Empty Canvas: Four Oakley Freeskiers and a Jump All to Themselves

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Someone needs to be the one. The four skiers stand on the knuckle, staring at the jump, trying to convince one another that the other needs to be the first to hit it. It’s a freshly crafted step-up jump at Buttermilk Mountain in Aspen, Colo. The gap is massive and the landing pretty icy. But in order to get this shoot going, someone needs to take a chance.

Alex Beaulieu-Marchand, better known as ABM, has taken several run-ups, trying to gauge the necessary speed. Two of the guys haven’t left the knuckle, hoping ABM will let fly. As Alex Schlopy and Sean Jordan try to coax Colby Stevenson, the youngest in the group at 16, ABM comes flying overhead and lands cleanly. With that, the three look at one another, pull on their goggles and head for the snow mobiles. The session can finally begin.

It’s late season in Aspen, so there’s as much brown on the ground as there is white. What’s left of the snow has been accumulated for this jump, which was custom built for this crew to be filmed for a new movie from Stept Productions. It’s situated in just about the same spot as the first jump on the X Games Slopestyle course. But there’s no fans, no branding, no potential paycheck.

“The jump is gnarlier than anything at X Games,” ABM claims.

The boys have had to withstand some unaccommodating conditions leading up to this afternoon session. Winds, flat light, slow snow. But it’s all coming together now and session evolves from safety runs to never-before-attempted tricks. ABM is the one pushing the pace. He’s taking more laps and approaching with more speed.

Stevenson seems slightly out of his comfort zone. But you can’t take the camera off of him. He’ll approach the jump and last minute change his mind, going with a straight air and then two jumps later, lay down a banger trick. Park City is his local mountain, so he’s grown up idolizing and learning from Schlopy and another mountain local, Olympic gold medalist Joss Christensen.

Despite denting his tailbone – yes, denting! – just three weeks prior on a rail, Schlopy is still out here sending it. His doctor recommended resting at least six to eight weeks, but he has doubles on his mind. Jacket unzipped, flapping in the wind, and throwing a couple 16s and some mellower, slightly-more style-focused tricks for the camera.

The next morning, the crew arises early in order to beat the sun and score some stunning sunrise light. With the jump on lock-down, hardly any warm-up is needed and the big tricks begin immediately. The crew is going trick for trick, landing safely and building momentum to go a bit faster and a bit bigger.

The momentum comes to an abrupt halt when Jordan takes a hard spill, momentarily knocking himself out. He comes to just seconds later, but he’s dazed. He takes the snow mobile back to the top, trying to decide whether or not to rejoin the session. But he’s spitting blood and still hazy. His day is at its end. “It’s the end of the season and if I keep going, I feel like I might really ruin my summer,” he explains.

Schlopy and Stevenson call an end to their days not long after. They’ve both nailed the tricks they’d hoped and the Stept crew seems psyched on the content. But ABM won’t stop. He’s been talking about a couple big tricks he’d like to land for the first time; tricks he would have liked to have in his repertoire at the Sochi Olympics.

“I’ve pretty much waited all season for this time of year and this jump,” ABM says. “If I would have had something like this before the Olympics… I learned four new tricks today.”

By the time he calls it quits, he’s added three new doubles and a triple to his trick list. He goes into his summer pumped and motivated for the next contest season.

And with that, their respective seasons are at their end. The snow is mostly gone. Time to relax, plan some surf trips, get healthy and start planning their next winter.