one’s out there doing it.

Queen of Cold Rush Angel Collinson shows us what winning big looks like. PHOTO: Scott Serfas/Red Bull Content Pool.

Queen of Cold Rush Angel Collinson shows us what winning big looks like. PHOTO: Scott Serfas/Red Bull Content Pool.

When the cold smoke settled, it was Petersen and Angel Collinson on top of the men’s and women’s podiums. Monod and Lexi Dupont completed the women’s podium, taking second and third respectively, but there was a clear level of athletic intuition that went into rounding out the men’s side. Johnny Collinson was awarded the second spot after a gutsy backflip into 360 cliffs run paid in blood, and dark horse Telluride local Greg Hope scored a major third place upset for consistently putting technical and terrifying runs to his feet all week. It was the type of diverse podium that is able to work at an event like Cold Rush, Petersen’s air presence versus Collinson’s power versus Hope’s technical line choice. Three athletes that might never sit in the same room much less ski the same face, standing on the same podium.

Using the crooked arrow of non-conformity as its guide, Cold Rush is trying to rewrite the future of comp skiing in a language that every athlete—park, big mountain, film, competition, or otherwise—can get behind.

“I’ll definitely be back again,” says Rey, the winner of Cold Rush’s gnarliest moment (whether that was his stomped 80-foot backflip or his absolutely gargantuan attempted double, was not specified). “Maybe next year I’ll work on going a little smaller. Or, you know, maybe not.”

Need to see it for yourself? Check out all of the Cold Rush action on Red Bull’s Cold Rush page and cast your vote for the People’s Choice Award, a new competition that let’s the viewer pick his or her winners. Voting will be tallied on February 10, with the first ever People’s Choice winners announced on February 11.