That twisting back flip that Colby Stevenson used to launch himself into the narrow entrance of Corbet’s Couloir at Jackson Hole Resort last week was a step back from what he’d originally planned.
Never mind that Stevenson was competing in his first Kings and Queens of Corbet’s big mountain competition and that the 25-year-old Park City skier had only seen the run once, when he was 14. He had a mind to make a grand entrance on his first run by doing a double flip into the chute.
Crazy? Maybe, but as he watched most of the 25 competitors launch themselves off the cliff while waiting his turn, it was apparent he wasn’t the only one.
“Everyone that enters that event has a screw loose,” Stevenson said. “You have to be a little crazy to agree to doing that.”
So what does it say about Stevenson that he took home the king’s crown? Or about Blake Wilson of Sandy, who took second in the men’s competition, and Piper Kunst of Salt Lake City, who was second in the women’s after winning the queen’s crown last year?
Apparently, they’re all wearing their brazenness like a badge of honor.
“It’s crazy,” Kunst, 22, agreed. “It’s like mental game playing.”
Luckily, both Stevenson and Kunst had sensible friends. Stevenson’s talked him down from the double backflip to a more reasonable but still spectacular switch 540 with a grab. The Olympic silver medalist in big air at the Beijing Winter Games still got to do a flip, but it was off a jump farther down the run’s steep face.
Kunst had also been considering a double backflip, and her willingness to go all out in icy, treacherous conditions is what won her the queen crown last year. But this year, at her friends’ behest, the frequent Alta Ski Area skier decided to play it a little safer and enter with a front flip instead.
Veronica Paulsen, the 2020 Queen, didn’t pull back from the double backflip. While she didn’t land it cleanly, she became the first woman to perform a double backflip on Corbet’s Couloir and took home the People’s Choice award. Ben Richards landed his double backflip to win the men’s People’s Choice award.
Wilson hasn’t figured out what his title is as runner up at the Kings and Queens contest.
“I think it might be a knight. Or a jester or something?” he said. “I don’t know if it’s prince, but hey, I’ll take that. I’ll take whatever I can get.”
Wilson, like Kunst, made his Kings and Queens debut last year, entered with a backflip and followed it up with another one midmountain. Unlike the other two, he knew his parameters as soon as he looked down from the start gate..
“The entrance is really tight at the top. It feels, like, claustrophobic left to right,” Wilson said. “I didn’t really want to do a spinning trick because I tend to drift. And, like, that last wall is not a good zone to land — not that the right wall is any better. I thought that if I just did a backflip off of it, I could keep everything nice and straight.”
The King and Queen of Corbet’s contest began in 2018 and has been gaining in prestige in the years since. It pits skiers vs. snowboarders and park jibbers vs. big mountain riders. Kunst said her favorite part is that it mixes men and women in the lineup, with the order selected via a draw. Each competitor gets two runs and afterward the athletes serve as the judges, rewatching the videos in a theater and voting for the winner.
Skier Claire McPherson, 19, of Canada won the queen crown this year, but the two prior queens hailed from Utah: Kunst and Salt Lake City snowboarder Madison Blackley. Stevenson is the first Utahn to take the king’s crown.
He said he plans to be back. He’s found his kin.
“It’s just a nice, like, starting point for me to get into something like this and kind of change the direction of my career,” said Stevenson, who also is competing in World Cup and Dew Tour events this month as well as doing some filming. “I’m really excited to do more events like that down the road.”
A recap of the event can be found online at redbull.com.