Kings & Queens of Corbets at Jackson Hole breaks the construct of a typical snowboard contest. First of all, there are skiers. Not just in their own division, but they are both vying for the same prize money. And second, as opposed to the other riders, the terrain is your biggest competition.
Kings & Queens, now in it’s sixth iteration, was the brainchild of Jess McMillan. Starting off just in the iconic Corbet’s couloir at the very tippy-top of Jackson Hole, it has evolved to incorporate other jumps throughout, including a big ol’ “crowd pleaser” park jump at the bottom of the run. Grant Giller put it nicely, “The reason you come to Corbet’s is not just the top hit. After you get past the scary flat landing of up top, then you have one of the most fun runs of your life and there's all these people watching you at the bottom, I love it.”
Just peering over the edge of Corbert’s on your hands and knees is enough to give you a sense of vertigo… the fact that these riders were blindly launching off of lips they built at the top was insane. Weather was very iffy when everyone got off the tram first thing in the morning. We were basically stuck in a cloud, unable to see much more than a few yards in front of you. However, the skies parted and a rider/skier meeting was held at the top to gauge whether everyone wanted to run it that day…knowing that they would have to deal with windows where clouds blew in and visibility would be less than ideal. With a large dump the day before, and not knowing whether these softer conditions would last, the overwhelming consensus was yes.
The first night everyone was in Jackson together a drop order was determined using a bingo roller. Your place in the lineup is especially important in this competition… drop too early, and you don’t get a sense of how the course is to navigate and what other people are throwing… drop too late and you have to navigate the endless amount of bomb holes created by all the failed attempts before you.
Local legend, Cam Fitzpatrick secured the early number 4 spot to launch into the couloir. One of the few people to compete in Kings and Queens all six years of operation he had this perspective beforehand, “I know what to expect at least now. Every year it's scary though. That never really goes away. But I feel good, I grew up here. This has been kind of, my stomping grounds, and I've done Corbet’s a ton. But it's always a unique thing to be able to run into it like this and hit it with these conditions.” Cam was the first one to link a complete run this year, boosting in with a backflip method, to a backside 360 mute off one of the side booters midway down, and a backside 720 melon off of the crowd pleaser at the bottom. You could tell by his excitement at the bottom of the run that a weight was lifted off of his shoulders. But it wasn’t only his shoulders, it was the crowd’s and the other competitors… he set the tone for the contest and proved that the conditions were manageable. Cam also enlisted his photographer, Keegan Rice, to act as his human pole jam with his board, which Cam launched off of at the top which is just nuts.
There were plenty of other notable runs and tricks throughout the day. Cooper Branham threw a crazy double wildcat into the couloir on his first run. He slipped out a little on his landing, but in this contest when you are able to get right back up in this beast of terrain, it counts in most people’s eyes. Decorated X-Games athlete Yuki Kadono was expected to be a standout on the bottom park-booter, which he came through with a double-cork backside 1080 melon on his first run. However the top portion of the course got the best of him. Last minute addition, Jack Wiley wasn’t able to hold it together on the top part of the course, so he decided to unstrap a foot for the bottom jump to give the crowd a show. He slipped out a bit on the landing but it still made the crowd go nuts. On the ladies side between Cheryl Maas, Sarka Pancochova, Madison Blackley, and Summer Fenton… Sarka was the standout. She was able to link together a complete run and throw a backflip into the couloir. “ I think my second run actually went pretty well because I was the only one hitting the shark nose. I was just trying to find a semi-okay landing because everybody dropped already. So it was nice to just be able to jump off of it and land and get another hit and actually connect the run”, Sarka said in retrospect.
Grant Giller was the other big standout for me. On his second run he was able to solidly land a front seven into Corbet’s, straight-airing off the the “hotel” in the middle of the course (which very few people hit all day) and put down a nice lofty backside 720 off of the bottom jump.
Kings & Queens is unique in so many different ways… but the camaraderie between the athletes (no matter if you are on skis or a snowboard) really stands out. Jess McMillian and her team have done an amazing job making this a very athlete-driven event. The riders get to determine what day it’s held, how they drop in, and will vote on who actually walks away with the prize money. The amount of support anyone gets for just landing in Corbet’s is unmatched. Stay tuned later in the week for my wrap-up of the week-long Jackson Hole experience at Kings & Queens, more photos, and also who walks away with a win after they are announced on Saturday.