Schmitz wears The Sick Bird belt |

Schmitz wears The Sick Bird belt

Gregory Crofton

Somehow they found enough snow to land on.

Entrants hucked themselves off cliffs 40 feet in the air; built a jump on top of a cliff and launched across a huge gap in the mountain; executed a helicopter off balance and off a rock in a place only a few skiers in the world could.

All that happened Saturday at Kirkwood Mountain Resort, the final day of three-day extreme competition called the Corona/RSN North American Freeskiing and Riding Championship.

Held at The Cirque, a section of the mountain opened only for the championship, male and female skiers and snowboarders chose lines down sheer rock and sun-packed powder that no one else would or could.

By Saturday, the field had been pared from about 120 to 41. The competition was dominated by male skiers who outnumbered male snowboarders 26 to six. The ratio for females was five to three.

Eric Schmitz, a 27-year-old from Park City, Utah, swept the competition. He took the largest chunk of $10,000 in prize money as well as the “Sick Bird” belt, an award organizers give to a contestant who shows the most “hustle,” and who, of course, can soar through the air.

Earning a score of 40.2 out of 50 on his third and final run, Schmitz, dubbed the “Rubber Man” because of his amazing flexibility, launched a huge air out of the gate and then launched three more during his lightning-fast trip down the hill.

“I skied well for being on somebody’s skis,” Schmitz, who broke his skis during a run Friday, said. “It feels good. But I can’t believe my buddies are all ten beers up on me.”

The 27-year-old works as a ski tech at Park City. He competed at the Kirkwood Championship two years ago and took seventh.

“This is the best venue in the world,” Schmitz, who has been skiing since he was four, said. “The big airs were pretty limited as far as big powder fields to land in, but there were some out there to find.”

And find them he did. One of the keys to a good score, according to the five judges, four of whom have themselves have competed in extreme winter sport events, is to chose a difficult line.

Beside line, judges also look for control, fluidity, technique and aggressiveness. Jennifer Ashton, the woman who took the top prize for female skiers, exhibited all of those qualities.

“I thought it was great, the venue was sick,” Ashton, a professional skier who competes in four or five extreme competitions each year, said. “You could still ski, so I suppose there was enough (snow).”

A native of Canada, Ashton trains at Whistler/Blackcomb. She said it’s a mountain that keeps skills honed: “Every since I was three I lived there. There are so many awesome skiers and so much awesome terrain you have to get good.”

Ashton will be in Cordova, Alaska, Wednesday to compete in Red Bull SnowThrill, an extreme freeskiing competition. She is one of four women invited to the event.

The following week she’ll be in Valdez, Alaska at the World Extreme Skiing Championships.

The male skiers who finished in the top 15 at Kirkwood, an event that was sponsored by Corona, Resorts Sports Network and Tahoe Daily Tribune, are also qualified to compete at Valdez.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around the Lake Tahoe Basin and beyond make the Tahoe Tribune's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.