Freeskiing: The Final Frontier – The 2002 Red Bull Snowthrill Alaska

Haines, AK – On
March 29, 2002, the wan, afternoon light flooding the main intersection of Haines,
Alaska, illuminated a Feliniesque diorama of art imitating life, life imitating
art, and a cast of international athletes and image-makers imitating … well,


2002 Red Bull Snowthrill AlaskaPowder
magazine’s David Reddick lined up a shot of a shaggy, somnolent mutt guarding
a chainsaw in the back of a pick-up; steps away, European sequence-king Jean-Marc
Favre shot Canadian sensation Pierre-Yves LeBlanc lounging beside a wooden raccoon;
Austrian Ullrich Grill snapped off Abbey Road-like stills of LeBlanc’s fellow
Whistlerite, Hugo Harrisson, in a crosswalk; and a phalanx of France’s best
searched the streets for the perfect representation of something categorized
as Alaskan Lifestyle—Dan Ferrer captured a Warren Miller moment of Guerlain
Chicherit strolling the dusty street incongruously dressed in full ski wear,
while Seb Leon lined Enak Gavaggio and his skis up against a jagged mountain
backdrop in a back alley.

Despite the legion of foreigners
madly dashing through their tiny town, interrupting the time-lapse passage of
traffic, the good people of Haines couldn’t have been more excited. In fact,
by the time the paparazzi invasion reached its zenith this afternoon—with the
crew fanning out in post-triumph brio after a day spent crowning the Red Bull
Freeskiing World Champions—many of the local gentry were already on a first-name
basis with twelve of the world’s top ski photographers and the eight male and
four female athletes who’d invited them here from the four corners of the globe
for this first-of-its-kind event.


2002 Red Bull Snowthrill AlaskaThe
idea behind the 2002 Red Bull Snowthrill of Alaska was simple: A competition
that combined the elements of skiing and photography in a battle of athleticism,
creativity, teamwork and talent. Twelve athletes and their chosen shooters would
be given a predetermined amount of heli-time, and a mandate to create the world’s
most startling ski photography, to be judged in 12 categories for a total of
$35,000 USD. There would also be day of traditional freeskiing competition integrated
into the nine-day event, during which a peer-judged male and female world champion
would be chosen. The intent was to create the next evolutionary step in competitive

“The Snowthrill has been around for five years,
and every year we’ve stepped-up the quality and innovation,” notes Carloyn Deighan,
Red Bull National Events Coordinator. “Last year we moved it to Cordova and
that was cool because it was a new venue and we had a full range of down-day
activities plus two awesome days of skiing—but it was still a traditional competition
and at this point in the sport’s history, everyone has been there, done that.”

Conceptualizing this year’s Snowthrill around the
question of “how did freeskiing come to Alaska?” Red Bull’s planning team quickly
realized it was primarily through the photographers who had been there.

“We wanted to combine the efforts of shooters and
freeskiers because athletes get their greatest exposure from photos, but we
also wanted to step out of the box. As action sports evolve, traditional competitions
with rigid judging criteria and set rules lose their shine. But jam sessions,
demos, exhibitions and things like that get athletes more jazzed,” finishes

Eliminating the structure around competitions, it
seems, puts athletes more at ease in their surroundings and willing to step
it up. When you add in the invitational component—where athletes don’t fulfill
standards to prove themselves because being chosen was proof enough—you create
a different participatory climate. In other words, give an athlete/artist their
own guide, four hours of heli time in some of the world’s most spectacular mountains,
a photographer to consult and consort with, and the freedom to choose where
they can go and it adds up to the ultimate freeskiing session.


2002 Red Bull Snowthrill AlaskaOn
the ground, the event more than lived up to its billing as an historic gathering
of photographic and skiing talent. Things got off to an interesting start with
a boat ride from Juneau to Haines that featured big swells, a little nausea,
and plenty of camaraderie. In town, the group headquartered at the Captain’s
Choice Motel, dining in an adjacent Legion Hall that featured hearty, home-cooked
food and super-friendly servers. With all the comforts of home in place, the
stage was set.

The peaks around Haines are more
than impressive, rising directly from the ocean to 7,000 feet and featuring
Chamonix-like spires, broad powder fields, and Himalayan-like fluting. This
much was obvious the following morning as participants shuttled out to 33 Mile,
the roadhouse staging area and nerve center for the event.

The interior of 33 Mile was pure
Alaska—a fossil Mammoth femur, petrified wood, antique whiskey bottles, antlers,
portraits of dogs, cabins and John Wayne. There were also snowshoes, a turn-of-the-century
broad axe, and a collection of red-neck bumper stickers like: I’m Pro-Choice.
I choose to hunt, fish, trap, eat meat, and wear fur.

Gear was assembled and a second
round of breakfast downed while outside, Event Producer Ellen Winkler, Logistics
Coordinator Ryan Ernst, and Kerry O’Neil, Red Bull Field Marketing Manager for
Alaska, hunched over computers. Beside them, Bruce Bauer of local Out of Bounds
heli-skiing set up central radio control and dispatch for the helis. On a topo
map spread across the table, groups would move around in Bauer’s mind like chess
pieces; asked where any pair were at any given time and he’d point unerringly
to some microscopic alpine feature.

