At the end of last month, Red Bull released a new 30-minute documentary titled Generations of Freeskiing and teased it with a short video showcasing 50 years of freeskiing style condensed into three minutes.
It was an amusing, lighthearted look at just how far skiing has come in recent years, from the times of neon-colored skiwear and ghetto blasters to the futuristic first-person point-of-view edits that guys like Candide Thovex put out today.
It got us thinking about some of the most pivotal freeskiers in the history of the sport. Here’s our examination of four of our favorite freeskiers of all-time, and how they influenced the sport.
Referred to by some as the “Father of Freeskiing,” Burns is widely credited with being the first “hot-dogger” in the sport: Willing to charge anything — most notably the moguls of his home mountain of Sun Valley — at lightning speed, standing tall with his hands raised above his head.
Nicknamed the “Snow Goose” for his free flowing and loose style, Burns became well known throughout the skiing world after he caught the eye of iconic ski filmmaker Dick Barrymore in the late 1960s.
Burns’s biggest contribution to the sport may have been approaching it from an outsider’s perspective — he didn’t start skiing until his 20s, and spent his childhood doing ballet, platform diving and dance.
“The main thing in ballet is your body follows your head and your eyes,” Burns told POWDER back in 2014. “I found that I could ski huge bumps while standing up straight, but with ankle pressure, and be able to keep my balance with my head and my eyes.”
Beyond his style he built The Ski, perhaps the single most iconic ski shape from freeskiing’s earliest days in the 1970s.
If there’s one thing you need to know about Glen Plake it’s that — per POWDER’s declaration — he is the “most recognizable skier ever.” If there are two things you need to know about Glen Plake it’s that and the fact that, at age 52, he’s still as punk rock as ever.
A mohawked maniac who attacks the mountain like it stole his lunch money, Plake represents the anti-elitist and rebellious attitude at the core of freeskiing perhaps more so than any skier ever.
Plake burst onto the scene in Greg Stump’s seminal 1988 film The Blizzard of Aahhhs, becoming a name known throughout the sport for his aggressive style and his and colorful mohawk.
Plake’s ski style was a natural bridge between skiing’s hot-dogging past that Burns originated and the current, more fluid styles of today. Today, you can still catch him skiing as hard as ever at Mammoth Mountain.
No skier over the past 20 years has had a bigger impact than McConkey. In fact, it’s tough to name a skier who has ever cast a larger shadow over the sport — POWDER once famously declared him “the most influential skier ever” on its cover.
Ever the iconoclast, McConkey made a name for himself by constantly bucking trends and becoming the pied piper that all of his peers followed.
In the late 1990s, when other skiers were riding skinny skis and eschewing the notion of big underfoot widths, McConkey was introducing the rest of the world to fat skis.
When the skiing world scoffed at the notion of skiing on anything other than traditional camber profiles, McConkey mounted bindings to a pair of 1970s water skis and ripped them down an Alaskan spine. He was so successful he convinced Volant to produce the Spatulas in 2001: The first-ever commercial rockered profile skis.
It’s been over seven years since his tragic death, but powder skiers across the globe are still benefiting from his innovations.
The current king of freeskiing, Candide Thovex has been on top of the sport for so long it’s crazy to think he’s only 34.
Supremely talented and endlessly creative, Thovex partnered with Dynastar in the late 1990s to create the first production twin-tip model skis.
While he has had a successful career of competition in the realms of halfpipe and big air skiing, his biggest contribution to the current climate of freeskiing might be his mind-bending “One of Those Days” edits.
Shot entirely in first-person point-of-view, and capitalizing on quick cuts, the skiing he demonstrates in them is almost too impressive to be true. They’re the first ski edits to truly go massively viral on YouTube, with the three edits collectively garnering over 30 million views on the platform.