I have a confession to make: I’d actually never heard of the Swatch Skiers Cup before Skiing asked me to go report on it last week. (Bad fan of the sport, I guess.). But, man, am I glad they sent me.
Formatted like golf’s Riders Cup, the Skiers Cup pits a team comprised of American and Canadian skiers against a squad from Europe. Each team has nine members, who compete in backcountry slopestyle and big mountain competitions.
Here’s what I loved about it: the setting, Zermatt, Switzerland, is one of the most beautiful places in the world. The backcountry slopestyle course, where the skiers hit cliffs and manmade kickers, was situated right at the base of the Matterhorn. The only thing distracting from the flips, spins, and giant airs the skiers were throwing was the wind blowing swirling puffs of snow off the famous spire.
And then there’s this: All the skiers absolutely send it.
Some of them you’ve heard of—Seth Morrison, Cody Townsend, Sage Cattabriga-Alosa. The big names, of course, brought their A games. On the slopestyle competition day, Morrison went bigger off a 130-foot cliff than any one else, flying another 100 feet, backslapping, and skiing out of it.
A lot of the other guys I’d never heard of, and I was grateful for the exposure to them. One to watch is Logan Pehota, the son of famed big-mountain skier Eric Pehota. He’s only 20 years old and one of the smoothest, most technical skiers out there. (I sat down with him the day before the competition started and you can read that interview here.)
But another relative unknown—at least to most Americans—dominated the competition. If you follow park and pipe or the Freeride World Tour, however, then you probably know Loïc Collomb-Patton’s name. He took second in the halfpipe event at the World Championships in 2005 and won the Freeride World Tour overall title last year. The dude launches switch off cliffs and makes 720s look easy. If you’ve never seen him ski, Google him.
On the two competition days, the skiers compete head to head. The night before, the team captains choose who each skier will compete against. Three judges determine who wins each round. There’s a pretty laid-back vibe—all the skiers like and respect each other—but it’s clear these guys want to win. For the $2,000 each guy puts in his pocket for the victory? Maybe. But more likely for bragging rights.
On the first day of competition, the slopestyle event, the tricks got bigger and bigger, culminating with a few incredible performances: Cody Townsend’s double backflip off a kicker (he crashed the landing but it was still incredible to watch), Logan Pehota’s switch 180 off a 100-foot cliff, and Sverre Liliequist’s backflip off a 50-foot cliff, which he absolutely stomped.
After day one, the European team held a 10-8 lead. “Who knows what’s gonna happen in the big mountain,” Cattabriga-Alosa said after day one. “Both teams are so strong. I’m excited to see what happens.”
To get to the big-mountain portion of the competition the next day, we all loaded a train at 5:30 in the morning, hopped on a bus for two hours, then took a helicopter up to a 12,000-foot, rocky face. “If you look farthest right, there’s a big nob,” said Townsend before competition kicked off. “Come down from that and there’s a big cliff. I think I’m gonna hit that cliff.”
Lots of the skiers did, hucking backflips and 360s off it. But, with the score 18-16 in Europe’s favor, it all came down to Collomb-Patton. The Frenchman put in his best performance, hucking a 50-foot cliff, then throwing a backflip, then pulling off a slow-motion 360.
Europe took the win and the Champagne bath. “It was up to me so I changed my line at the last minute,” said Collomb-Patton after the victory. “I took a more technical line with bigger air. It feels good to win as a team. And it was a fun day with friends.”
There was one more highlight: After the trophy was awarded to team Europe, Rory Bushfield convinced one of the pilots to let him jump out of the helicopter at 10,000 feet. He careened toward the ground, then pulled his chute, a white canopy that reads “Sarah,” an homage to his late wife, Sarah Burke.
Photos: D. Carlier