Resurrecting the hot dogger within
The girls had their hair out. The boys hadn’t shaved in weeks. The lift line had a powder day buzz. Everybody ignored the rain on the forecast and wore fabulous un-waterproof outfits. One hundredplus skiers were ready to charge in an event that celebrated smiles, dancing and, above all, freestyle skiing.
The event was simple. Bring music and watch people ski from A-to-B. The person who does it best wins – a proudly subjective judging approach. Why bother making judging anything else? Freestyle is inherently non-competitive. Freestyle is about selfexpression and therefore highly personal but, like most things, more fun when shared.
“Freestyle skiing” today is used to describe mogul and aerial skiing. This is misleading because these competitions favour a strict, prescribed style. Perhaps racing is the only true freestyle contest because it is against the clock. This begs the question then; how did “freestyle” become the title to describe such ridged disciplines?
“Freestyle” came from a response to the infamous hot dogging movement of the 60s and early 70s. The hot doggers broke free of the conservative ski style of the time. The hot dogger unleashed themselves on the bumps. Moguls were a product of ski resorts’ increasing popularity. The hot doggers relished this challenging terrain. They set themselves free down the mountain. They embraced skiing’s essence – a fun way to get around on snow.
This approach to skiing made for gripping viewing and events first called “exhibitions” were held across America. In a YouTube video titled Origins of Freesking, Dick Barrymore explained, “Judges were looking for skiers that skied hot… The rules were made as the contest progressed. A fall was only judged as a fall if the skier came to a complete stop. Otherwise it was considered a recovery and great recoveries scored high.”
The skier and the crowd shared exuberance and joy. The skiers charged off the energy of the crowd and the crowd gasped and cheered at every turn. Music was chosen carefully, often by the skier, and a festival atmosphere was created. The skier, like a musician, led the crowd.
Around 1971, the word freestyle started to be thrown around in replace of hot dogging. But as soon as the sports popularity took hold, rules and reality caught up. Patricia Karnik, a pioneering hot dogger, wrote an article in Skiing Magazine eight years later titled Whatever Happened To Freestyle.
Karnik wrote: “discipline had replaced emotion… today freestyle is coldly calculating. One can’t afford to take a chance. We were doing nothing but taking chances… the crowds became merely spectators rather than participants in the reciprocal charging process.”
Within eight years of the term being used widely, the true spirit of “freestyle” had been lost. Today, mogul skiing consists of some of the world’s best skiers finessing crafted mogul courses with precise turns. Dual mogul competitions are the most crowd-pleasing and the ABOM Mogul Challenge has been responsible for some of the most spectacular skiing on Mt Buller. Yet, like mogul skiing in general, those that compete conform to a ridged style. It is the opposite of what “freestyle” implies.
In 2014 I was sharing my vision for an ABOM that encouraged flair. An event that broke a few of the restrictions put in place to help judges and insurance companies rather than skiers. After hearing it all before, Patto, Team Buller Riders (TBR) Managing Director, said, “Make your own ABOM” – FreeBOM was born. The philosophy was
simple. It is an event that demands passion and encourages inclusion. The event invites all skiers from the racecourse, park, or groomer to compete and join the crowd. The event calls for an animal spirit rid of self-conscious skiing, stagnant dancing, and Gore-Tex clothing.
The philosophy of the event crafted the judging style. Five judges; Joey Corcoran, Anton Grimus, Reggae Elliss, Tony “Harro” Harrington, and I either sat at the bottom or skied the course. It was important that the judges test the course. We needed to know what the bumps were doing and who was putting out the best vibes on the chairlift.
Joey got to the bottom of one run, “C’mon Reggae, take a lap, it’s skiing so well.” Reggae looked up at the bumps. They sat as islands amongst the grass.
Meanwhile, Steve Winnacott from The North Face blasted down like a 16-year-old on his guitar with the distortion turned right up – a few hiccups didn’t matter, he showed flow and feeling. If Steve hadn’t sponsored the event he probably would have won the whole thing. The FreeBOM award is the top prize. It is awarded to the skier that embodies the spirit of FreeBOM most. The hot dogger, the original freestyle skier, inspires the FreeBOM spirit. At the spirit’s core are self-expression, innovation and entertainment. Last year James Phillips, a TBR mogul coach, won the FreeBOM award and a pair of Dalbello boots fitted at The Boot Lab. Everybody needs a bit of ego on the slopes, the mountains are big and you don’t want to get lost. Phillip’s ego rumbled through the bowl. He skied with more regard for the crowd at the bottom than for his body. Those that cheered sipped bubbly and Phillips fed off the charged atmosphere. Skiing was the drug and everybody in Bull Run bowl partied like it was midnight at Kooroora.
This year I invited everyone who has skied a day in their life, everyone who has found bliss in the view from a chairlift, and everyone who has woken up with a sore back but gone out skiing anyway. I invite those that are jaded and think skiing in Australia is a waste of time. I even invite snowboarders, because you get freestyle better than most skiers. I invite you all to join the crowd on Saturday, August 20, in Bull Run bowl, Mt Buller for the Freestyle Skiing Festival – FreeBOM.
Phillips’s ego rumbled through
the bowl. He skied with more regard for the crowd at the bottom than for his body.