(Photo above: McRae Williams hucking his way down the Slopestyle jump at Breckenridge. Photo: Durso)
With only one qualifier left and on the cusp of a berth in his sport's first ever Olympic Games, slopestyle skier McRae Williams figured he had to put down one quality result at his home mountain of Park City to seal the deal.
Williams stomped it, skiing to second in front of friends and family and all but assuring a place in Sochi. But when the names got picked for the stacked American squad, Williams' was noticeably absent.
Instead, the Park City native watched from home as his childhood friend and ski partner Joss Christensen took home the gold a half world away.
The moment served as fuel for then 23-year-old, who went on to take silver at that year's X Games, an X Games silver in 2017, and a pair of Dew Tour top-10s.
But it isn't what Williams has done on the competitive circuit recently, but how. Putting style first and triple corks on the back burner (his switch rightside triple 1440 put him on the X Games map in 2013), Williams has become one of the smoothest skiers in competition, attacking courses from new angles and with an arsenal of unique tricks on rails and in the air.
We caught up with Williams to hear more about his 2016-2017 season, and what Dew Tour's changes to slopestyle and competitive skiing in general mean for the future of the sport.
First off, what did you think of Dew Tour this year? Were the changes noticeable?
I was really stoked on the changes Dew Tour made this year. The reason I compete in slopestyle is because of the variety that we see in the courses. Having a different course keeps things fresh and interesting, but changing the format this year as Dew Tour did mixed things up even more and I was a big advocate.
Splitting up the course into two different contests gave the athletes the opportunity to up the ante a bit and go for slightly harder tricks putting together the ultimate slopestyle run.
In your opinion, what worked and what didn’t work? What do you want to see for 2017?
I think it worked out super well, even given the fact that it was a one-jump contest instead of three jumps due to lack of snow.
It would be cool to see the same format with three jumps just because that’s a more complete slopestyle run, especially because we were given slopestyle points for it. I think it would also be cool to see a jam format if possible just because that gives athletes even more of a chance to go all-in and throw their absolute hardest tricks, thus finding the true best skier of the contest.
How is the new format of Dew Tour a sign of change in the world of freeski competitions?
Well like I said before, it’s cool to compete in slopestyle because you never know what to expect with the course, versus having the same exact halfpipe every time, but I think the plans for Dew Tour pipe this year would have been a big sign of change in the freeski world because pipe has never seen something different like that. I hope that next year they are able to make the pipe event happen because I was really excited to see how that went down.
You roll with a pretty urban-heavy crew, what is it like to incorporate some more urban-style features into slopestyle?
I think building creative urban influenced features in the rail course was awesome just because that is such a big part of our sport that most average spectators wouldn’t normally know about. Plus it just makes everything look super cool and stand out, which is always a plus with big events like Dew Tour and X Games.
How important is style for slopestyle moving forward?
For me personally, style has always been a huge part of skiing. I think of skiing as a form of art and the way you express yourself on skis goes a long way. Instead of just hucking yourself down the course doing the hardest tricks possible, I think it’s important to think about the way you execute those tricks and how you paint the whole picture.
It’s good to see judges these days putting a lot of emphasis on style with so much progression and crazy tricks coming out. Style is still just as important as technicality.
Who were you particularly hyped on at Dew Tour? Why?
I’m really hyped for Alex Beaulieu-Marchand (ABM) not only at Dew Tour but all his skiing this year. The kid has so much style and creativity and he’s just a good person on and off the hill so it’s awesome to see him succeeding. Especially given his comeback from a recent knee injury, possibly the strongest comeback I’ve ever witnessed. Big ups ABM!
There have been arguments against competition skiing by some, why do you think competition skiing is important/relevant? Or do you feel differently?
I think competitive skiing is very important for the progression of our sport. It encourages people to be the best they can be and push the boundaries of what’s possible because it is in our nature as humans to be competitive and to want to be the best. It can be frustrating because it is a judged sport, but you just have to stay positive and ski your best and you will be rewarded no doubt.
Aside from the remaining comps, what are you looking forward to for the rest of the season?
I’m really looking forward to getting back out in the BC with the homies; shredding pow, building wedges, and enjoying the part of skiing we love most--soul shredding! This is the winter we’ve all been waiting on for a long time, and I’m looking forward to continue getting pitted, whether it be on my skis, snowmobile, or pow surf. Let it snow!