For the first part of that first
day, however, only head guides and Alaska veterans Dave Swanwick and Jim Conway
were flying, while the rest kept their eyes on a front of milky clouds trying
to barge its way past the high pressure which had sat over the area for the
past three weeks. During that time, high winds had hammered most of the snow,
and the guides were searching for zones where photographers might pull off some
one-hit miracles.

2002 Red Bull Snowthrill AlaskaTeams
were anxious to start shooting, but pondered whether it was worth burning precious
heli time to head out—perhaps only to get caught in weather. Every team had
their own philosophy, yet each watched closely to see what others had in mind.
To the untrained observer, nothing was happening, but the event concept
was actually in full bloom: the feigned laughter, intense posturing and silent
strategizing were all part of the competition game. It eventually became obvious
that skies would remain clear, and Enak Gavaggio summed up the sentiment, “It
is better to have good light and bad snow, than bad light and good snow.” Just
as quickly as they had invaded 33 Mile, the group evacuated it.

Half the teams decided to fly, while the rest fell
back on different plans like snowmobiling or staging lifestyle shoots—creatively
taking advantage of less-than-ideal conditions in hopes of bagging a few stellar

And so it went over the
next several days as teams jockeyed for position in the choppers and storm clouds
jockeyed for position along the coast. On one blessed occasion the clouds won,
resulting in two feet of fresh snow to replenish the scoured venues. The see-saw
battle between high and low pressure mostly resulted in clearing skies, however,
allowing the groups to fly seven of nine days. Working hard, they also learned
some hard lessons in curbing personal expectations in favor of cooperating to
overcome unforeseen logistical problems: On the day Davenport/Markewitz and
Chicherit/Ferrer flew together, for instance, the former wanted big-mountain
powder lines and the latter a big crevasse gap-jump—two incompatible objectives.
Ultimately, however, it all worked out. Several days later, the crevasse crew—who
earned the name “crack-heads”—got their wish, and Chicherit spent hours throwing
laid-out back flips and mistys over a crevasse in eerie, spindrifty light. In
another valley, Hugo Harrisson and Kaj Zachrisson were pumped at the two spines
they’d skied, unaware they’d stolen them from under Jamie Burge and Andrea Binning’s
incredulous eyes. Similarly, Jenn Ashton was inadvertently poached on a line
she was climbing for. Upset at the time, she soon felt better after making a
bold first descent down a very exposed face fittingly labeled, “Headstrong.”

2002 Red Bull Snowthrill AlaskaThe
loudest rancor, however, arose over the big-mountain contest. In order to honor
the past, contest-based events in Alaska, Red Bull had intended this as part
of the competition from the beginning. The excitement after five days of doing
what they wanted, however, now made putting on game faces difficult for athletes,
while photographers felt they could use the good weather to better advantage—working
on the photo categories in which they could really pull down some coin

“The comp scared everyone because they didn’t want
to step back into that role,” Deighan later acknowledged. “But once they were
out there they had fun because they didn’t have to fulfill any real judging
criteria—their peers were just looking for who had the coolest run.”

The comp began on another beautiful
bluebird morning. By 9 a.m., teams had been hoisted to the ridge opposite the
east-facing venue to scout lines, talk smack, and get jazzed. Achieving critical
competitive mass was definitely in order given the general lack of stoke. But
the whole vibe changed once things got underway.

The men went first with LeBlanc
picking a bold line and skiing it well until, halfway down, he crashed on a
huge mute grab air. In typical understated fashion, Harrisson tore the face
apart at subsonic speed. Gavaggio hit a blizzard of smaller airs, Davenport
carved a powder line that he and Markewitz had conspired to get the only shots
of by, Rick Greener was solid, Zachrisson ripped and might have scored near
the top had he not beatered near the bottom, and Chicherit was looking sweet.
But it was Swedish gladiator Sverre Lillequist who had by far the best run,
The men’s runs were judged by the women, who in turn were judged by the men:
Andrea Binning’s line was impressive, Jenn Ashton’s was stand-up but full of
traversing and somewhat pedestrian by her standards, Jamie Burge was nuking
her way to the top ranking when she blew up in the main gully, and Anne Catelin
threw down a solid run of maching technical sections and modest air. After two
runs were completed it was Lillequist, Harrison and Chicherit one, two, three
in the men, and Catelin, Binning and Ashton for the women.

Despite the initial struggle to
get high-strung thoroughbreds out of the gates, crowning the World Champions
went off without a hitch amidst wall-to-wall smiles.


2002 Red Bull Snowthrill AlaskaOn
the final day of shooting, the exhausted crew dutifully dragged themselves out
to 33 Mile for one more round of “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” Though some worked
hard that day to fill in gaps in their body of work, the energy level had tanked
after the previous day’s glory. For some, the Karma bank was also running dry.
Pierre-Yves LeBlanc narrowly missed turning his 28th birthday into
a date with death when a Grade-2 avalanche and threw him over some cliffs. It
was time to call the event and declare a raving success.

