PHOTO: Camilla Rutherford
Five-time X Games medalist and Olympic skier Jossi Wells has earned his legend and lore within the freeskiing world throughout the years. With versatile experience—he was the only athlete to compete in both Superpipe and Slopestyle at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi —and noteworthy style, Wells is joining the same vein as freeskiers Jon Olson and Sammy Carlson by hosting his inaugural Big Air Invitational on August 13. The event will take place at Well's home mountain, Cardrona Alpine Resort, on New Zealand's south island, where the top skiers will compete for a $20,000 cash purse.
"This is the resort that I have grown up on. This is my stomping ground. I learned almost all my tricks here, learned how to ski race, ride jumps, ride rails—pretty much everything up here at Cadrona," Wells told POWDER. "To throw an event for my international peers and all the local peers as well and to give back to the industry here in New Zealand is a really special opportunity."
The Invitational, brought in part by Monster Energy and Dragon Optics, will bring skiers like James Woods, Noah Morrison, Wells younger brother Jackson Wells, national Kiwi stars and international freeskiing names to compete on a 75-foot-plus jump. The Invitational will also welcome snowboarders.
"For me, it has always been inspiring to watch skiers and snowboarders. We all approach it a little differently," Wells says. "I want to bridge that gap."
Completing the trio of freeskiing disciplines alongside halfpipe and slopestyle, Big Air events allow athletes to showcase their tricks and style over a single jump.
"I've always been a huge fan of Big Air events, and it seems like the Big Air events are becoming a little more scarce, so I wanted to add one into the season and get all the boys down and have a really good time," Wells says.
The Jossi Wells Invitational will be a Silver level event for the Association of Freeskiing World Tour, the worldwide ranking platform for competitive freeskiing.
"Jossi has been a huge supporter of the AFP since the inception, we are in turn naturally and incredibly supportive of anything and everything he does," says AFP Communication Manager Jeff Schmuck. "We are super excited he is launching an Invitational event both because he is such a big name in our sport and has brought so much it over the years. I think we can expect some really big and exciting things and a unique athlete list. It will definitely be one to watch."
From the early U.S Open days and the Jon Olson Invitational, to modern day Big Air at X Games Aspen, whether it is triple corks or slow style tricks, Big Air events traditionally hold a significant role in freeskiing. Historically, Big Air events showcase both progression and the current state of freeskiing.
"The jumps are getting bigger and more technically demanding. I think the level of skiing we are seeing these days, particularly at X Games [the premier Big Air event on the AFP World Tour], is a far cry from what we used to see at the US Open Big Airs and the Jon Olson Invitational," says Schmuck.
Big Air and European-style stadium events had fallen to the wayside, until, most recently, Shaun White's Air+Style event in Los Angeles in 2015, the Polortec Big Air at Fenway Park and the first Big Air at X Games Olso, helped Big Air events reappear and gave them new life.
"I hope we see more Big Air events, because it is an opportunity for athletes to show the world what they can do and that particular level of freeskiing," says Schmuck. "I think it will create an opportunity for it to get into the 2022 Olympics."
Most recently, at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Superpipe and Slopestyle skiing made their debut. With Snowboarding Big Air added to the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, there are hopes skiing will follow.