Buller X is a ski and snowboard event that lives up to the notion of every letter in the word "extreme". In a world of where the word is often bandied around like an old stereotype metaphor - this event and its terrain is the real deal.
I had no idea terrain like this existed in Australia - and to have it just a 200m metre hike from Mt Buller's top lift station under the nose of the 1,000's of people who ski the mountain was unfathomable. Sure, people knew about it but most of them kept it to themselves, they knew how dangerous it was. Yet with the burgeoning growth of all-mountain free riding more and more people were getting entangled in it. There were two pathways forward, either keep it quiet and therefore it would simply be visited by more people with no education where injuries or worse were bound to happen, or highlight what it is by using the best athletes and promote just how dangerous it is - and how stupid you are to venture in there if you didn't have the proper credentials i.e. a unique skill set that includes both ability and education of what it takes to be anywhere near this type of terrain.
I've learned a lot from the past 30 years skiing, living and breathing the big mountain scene around the world. From competing in similar events in the US and Alaska to creating the World Heli Challenge in NZ, I had a solid handle on what it takes to stage an event of this nature, the expertise, the experience and thankfully the belief from the ski patrol, mountain management and operations team that something like this could be pulled off.
So why did I decide to stage an event on this? To be honest it is a bit of a confronting decision. On one hand there's a good chance someone could get seriously injured, but on the other, there is no other event like it in Australia that showcases our top-class talent to the rest of the world.
Buller X only happens when a definitive number of conditions come together. It can't be powder. Powder snow gets skied off the hard surface below after just a couple of people have skied it and therefore is a massive risk if a person hits the ice, slips and falls over the exposed rock bands below. Corn snow is the safest type of snow texture to compete on, as it provides good grip and retains texture after numerous people have skied it.
The corn snow only happens in spring and the month of September is most suitable. And when there has been an exceptionally big snow season with a deep snowpack. When the BOM forecasts a daytime temperature of +6 to +10 degrees celsius, we know that between 2.30pm and 4.30pm in September there's a good chance the conditions will align and allow primo conditions to stage an event of this nature. But it's not always the case. 2018 was a big snow year however despite favourable temps the main part of the course remained black ice and so no event was staged.
It took me 10 years of studying the terrain and the weather to ascertain what it would take to stage an event of this calibre in the chutes - if it could be done at all.
Since 2016 we've only held Buller X once, and that was in 2017 when history was made. A few people were all for it, many others dead set against it and a few were sitting on the fence on whether it should happen or not. And when it did, crikey, it blew the minds of everyone involved and those who witnessed it, no matter what side you were on.
Athletes are hand picked and spots are limited to just a mere handful who are selected to take on the chutes. They are provided two runs each, with the best run counting towards their point score. Each run is filmed and shared online around the world where an astute group of judges critique each run and award points based on technique, control, choice of line and creativeness. The results take a few hours to come through and are announced at a party that evening. It is by far the most precise type of judging and the concept was first founded in the staging of the World Heli Challenge. Competitive free skiing will always be subjective, but when judges can analyse a run over and over it's a sure bet the best athlete on the day will score the most points.
The inaugural winners of Buller X were Coen Bene-Faull for the skiing and Nate Johnson for the boarders.
Hopefully we will have the chance to run Buller X in 2021. Mother nature is certainly dialling up the snow pack and further details will be announced in the near future.