The Swatch Skiers Cup was born from the brains of two of Europe's best skiers. Sverre Liliequist and Kaj Zackrisson wanted to create something new. Modeled after the Ryder Cup, athletes would represent their country. They'd compete as teams, members battling each other to earn a single point for their multi-national squads. There would be three judges. The winners decided by the most points at the end of the competition.
They took their concept to Nicolas Hale-Woods, founder of the Freeride World Tour, and a veteran of organizing big, complex events. Nicolas liked the idea, and, with the backing of Swatch, a new concept was born: The Swatch Skiers Cup that debuted in Valle Nevado in 2011. Now in its second year, the contest features 16 athletes from 9 countries.
The competitor list is a compendium of the best skiers on the planet. Representing Team Europe this year is founder and team captain Liliequist along with Sweden's Jacob Wester, and talented newcomers Mathieu Imbert (France) and Tom Leitner (Germany). For Team Americas, Cody Townsend is the captain, overseeing a packed roster that includes KC Deane, Canada's Riley Leboe, American Chris Benchetler and Chile's best known talent, Chopo Diaz, and, of course, American Oakley Allen-White.
"The concept is great," says Australia's Ben Murphy, who joins USA's Mark Abma and France's Julian Regnier as one of the three judges for the event. "It's so different from other competitions. It brings team camaraderie to the sport, and it makes it really simple. You either win [your heat] or you don't. It comes down to the team captains. They pick the athletes."
"The format induces progression into the sport," says event organizer Nicolas Hale-Woods. "The riders feel a responsibility for doing well for their team."
"I have heard from Sverre Liliequist that the athletes try to do stuff that they would never do, just by being inspired by the format," notes Hale-Woods. "That mentality nurtures the progression of the sport."