THE FREESTYLE ATHLETE AND COACH David Speirs JUMP YEAR: LATE 1990S
David Spiers is the current Chairman of the SSA National Freestyle Committee. He has been heavily involved in mogul skiing as an Olympic mogul coach at Salt Lake City in 2002, the Australian Development mogul coach from 1997-2002, and the Mt. Hotham Freestyle Program Director. He knows a thing or two about calculated risk. For Dave, the Hotham Road Gap was far from spontaneous; it was planned and measured.
CF: Has your passion always been freestyle skiing?
DS: Yes, definitely, moguls had always captured my imagination. Later in life, I have found a real passion for the longer runs as the body deteriorates.
What was the freestyle culture like when you were competing? How have you seen the sport change?
I think the event size and the courses themselves have changed dramatically. Mogul jumps and landings in the 1980s and 90s were minefields. You could either land in the right spot or land in a hole. Now we actually calculate and measure the average landing slope over a chopped prepared landing, which enables athletes to jump highly technical tricks that they never would have been able to execute on those older style courses. So that is probably the biggest change. And technically, the focus on skill development has been dramatic too. Good skiers with alpine backgrounds back in the day, like Nelson Carmichael and Edgar Grospiron were amazing skiers, but you have a look at where the world’s best are now, at a technical level, it really has been refined.
What gave you the idea to hit the Hotham road jump?
Well I was at Hotham when Richie (Biggins) jumped the road, which was incredible really. Richie had the idea to get a snowcat and build that jump. He decided to build it in an area where they couldn’t get the cat close to the road because it just would have fallen onto the road. So he had to deal with not only a vertical drop but also the extra ten metres in distance from where the jump was built to the road. And it was huge. Huge, huge, huge! I was one of many that day that saw him get carted up to the top of the summit and come in at high speed. Then he just hit it right on. It was a fantastic jump, and a great memory for us.
Who built your jump?
Well, I did. I had been working on it for a few weeks. I had the Lift Company, the Police and Vic Roads all involved. I had the road closed. We had to watch the weather, and I liked that spot near the bridge because it had a much lower vertical drop, and I wanted to treat it like a stunt. I built that jump with the cat, we salted that whole in-run because with the sun, it was catching direct sunlight. Also, we had an aerial World Cup coach to do some speed tests on it prior to jumping it. I had three athletes that I was coaching for Olympic qualifications at the time and I also wanted to expose them to that jump. They were minors, so obviously the responsibility of getting the speed right and the take-off point right was on me and wasn’t just something that you could “wing”. So the weather cleared, we managed to build a return track from the top of Hill Valley, put a huge road right in the middle of a landing during the week and it was pretty visible what we were doing so we attracted quite a crowd.
Did the famous black and white photo on the wall at Zirky’s Bar give you any inspiration?
Oh yeah. Peter is one of my favourite people in the industry by a mile and one of my favourite things to do is to have long chats with him at the start of the season to hear his stories. You see the historic photos of road jumps which are classic. But I think Richie’s was certainly the one that caught my imagination.
What would you say if one of your kids wanted to do the jump?
I would handle it the same way I handled it then. I would make an assessment on whether I think that their skills and strengths are up to it and of course absolutely manage the in-run speed, speed tests and a commitment to not slamming on the anchors. As long as you hit the landing, even if you make mistakes, you are going to be flipping down a landing and not hitting road.
You have to have the right skill sets. The preparation we did for that jump was extensive. No one would have hit it had we not prepared it the way we did.