What do a tractor, a young boy, and a ski ramp have in common? They were all necessary to make the weekend’s freestyle ski competition in Saint Jean de Sixt happen. What you’re looking at above is a skier who is holding onto a tethered elasticated cable that the tractor is going to stretch when it reversed. Yes, that a kid driving the tractor. Don’t worry — he’s probably been driving tractors for years on his dad’s farm is is better qualified than most adults I know, right? Let’s hope so.
So, the kid reverses the tractor, the teenagers standing around the competitor count down from three, and then the cable is released, pulling the competitor forward with enough speed that he can launch himself over the jump and hopefully land on the snowy ramp below. More on that later.
Do the skiers get enough of a pull? Yes and no. Let’s start with the ‘yes’. They get enough of a pull to help them keep their speed as they approach and mount the small snowy ramp that they launch. As you can see from the picture on the left, with the l’Etale peak of La Clusaz basking in the last of the day’s sunshine, this skier launched himself high enough in the air for the judges (in the bottom left of the photo) to have to tilt their heads to watch him.
Thankfully, he dropped the elasticated cable in time to grab his skis in the air. But where did he land?
That’s where the ‘no’ comes in. The ramp wasn’t high enough for the skiers to perform tricks and have time to land, so the jump’s landing built over a drop: the competitors landed between the concrete retaining wall of the tennis courts and the hard ground at the entrance of the local bungee jump. There were some giant cushions that were randomly dotted around possible accidental landing sites, and I only saw one guy slide down the tennis wall as he landed on the ramp.
Although the jump was tiny, it gave the locals a chance to compete without having to spend a fortune on entrance fees or travel and accommodation. Tricks included the usual array of corks, flips, grabs and rotations that the bigger competitions see. Regardless, I’m not sure I’ll ever witness another ski competition involving a kid in a tractor.