The videos are up and the polls are open for Real Ski 2016. Where ESPN X Games has hosted a Real Ski competition for backcountry skiers, this is the network’s inaugural urban freeskiing contest. Contenders Tom Wallisch, Will Wesson, Cam Riley, Clayton Vila, JF Houle, and Ahmet Dadali—the six best street skiers in the universe—each submitted 90-second segments to the judges for a single round, winner-takes-all face-off. What's on the line? Just a little something called X Games gold, as well as a $20,000 purse.
Wallisch and Houle already have X Games slopestyle medals to their name, but this is the first time in history that non-competition urban skiers have a shot at X Games glory. While the cardinal winter events (slopestyle, big air, and superpipe) are suited for real-time competition, in which athletes have one chance to throw down everything they've got, it’s more antithetic to ask street athletes to lay down a single polished run representative of their talents.
With Real, the medium fits the discipline. Even if ESPN could build an urban course, the refined finished product that emerges from the repetitive and grueling shooting process best showcases these skiers’ strengths.
"You don't just end it after two runs," said Wesson. "You're not done, you've got to hit it until you get it. There's no other way to do it than go for it and see what happens."
Because skiers choose their own playground, the Real format also rewards creativity, which is appropriate, as the mainspring of street skiing is seeing something different in the mundane backdrop of normal life. All six skiers shine here, but this is Wesson's strong suit, and Dadali features perhaps the best find of the bunch: a billboard for an amusement park that reads "We Triple Dog Dare Ya!"
Real also demands next-level commitment, something skiers who regularly take a beating from pavement and brick are no stranger to. Wallisch, who relentlessly hits more rails in his 90 seconds than I've ever put my hand to, delivers in spades.
It's surprising that it's taken this long for ESPN to bring the signature Real series to the streets, especially after backcountry, another type of skiing that can't be neatly presented as an X Games experience, successfully debuted as a Real contest in 2013.
"Real street almost had to come out as an X Games sport because that's how hard rail skiing is," Wallisch said. "Some of these rails that these guys are going to do in these videos are as tough and as difficult as rail skiing gets."
Though judges will make the final call on which of the street skiers will walk away with medals, anyone can watch all six videos and cast their vote for fan favorite. Voting ends February 21, and medals will be announced the following day during an ABC television pecial, the "World of X Games," which will delve into the making of Real Ski.