Questions by Sean Ryan
Answers by Forrest Jillson
We recently had a chance to ask Jackson Hole local Forrest Jillson a few questions about training, winning and his upcoming season. Forrest is a hard worker and a hard charger, and he has the hardware to prove it. During last year’s Subaru Freeride Series, Forrest took home 1st at Big Sky, earning him a top spot on the roster for this year’s tour. Take a moment to hear how he manages to keep skiing fun while training year round and competing all winter.
Freeride Series: How has your season been so far? Have you been traveling around searching for snow or staying patient and enjoying what comes your way?
Jillson: My winter has been great; I’ve been sticking pretty close to home. Jackson has been getting lots of storms and has an above average snowpack, but it’s still low tide, I’ve been exploring some zones but mostly getting beta and biding my time, I’ve been pretty patient knowing that the best is still yet to come.
SFS: There are certainly worse places to kill some time. Will you be based out of Jackson this winter?
FJ: Yes. I’ll be based out of Jackson all winter. I’ve relocated in years past during the winter to get a change of scenery, but once February came around I went running back to Jackson which has everything that I’m looking for in a home-base during the winter months.
SFS: A lot of competitors are able to enjoy a ‘home court advantage’ of sorts by competing at their local hill. Do you wish there was an SFS stop in Jackson, or do you enjoy the challenge of competing at new locations?
FJ: I do wish Jackson had an event here. This mountain has multiple venues that I would love to get the chance to compete on, but I definitely enjoy getting out and seeing new areas and getting to ski some of the places I’ve only heard about.
Forrest in the forest.
SFS: I know you’ve been involved with Mountain Athlete and The Monster Factory this year. Can you tell me a little more about the program and the impact you believe it has on your career?
FJ: Mountain Athlete is an outdoor performance focused facility that trains all types of athletes that live their lives in the mountains. The Monster Factory is a series of videos made by Mountain Athlete that documents everything that us freeskiers do as we strive to become professional skiers—training in the gym, working overtime, gaining sponsors, competing and everything that comes with achieving this lifestyle. At Mountain Athlete we spend the summers building a solid base and working every muscle in the body as well as the mind, gaining more and more momentum as the summer progresses. During our preparation for the ski season we roll into a more sport specific training cycle where we train eccentric leg strength and leg lactate tolerance. This type of training is a way to become as fit and prepared as possible on the first day of ski season rather than using the first few weeks of ski season to get into “skiing shape.” This allows us to immediately start working on our technique and strategy and is very helpful when it comes to skiing bell to bell without fatigue, everyday. Training like this adds a certain amount of durability that makes us more resistant to injury, and also allows us to heal quicker if an injury does occur. I believe that in a sport like skiing the stronger you are the more capable you are, and the more capable you are, the more likely doors are to open and the more opportunities will come your way. Training hard in the off season is a very professional way to approach the sport and it doesn’t go unnoticed, people in the industry notice the extra effort we put into our skiing which ultimately helps our careers.
SFS: When you won 1st at the Big Sky stop of the 2014 Subaru Freeride Series, you mentioned the distance you’ve come since breaking your femur and being told you would never ski again. How did you continue to stay positive after a major injury like that?
FJ: Yeah, that moment of being in the finish and hearing that I won was one I had seen over and over again in my head, but to actually have it happen was surreal. After my injury I put so much energy into getting back to the point physically where I could just put on a pair of boots and click into a pair of skis, and put an even amount of weight on both skis and just carve a few turns—that was all I wanted to do. Not letting it get me down was very hard but very important, I found out a lot about the power of the body during my recovery as well as the power of positivity especially in a time like that. I became aware of all the little things that I had to be grateful for and understood that healing is far more effective with a positive attitude so I just stayed stoked and thankful just to be alive. I did take things in stride and I adjusted my goals appropriately, focusing on the immediate issues. At first is was gaining mobility, then it was walking with two crutches, then it was walking with one crutch and then it was walking with a cane, followed by walking without aides—which took over a year. I did get quite a bit of motivation by researching and following other successful athletes’ hardships like Herman Maier, who was always a hero of mine. Learning about Herman’s road to recovery after nearly losing his leg in a motorcycle accident and still managing to come back to racing made my road to recovery a lot easier to travel. To come full circle and get back to skiing, competing and succeeding at this level is an opportunity and a second chance that I want to capitalize on by safely continuing to push my skiing as far as it will go.
SFS: After skiing for 25 years, how do you think big mountain skiing has changed?
FJ: Watching the old videos of Schmidt and Plake going huge and skiing those old school, straight sticks with such ease and finesse still blows my mind. I would’ve loved for the fat ski revolution to happen sooner for their sake, but I think big mountain skiing has come a long way. I think the level that some of the athletes are skiing at is ridiculous. Seeing Reine Berkerard stomp mandatory airs above terminal exposure over and over again is absolutely mind blowing. Being there in 2013 to watch Ian Borgeson win the Snowbird comp and win the Sickbird all while he was under the age of 21! The kid stood on the top of the podium three times that evening! By far some of the most impressive stuff I’ve ever seen done in skiing has happened during these big mountain competitions.
Forest dipping into the goods at home in Jackson.
SFS: You mention that winning is your top priority. How do you manage to continuously have fun while maintaining this competitive edge?
FJ: It’s impossible to go skiing and not have fun, but these comps do demand your undivided attention at times and add a certain amount of stress to an otherwise awesome day of skiing with friends. I think making sure you’re keeping in mind why you’re there and where you want your run to take you is important. Your run, if executed correctly, can change your life. Standing on top of your run and getting ready to drop is a lot to handle, but if you handle it appropriately it could mean a lot in terms of your career. The best part is getting down to the bottom of the your run knowing you skied it well—that makes it all worth it. The big mountain comps are one of the best ways to get noticed in the ski industry and make skiing a career; it’s not the only way, but it is a very effective way to get exposure. I want to make skiing a career and I’m having an exceptionally fun time working towards this goal and sharing this goal with many other great skiers. The positive atmosphere that surrounds the Subaru Freeride Series is addictive and I find it very easy to have fun watching some of my best friends achieve their goals and live their dreams.
SFS: Do you have any projects or additional plans for the current season?
FJ: I have a number of new lines I want to ski around Jackson this year, I have a couple video opportunities and photo shoots lined up as well that will be taking place in the next couple months between comps. There’s are a few local peaks in Grand Teton National Park that are new to me that I plan on summiting when conditions allow. I am planning on heading west in May and skiing some volcanoes with some teammates as well.
SFS: If you could give one piece of advice for those looking to compete in freeskiing competitions, what would it be?
FJ: I would suggest doing your homework. Making sure you’re aware of what the judges are looking for is huge. Going to a competition thinking you can backflip and straight-line everything won’t get you the points needed. Straight-lining is easy, high speed stomps with controlled high speed turns on the run-out are not.
SFS: Shout outs?
FJ: @arcteryx, @voelklskis, @markerbindings, @backcountry.com, @mountain_athlete, @jacksonhole, @opedix @discrete
Forrest’s run at Big Sky, MT during SFS last winter: