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Boxes, rails, backflips. Two Skiing editors enter the strange poleless world of park skiing and learn, among other things, why God made Advil.

The author and Leslie laugh on their first ride up Woodward at Copper’s magic carpet. They clearly have no idea how much pain will ensue.Photo: Tripp Fay

I’ve never seen so many tie-dyed Never Summer T-shirts. My friend and former coworker Leslie and I are surrounded by tiny bros—all shaggy hair and flatbrims and high-tops—in the Copper Mountain cafeteria, midway through our first jib session at Woodward Summer Camp. Our goal is to do a back flip. Leslie is 16 years my junior and unreasonably good at shit. I am 40, which means I now officially feel more comfortable with my legs over my head at my ob-gyn annual than I do with my legs over my head on skis.

I grew up, you know, skiing. Like downhill. And the memory of catching my tips mid-backscratcher when I was nine and face-planting so hugely I broke my goggles in front of the Winter Park freestyle team will be painful forever. Leslie grew up skiing uphill, while being raised by a herd of mountain goats. Which, come to think of it, explains the smell of her Subaru.

When we first got here this morning, we had no coach, so we cruised through the park and just watched this strange pole-less breed of skiers hit “features.” There were beach chairs and tents at the top, with kids chillin’ and music blasting, mostly ’80s bands like Eurythmics and AC/DC. We saw one grom throw a huge back flip—NBD—and then “dab.” Which apparently is sooo 2014. The thing most of these kids are working on is “afterbang,” which is even harder to explain. “It’s a lifestyle,” one of the coaches said. “It’s just, like, when you stomp a trick so hard.” As far as I can tell, it looks a lot like pulling your pants up.

We skied down to a big metal pipe. “Yeah, I’ll slide that,” I told Leslie, who felt strongly that this was not a good idea. She likes to do things step by step. Progression. Because she’s smarter than I am.

Mo, who we thought was the 17-year-old van driver but turned out to be Woodward’s GM and a damn good jibber, saw me eat shit and casually rode up to mitigate the carnage and the potential ensuing lawsuit. We started on a box. “If you want to slide sideways, you have to land flat and lean on your downhill leg,” he advised. It’s counterintuitive, but it worked. Soon we were spinning and sliding and even landing switch. I stopped below one box to take a video of Les.

“I think you just took a photo,” a grom said behind me, his flat-brim under his helmet.

“What?” I said, looking down at my phone.

“I heard it click when you were on Snapchat,” he explained.

“Dude, I am not on Snapchat.”

One small success on a box.Photo: Tripp Fay

And so with Leslie bolstered by this snowflake-size morsel of success and me further disheartened about not knowing how to use Snapchat, she bounced and I trudged to lunch. 

Now, as I wash down my cafeteria quesadilla with fruit punch, I can already feel the hard lumps rising on various body parts that are broadcasting, in pain-pulses, the rainbow of colors they will soon turn. Also, there’s my hip flexor, though that’s nothing three weeks of rest won’t fix. I take some of the Advils my ski-pants pocket is always full of, and then we head to the barn to learn from our “brosephs” what we came here to nail: The Back Flip.

We start small in the foam pits with “shifties” (a.k.a. christies) off the mini-ramp. Soon we’re standing in our skis atop the medium ramp. “I’m just now realizing how ridiculous this is,” Les says, shaking slightly. I’m up first, and a kid waiting his turn next to us says, “It’s so scary but you just gotta commit.” He’s, like, nine. “You want a push?”

One of the coaches and adorers of Leslie yells up to me, “Just pop, then spin. What’s the worst that can happen?” Well, I want to say, I could fall on my way down this 45-degree ramp and peel off all my skin, I could fall backward off the jump and break my ass, or I could try the goddamned flip, land upside down on my head, and hear something that is more often associated with breakfast cereal than cervical columns. Which is exactly what happens. Crunch. I lie there blinking because bits of foam are getting in my eyes, and because pain is making me cry.

“A little help here,” I would like to call, if I could talk. So I thrash around until I’m within arm’s length of the rope. I feel a curious burning down my neck into my arm and indulge in a childish fantasy about who would be saddest if I lay unconscious in the hospital.

I fish myself out, and Les launches herself next. She does a 360 to warm up for her back flip attempt and lands perfectly, with all her admirers cheering and clapping. “Let’s go do the bigger jump,” she says, being the kind of person who gives herself stress fractures from running too far. “F, no,” I say, except sans initialism, being the kind of person who swears. A lot.

I walk her up to the highest one. I’m sweating, my ankle hurts, and I think I tweaked my knee. I start to get scared, and I’m just a spectator. The ramp looks like the ski jump from the movie Eddie the Eagle, which I saw on the plane. I want to hold her hand and pet her hair, but I don’t because she might think that’s weird. I can tell she’s scared too, because she says, “I’m fine.” That can mean hundreds of things but in this particular situation means “I don’t want to lie unconscious in the hospital.” And then I hold her hand. It’s shaking again. At this moment, I would do anything for her. As long as it doesn’t involve turning my head to the left.

Leslie practicing the flip on the tramp.Photo: Tripp Fay

Then I watch her take one deep breath and look at the takeoff. She pushes off my hand, presses into the skis, pops…and spins. #nailsit.

As the bros race to help her out of the pit, I exhale. Because now I can go buy beer and get back to just following her on Instagram. And maybe, just maybe, in the spirit of adventure, even Snapchat.