 “We’re really happy with how it turned out. The
athletes and photographers were really supportive and put a lot of effort into
it,” says Deighan. “The media is genuinely excited to see something new in the
freeskiing world. The outcome so far has been great, but we really won’t know
the full impact until this fall—when the People’s Choice is available for voting,
articles come out, and the TV show airs.”

Indeed it’s hard to imagine a first-time, cutting
edge event coming off any better. The athletes and photographers could not have
been happier, organizers more pleased, nor the townspeople of Haines more receptive.
Even Felini would have been proud.

Get your free copy of RealPlayer by clicking on this image 

Watch the 2002 Red Bull Snowthrill
Alaska, our most amazing and ambitious video offering yet. This extensive
online documentary film features the players, the scenery, the lifestyle,
the interviews … and of course, the big-mountain action!

Formatted for RealPlayer.
(Running time 24:32)

users (Cable/DSL/LAN) click here to stream video

users click here to download video

(Warning for dial-up users: At nearly 25 minutes in length, the file
size of this video is BIG — approximately 62 Mb. Be prepared
to start the download and walk away for a few hours.


  • Scott Markewitz (USA)/Chris Davenport (USA)

  • Fred Foto (USA)/Rick Greener (USA)

  • Alexander Klun (SWE)/Sverre Lillequist (SWE)

  • David Reddick (USA)/Jamie Burge (USA)

  • James Lozeau (USA)/Jennifer Ashton (CAN)

  • Tony Harrington (OZ)/Andrea Binning (OZ)

  • Paolo Biamonti (ITA)/Anne Cattelin (FRA)

  • Ulrich Grill (AUT)/Hugo Harrisson (CAN)

  • Jean-Marc Favre (FRA)/Pierre-Yves LeBlanc (CAN)

  • Christoffer Sjostrom (SWE)/Kaj Zachrisson (SWE)

  • Seb Leon (FRA)/Enak Gavaggio (FRA)

  • Dan Ferrer (FRA)/Guerlain Chicherit (FRA)


  • Powder magazine, USA, Keith Carlsen

  • Skiing magazine, GER, Klaus Polzer

  • National Geographic Adventurer, USA, Sabine Meyer

  • Outside magazine, USA, Quentin Nardi

  • Skieur magazine, FRA, Dominique Daher

  • Skier magazine, CAN, Colin Adair

  • Fall Line, UK, Sarah Wolfenden

  • Skiimbaja, SWE, Harri Lindfors

2002 Red Bull Snowthrill AlaskaWORLD

  • Wendy Fisher

  • Kim Reichelm

  • Francine Morreilion

  • John Hunt

  • Doug Coombs

  • Arnaud Adam

  • Dave Swanwick

  • Dean Cummings



Unless otherwise specified, prizes are awarded to the photographer/athlete
team in each category.

Photo-Editor’s Choice: The
World’s most renowned and respected photo-editor’s will judge photos on-line
in the following categories. 

1. Best Sequence ($2,000)
2. Best Air ($2,000)
3. Best Fly on the wall/Big Mountain shot ($2,000)
4. Best AK/Lifestyle ($2,000)
5. Best Powder Turn ($2,000)
6. Best Feature Story Sequence ($5,000)*

* a minimum of five shots that best describe the Red Bull Snowthrill of Alaska.
All shots may either be new or have already been used in other categories.

2002 Red Bull Snowthrill AlaskaSnowthrill
of Alaska Event Choice: 
Judged on-line and through high-resolution hard
copies by a panel including official Red Bull photographers, non-participating
athletes and the organizer. ($2,000 awarded to photographer only)

Red Bull Action Choice: 
Same judging criteria as above. ($3,000)

Red Bull Choice: Members
of the Red Bull Photofiles will select two shots from the entire portfolio of
/images taken during the Red Bull Snowthrill of Alaska. Only one shot will be
awarded as the Red Bull choice. Judges will vote on actual hard copy slides
submitted to Photofiles. ($2,000)

World-Champion Choice:    Former
World Champions of Freeskiing will be selected to vote on-line and through high-resolution
hard copy shots in the following categories:

1. Best Men’s Team ($3,000)
2. Best Women’s Team ($3,000)

People’s Choice:  Best
overall shot chosen by each photographer/athlete team submitted for on-line
voting by the public. ($3,000)                                                              

Red Bull Freeskiing World
An award for both men and women’s Red Bull Freeskiing World Champion
was awarded on site. Peer judging was based on traditional IFSA criteria: line
selection, aggression, control, fluidity, and technique. 

1. (Men) Sverre Lilliquist
2. (Women) Anne Catelin ($1500)


  • August 1, 2002: People’s Choice goes live.

  • August 1-Nov. 30, 2002: People’s Choice judging. (To vote for your favorites,
    before Nov. 30, 2002.)

  • January 31, 2003:  Awards and Results presented at POWDER Video Awards
    at SIA, Las Vegas.


Will be presented at the Powder
Awards at SIA Las Vegas 31st of January 2003

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