Launching off a 30-foot cliff into a pillow of deep powder, then carving flawless turns through a 55-degree chute in the Swiss Alps would be a pipe dream for most people.
But for Juneau's Mark Shultz, the dream will become a reality this weekend when he competes at the seventh annual Red Bull Extreme snowboarding championships in Verbier, Switzerland. Shultz was selected as one of three American men in a field of 16 of the world's best extreme snowboarders.
"I've never been over there (Europe), this is my first time," Shultz said. "But Alaskans are known as pretty hard-core extreme guys. I'm super excited to go to the Alps."
He will be joined by Ashley Call, 22, a former Juneau resident and a competitor in last year's Red Bull Extreme, giving Juneau a connection to two out of the three U.S. competitors.
Shultz left for Switzerland last week, with the plan of spending a week getting accustomed to the new environment before competition begins today. He was required to pay his own way and received help from some Juneau businesses, including Poseidon Board Sports and the Juneau Ski Club, which conducted a raffle to help Shultz to come up with the $5,000 it cost to make the trip.
"I give a lot of credit to my sponsor," Shultz said. "If it wasn't for them, I wouldn't be able to afford to make it."
Shultz, 32, ways he's been "snowboarding forever." He competed in the World Extreme Snowboarding Championships in Valdez two years ago, where he finished in 10th place. That event was nixed last year, leaving the Red Bull Extreme as the world's top extreme snowboarding event.
Shultz was selected due to his finish at the 2000 World Extreme event and also from his impressive portfolio and video footage he sent to event officials in Verbier.
"I pursued it last year. I tried to get into it," Shultz said. "I sent them some info on me, but they had a full list of competitors. I was put on the list as an alternate. Word of mouth is probably bigger than anything that gets you selected. It's all about reputation."
The snowboarders will be competing for a $50,000 purse and, with the Red Bull Extreme being one of the major snowboarding events in Europe, it will receive a lot of overseas media attention.
"There's big money to be made there," Shultz said. "It's a big event. There's going to be a lot of television coverage, mostly in Europe. But hopefully it will bleed into U.S. television."
Shultz trains locally at Eaglecrest Ski Area, where he spends most of his time riding the West and East Bowls. He also spends a significant amount of time heli-riding near Haines and credits these areas as part of the reason for his success.
"I think it's because we get so much variable snow conditions," Shultz said. "If you can ski Eaglecrest, you can ski everything. We ski all the conditions, good or bad. When we get some good conditions, we just go off."
Extreme sports draw a lot of attention because of the obvious danger factor. But Shultz said safety is a big concern at the event.
"It's a closely monitored event," Shultz said. "Safety is a concern. The way it's judged is not to encourage crazy stuff. The top guys seem to be for experienced, older riders."
Snowboarding fans can get up-to-date coverage on the Red Bull Extreme on the event's Web site, http://www.xtremeverbier.com.
"There's only a few contests I get really excited to compete in," Shultz said. "I'm kind of past most of the stuff, but this one and the one in Valdez are the ones I'm happy to be a part of."
Jeff Kasper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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