Freeskier Brett Crabtree knows he’s in a dangerous sport, but that hasn’t stopped him from working to be the best he can be.
This year Crabtree won the overall International Free Skiers Association (IFSA) World Tour men’s title, after placing first at Crested Butte and third at Snowbird. He also competed in the final contest in Alaska, an event that was overshadowed by the death of Aspen freeskier John Nicoletta.
Nicoletta skied off a cliff, lost control on his landing and hit a rock. He sustained a fatal chest injury before tumbling down to the bottom of the slope.
For Crabtree, it was a reminder that the stakes are always high but also a confirmation of his own style. He came into this season looking to win the overall tour title, and did it by “skiing smart” — finding the biggest features on the course, picking his lines carefully, and following his plan.
“After last year my goal coming into the season was to win the tour, and it worked out great,” he said. “It’s definitely been a learning experience to get here, but after last season I knew there was no reason I couldn’t come in and win. I just had to ski smart, and stay on my feet.
“It’s all about experience. After a few competitions you finally grasp what the judges are looking for, which is smart, smooth skiing. They’re not going to award a stunt show — they’ve changed the criteria, and while they want to see you push it, they’re not going to reward anyone for being stupid or careless.”
Crabtree says Nicoletta was careful, and skied a line that several other skiers also skied that day.
“It’s not like he was somewhere he shouldn’t have been or that he wasn’t a good, experienced skier, it was just an unfortunate fall,” he said. “We’re all pretty much at the mercy of the mountain, and it’s pretty steep. Once he started falling he kept going and there happened to be a rock right in his path. If he had been a few feet to the side, or landed five feet further down, it wouldn’t have happened.”
Crabtree plans to return to the IFSA tour next year to defend his title. One event was cancelled this year, but he hopes there will be a full schedule of four or more World Tour events next year.
“The tour is really good right now,” he said. “The events sell out quickly, as soon as the registration date rolls around they sell out in a matter of hours. There are a lot of good skiers, and I think the level of competition is stronger than it’s ever been.
“It’s also good to see the women’s category growing. A few year’s ago there weren’t that many girls competing, maybe 15 in total, but now in the qualifiers we’re getting 40 or 50 skiers.
“(The tour) is also really coming around with the web broadcasts, so we’re getting people tuning in from around the world. If anything the sport is getting more popular.”
As for his chances next year, Crabtree is confident that he is skiing consistently and finding the best lines. If the IFSA tour can add a few more contests he believes that will improve his chances even further.
“If there were five events and you finished in the top-five in each one of them you’d probably win the overall title,” he said. “With just three events it’s a lot tougher. It came down to me winning one event and placing third in another, which really shot me up on the points list and made me harder to catch. I think with five events I would have a better chance, especially if I earn points at every event. Whatever happens, my plan right now is to come back and defend my title… there’s no reason right now I can’t make it two years in a row.”
Winning the overall title this year will make it easier to compete next year, says Crabtree, who adds that his sponsors, Black Diamond, Bollé, and SureFoot, will help with his travel and competition costs. As well, being the winner also opens up other opportunities.
“It really gets your name out there and opens up more opportunities to get out there and ski, and do things like photo shoots and videos… and it opens more doors when it comes to sponsors,” he said. “That’s not why you do it, but it helps to get your name out there.”
Crabtree, who finished second in the U.S. Freeskiing Series, wasn’t the only Whistler skier to finish the season on top of the rankings. Jen Ashton won her fourth overall world tour title with a win at Crested Butte, a fifth place finish at Snowbird and a sixth place finish in Alaska.
In second place for women was Whistler’s Crystal-Rose Lee, who won the Alaska event after placing sixth and seventh at Crested Butte and Snowbird.