By Jake Nichols, Cowboy State Daily
Colby Stevenson and Clair McPherson have been crowned King and Queen of the slope at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.
The professional skiers rose to the top of a talented competition for those brave and talented enough to pull off impossible-seeming epic tricks through Corbet’s Couloir, one of the most terrifying chutes in North America.
This year’s event was the sixth ski and snowboard freestyle invitational at the resort, which pitted a roster of 24 skiers and boarders against the resort’s famed couloir.
The athletes themselves vote the winners, which were announced last week, while online voting in the following week determines the People’s Choice awards. Those went to Ben Richards and Veronica Paulsen.
Royal Court Freshies
It was a first-time win for both Stevenson and McPherson.
Stevenson, 25, wowed his peers with a jump called “switch rodeo 5,” which he landed clean. Switch is launching a jump while skiing backwards.
His second run was a switch double backflip with two-and-a-half rotations — or a “switch double 9.” That was a little messier on the landing, but his fellow skiers had no trouble putting Stevenson on the podium’s top spot for a $10,000 payday.
“I was thinking about that switch double 9 the first run, but I was 21 out of 25 and watched a bunch of people fall. No one really landed a clean run,” said Stevenson, who had skied Corbet’s only once prior when he was 14 years old.
So, he was a bit more conservative on that first go.
“I decided to go slower, float my trick more and stomp it clean. I was the only one to hit a switch that day,” he said.
With what looked like a winning run in hand, Stevenson went for broke the second time around and just missed the more difficult trick.
“I was really hungry to land that switch-double nine, and was pretty pissed to not land it. It was close,” he said.
Stevenson competed at the 2022 Winter Olympics, winning silver in the Men’s big air event.
The New Hampshire native also medaled at the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships 2021, and competed in the 2021 Dew Tour and 2020 X Games.
McPherson’s send was not as challenging as defending champ Piper Kunst’s drop off the west wall, but she was clean as could be on the run to earn a first-place finish at her Kings and Queens debut as a 19-year-old.
The Fernie, British Columbia, native competed in the Freeride Junior World Tour before winning gold in the World Championships in 2020 and bronze in 2021.
McPherson now competes on the Freeride World Qualifier circuit and spends her summers as a wildland firefighter.
Richards drew cheers for his double-backflip into Corbet’s. He capped that off with a few more kicker tricks on the rest of the way down the couloir to take the men’s People’s Choice Award.
And never mind that Paulsen crashed her first try at a double backflip and came oh-so-close at sticking the landing (referred to as “stomping” in ski jargon) the second attempt.
Online voters simply loved that she went all-out “big send” for it.
Paulsen Builds On Local Legacy
Most Jerrys (i.e. a poser in freestyle ski and snowboard speak) take a peek down into Corbet’s, snap a photo before their knees start knocking and scoot away for an easier run that better aligns with their medical coverage plan.
Pro big mountain skiers like Veronica Paulsen stare into the forbidding abyss and think: “I could stomp a backflip into that.”
And that’s just what this huckstress did in 2020, becoming the first woman to ever backflip into Corbet’s Couloir in 2020 to grab the Queen’s title that year.
It launched a pro career for the now 29-year-old who started skiing late in life — at age 12 — only to become one of the most sought-after skiers in the business.
A mogul skier in college, Paulsen took time off to compete in the NorAm tour. With Olympic dreams fading and burnout setting in, Paulsen moved to Jackson Hole sight unseen and fell in love with vast mountain faces and unlimited lines.
These days, Paulsen does a lot of skiing in the film sector for Teton Gravity Research (TGR) as well as independently produced women’s ski films. She has become an inspiration for younger ski girls who hope to one day shred the life lines first carved by Paulson’s fearless bravura.
Paulsen Goes For Two
After poor visibility limited Paulsen’s run in 2021 and a break from competing in 2022, the Jackson local decided if a backflip was good enough to win in 2020, how much more impressive would a double be?
Paulsen attempted just that this year. Her first run of two was such a disaster many in the crowd wondered if she would have the guts to even try it again.
But Paulsen over-rotated a bit and slapped the back of her skis hard on the landing.
Cowboy State Daily caught up with the on-the-go pro by phone recently while she was working in Canada on a ski series project.
Our first question to the People’s Choice Award winner of the 2023 Kings and Queens competition was something like, “A double-back flip? Really?”
“I knew it was shaping up well,” Paulsen said. “The week of the competition it was really soft. I knew I wasn’t going to get a better chance to go for it.”
Epic Snow Season
The snow season has been near epic for Jackson Hole Mountain Resort with some 380 inches down for competition week. It meant plenty of powder in the chute for a more forgiving landing. Ten inches of fresh stuff early that week made for near perfect conditions.
Paulsen trained for two weeks prior to the competition, building her own kickers or finding natural ones in the backcountry on Teton Pass.
She felt good about her chances going in, but …
“You’ve done a million backflips, but with a double you are going bigger,” Paulsen said. “There’s a lot more rotational force, and timing is harder to nail.
“But I felt good. I spent that whole morning shaping the jump. I got advice from other competitors. They help pump me up. I was really, really nervous, but I knew I was going to make it somewhere near my feet.”
Paulsen added it’s a little too early to make plans for 2024, but admitted she’ll probably be back.
And this time she’ll stomp the double and ski away.