THOUGH THEY MET ONLY YESTERDAY, Micah Black and Dominique Perret are touching noses on top of Whistler Mountain, the world-famous snow-clogged ski resort nestled in southwestern British Columbia's Coast Range. This is both unusual and normal. Unusual because Black and Perret, arguably the two best freeskiers in the world, don't often go to the summits of alpine peaks to stand around snout to snout like golden retrievers. Normal because freeskiing remains a primarily visual phenomenon, and Black and Perret make a good living performing absurd acts for photographers, like the one popping his shutter at them right now, some ten feet away.
"Don't try to kees me," says Perret.
"Don't kiss me, Tinkerbell," Black neighs back.
We've come to Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort in early May to stage Black vs. Perreta competition that's as close to a freeskiing heavyweight championship as you're ever likely to getand the photographer figures the nose-touching pose will evoke head-to-head combat, like in an old Hagler-Hearns boxing poster. Sure, Black and Perret are choking back laughter, but they'll have their game faces on soon enough. Not only will the contestconceived and made possible by this magazine and Whistler Blackcomb as a spicy alternative to the more regimented vibe of World Cup and Olympic racinganoint an overall king of the mountain, but it will also help settle a longstanding debate.
Which is: Does the "total skier" come from the Alps, with its legacy of great alpinists making technical and precise turns down deadly faces? Or have the Americans, who co-opted "extreme skiing" and rechristened it "freeskiing" in the nineties to denote their showy high-speed, high-flying big-mountain style, earned the ultimate bragging rights?
During the next three days, it'll be New World (in this corner, from Jackson Hole, Wyoming, the lanky, longhaired Black!) against Old (from Verbier, Switzerland, the clean-shaven, barrel-chested Perret!) in a joust to reveal the best all-around performer. The contenders will ski hard, certainly. But because freeskiing involves a broad array of skills, they'll also be required to demonstrate their party-dude abilities (during an all-night barhopping tour of Whistler Village) and dirtbag affinities (by washing dishes at a Whistler restaurant). So it is that Perret, the Icon of the Alps, and Black, the Bro Brah of the Northern Rockies, have agreed to meet at Whistler, with its world-class terrain of glaciers, cliffs, and chutes, its frenzied late-night discos, and its platoons of overeducated lifties and steam-addled line cooks.
In this rarefied atmosphere, who will emerge as the ultimate badass? Gentlemen, click into your bindings.