by Than Acuff
Thanks to the diligent, almost maniacal, effort of Snowblade Extremes (SBX) front man Eric Schumacher, close to 40 individuals, including a huge field of junior bladers, lined up at the top of Old Pro on Sunday, April 1 for a shot at the SBX title. It was the first time in the history of the event that Old Pro served as the canvas upon which the bladers could paint their masterpieces.
Conditions on the venue, much like the season, were a mixed bag, but when dealing with such a high caliber of artists, the punchy and thin conditions merely made for an even more exciting backdrop.
“Athletes at this level can usually deal with such issues,” explains Blackwood. “The lack of snowfall this season made each of the features on the venue more pronounced and made for a lot of exciting options.”
One could even argue that snowbladers are ahead of the curve in the snow sports industry. That is, as the snowfall dwindles, skiable lines become fewer and further between and longer skis may, one day, actually become obsolete and all we will be left with are snowblades.
And as the SBX continues to gain steam, the field continues to gain strength and Blackwood was cognizant of the challenge ahead of him in this year’s SBX.
“Of all the years this amazing event has been taking place, I don’t think we have ever seen as much parity, and there are a number of athletes that easily could have claimed the championship,” explains Blackwood. “Mark Robbins hopped around the mountain like a bunny on Easter, Grant Spear blasted down the venue maneuvering over every rock in his path, Matt Evans showed ingenuity belay-ding down a massive rock face, and Alex Mattes-Ritz bladed with so much authority he made everyone in attendance feel like they just unwillingly received a full body cavity search.”
And among the upper echelon of bladers, Blackwood felt there is one distinct difference between him and them.
“Guys like Zach Vaughter, Lawson Yow, Scott Stewart, Charlie Parr, Alex Stevenson, Pat Sullivan, JT Ryan, Kyle Uhl, Jimbo Webb, Matt Yockey, and newcomer Jay Plvan all showed they have the necessary skills to take this sport to the next level,” admits Blackwood. “Every one of these all-star athletes has to overcome the disadvantage of not being quite as attractive as I am, though, and that’s not going to make it any easier. Being really good looking has helped boost my status.”
Meanwhile, other potential title threats fell prey to rules preventing them from making a legitimate run at the 2018 title.
“Unfortunately, a few athletes were penalized for violating some of the long-established and known rules. One or two of them had a shot at the top of the podium, but they cheated,” points out Blackwood. “Rumor has it that excessive quantities of the drug cocktail of Viagra and Tide Pods were found in some athletes urine tests. It’s things like that and wearing the exact same sweater with jeans every year, as one very strong competitor does, that will keep you from the top of the podium.”
But it wasn’t all smooth sailing for Blackwood. True, he is a seasoned pro, but even the pros have their struggles on competition day. Just 90 minutes before the event start, Blackwood’s new bindings malfunctioned, leaving him to scramble. But, with his SBX stature, finding a replacement pair was easy and Black Tie Ski Rentals came through in a pinch as Karl Humm handed Blackwood the best blades in their fleet, and he was able to make it to the start just in time.
“It reminded me of Ester Ledecka borrowing Mikaela Shiffrin’s skis in this winter’s Olympics to win gold in the Super-G, only better since it was at a higher level competition than the Olympics,” says Blackwood.
Blackwood made the most of his run incorporating massive pillow drops and aerial maneuvers to prove his comfort as a blader and adjusting when his run looked to be falling askew.
“As I soared majestically over the rocks, I couldn’t help but to be a little jealous of the crowd below being so privileged to witness such glory and excellence,” says Blackwood. “From my perspective, I felt like a powerful dragon breathing fire down over all the onlookers, but it probably looked even more awesome than that to those lucky enough to be watching. It’s sad that dragons went extinct a few hundred years ago, but at least the crowd on Sunday got to experience the closest thing possible to seeing one in person. The variable snow conditions threw me off my line a bit on the landing and I was forced to make some adjustments, so I instead attacked whatever was in my way straight through the finish. Part of being a great blader is the ability to adapt without hesitation and doing it with aggression, finesse and steeze.”
Upon recovering from the Blackwood spectacle, the judges crunched their numbers and, once again, Blackwood was crowned SBX champion for the eighth time in his career, ranking him up there with some of the most notable athletes on the planet.
“There was discussion a couple summers ago about whether Michael Phelps is the greatest athlete ever after winning his 23rd gold medal,” extolls Blackwood. “While that is impressive, it’s important to remember that his sport involves water in its liquid form. As bladers, we are navigating water in its solidified form of ice and snow, which is obviously way more resistant and much more difficult. It’s hard to mathematically determine precisely, but it has to be at least three times more challenging. Therefore, eight snowblade championships would equate to at least 24 Olympic gold medals, if not more.”
Yet, even after eight titles, the struggle to remain on top continues for Blackwood.
“This ain’t a walk in the park,” admits Blackwood. “These competitors come to blade, and I need to be on my game each and every year. And lets not forget about the athletes in the junior ranks. Turner Peterson, JC Patterson, Kye Matlock, Holden Bradford, Marco Alling, Carson Hildebrandt, Nate Ball, Kai Greene and Avery Bernholz are making up the deepest junior field in history, and don’t think for second that I don’t know these kids are coming for this championship belt. I’ve seen them crush it in junior freeskiing competitions, as well. But I have to wonder why they waste their time with that when they have such a promising future on snowblades.”
Nevertheless, he is also cognizant of what eight titles, and perhaps more, may lead to in the coming years.
“There was discussion a few years ago about who was better, me or Jesus,” says Blackwood. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been walking down the street and have had some stranger yell to me ‘Hey, Blackwood! You’re bigger than Jesus!’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, I know. Totally. Thanks, man.’ Coincidentally, this years’ competition took place on Easter Sunday. I didn’t come across a single person the entire day that was on the mountain for Jesus. I did, however, see an enormous crowd at the bottom of Old Pro to see me. Whether they attended the event or not, I assume most of the people riding the ski resort that day were there for me, too, but I can’t be certain. Look, I’m not saying that a new worldwide religion is going to be created based on Ben Blackwood. But I’m also not saying it won’t.”