Inside the West Coast Session

The five-day Mount Hood session that has become a freeskiing staple

The West Coast Session actively supports Handplants Across America. PHOTO: Rocky Maloney.
The West Coast Session actively supports Handplants Across America. PHOTO: Rocky Maloney.

In what has become a nearly decade-long tradition, every May the brightest young athletes and photographers in park skiing fly, hitchhike, and carpool their way to Mount Hood’s Palmer Glacier. Each year, skiers have come to Oregon in search of spring park features, a party (or two), and an opportunity to test their mettle against “the big boys.” Yet, over the past nine years, this time has transitioned to also include opportunities to film video parts and shoot photos for magazine spreads and cover shots. These are the West Coast Sessions, a gathering of the vibes that has become the breeding ground for up-and-coming skiers and image makers worldwide. This year’s event recently wrapped up last week.

“It’s not an event catered to only pros. WCS is one of the best opportunities for the young guns or unknowns to have their chance to showcase their talent…and have that chance in the spotlight,” says Rocky Maloney, one of the premiere photographers in urban and park skiing and a six-year WCS veteran. “It brings back the style…of skiing.”

Hosting a breeding ground for up-and-comers was the thesis of the freeski experiment when Ethan Stone and Brandon Pastuka first started the WCS in 2007. Taking their cue from POWDER’s Superpark and Freeze’s Parkasaurus, the Oregon-based duo decided it was time to give the rising stars of the sport—both in front of and behind the lens—a high altitude soap box. Since then, pretty much anyone on the park and pipe radar, including skiers like Tom Wallisch, Sammy Carlson, and Torin Yater-Wallace, but also names like Sean Jordan, Sean Logan, and McRae Williams, has passed through the Palmer Snowfield session on their way to ski world recognition.

Falling in between competition and summer camp seasons, the WCS calls on a diverse crew—urban, park, and competition skiers alike—to hit features in a low pressure setting. This year even brought in the event’s first Olympic gold medalist, Joss Christensen (he’d been before, just sans hardware).

When it comes to freeskiers, you just might find the full gamut in the Timberline lift line. PHOTO: Rocky Maloney.
When it comes to freeskiers, you just might find the full gamut in the Timberline lift line. PHOTO: Rocky Maloney.

The WCS is the equivalent of a skiing think tank, bringing athletes and photographers together for an intensive week of skiing, plotting, and shooting. The overall culture is relatively laid back up at Government Camp, but it’s not everyday that a skier can get five or six lenses focused on him or her at a time, and, inversely, it’s not everyday a photographer can point his or her camera at 15 of the best in the sport without moving his or her feet.

“I learned more about photography during my first WCS than I would have attending any school,” admits Maloney. “After the first couple years of shooting [the event], my career as a ski photographer took off and suddenly I was getting recognized and getting published in just about every [ski] magazine.”

For years, the Timberline park crew has built interpretive and creative features conducive to the skiers descending upon its glacial haunt, but the WCS always caps the week off with a staple—the legendary sunset booter. The final night’s jump session is as close as it comes to WCS tradition and has been part of the reason the event has separated itself from the pack. Whether it be Wallisch’s switch 900 japan grab in 2009 or Max Morello’s naked double backflip in 2014, like the WCS itself, you just never know what you’re going to get.