WORDS & PHOTOS • Samuel J. Taggart
Back in February, before the world went crazy, Jackson Hole held its third-annual Kings and Queens of Corbet’s competition. The event—a rowdy, 20-athlete huckfest—is one of the purest, most exciting happenings in skiing. Sending the Corbet’s diving board with style was the only objective. Naturally, as it was an athlete-judged event, the riders who emerged at the top had not only impressed the roaring crowd, but their peers as well.
This year, Jackson Hole local Veronica Paulsen earned top honors in the women’s category, after a three-year battle with the couloir. Failing to land a backflip twice before, this year Paulsen widened the eyes of everyone in the crowd by stomping the trick clean-as-can-be. In an instant, her previous failures melted into vague memories.
Relatively unknown prior to the moment, Paulsen soon landed sponsors (namely, K2 Skis and Strafe Outerwear) and well-deserved attention. She even attended FREESKIER’s annual Ski Test as an honorary guest. When she’s not stomping massive backflips into one of the most legendary inbounds runs in North America, former Tahoe local now coaches the girls freeride team at the Wyoming resort, shaping the next generation of athletes.
We let Paulsen catch her breath, collect her thoughts and enjoy a couple celebratory bevvies after the big victory. But the day after the competition, as snow and clouds encompassed Jackson Hole in mid-February, FREESKIER rode the Sublette chairlift, chatted with her and took a couple laps with the newest Queen of Corbet’s.
Seems that third time’s a charm. Walk me through your approach this year.
I’ve been thinking about [this jump] for the last three years. I trained a lot in the gym last summer and, pretty much as soon as it started snowing, my friends helped me find similar cliffs around Jackson for practice. I’ve basically been flipping off of everything. When I got to the day of [the competition], I finally felt ready.
With such a rad send yesterday, I’m assuming you stomped all your backflips in practice?[Laughs] I actually fell a lot this year. Actually, just two days before the event, we were practicing in “Mario,” which is a little sidecountry shot out here, and I didn’t land a single backflip. I was a little worried—but it just comes down to repetition.
With all that aside, can you describe the feeling of finally landing a backflip into Corbet’s?
I was just… absolutely ecstatic. You can hear me on the GoPro video—I just started screaming. I was definitely a little emotional; it took me three years to accomplish this goal, a lot of falling on my face.
That video gave me the chills—you could tell how excited you were. Was it more difficult to focus on the rest of the run?
I wasn’t concerned about anything else, just making it to the bottom. I wasn’t even looking at all the other hits—people said I should’ve hit them—but I just didn’t care. And when I got to the bottom, all my friends who had helped me practice, these like big-time skier boys from Jackson were all just crying. It was adorable.
Let’s talk a moment about Jackson’s iconic Sublette Chair. What kind of experiences have you had skiing off this chair—good, bad or ugly?
The Sublette Chair is cool because you can see some of the biggest cliffs in Jackson—they’re all visible right from the chairlift. Which is perfect for scoping them out, but also hilarious when you tomahawk down them. I’ve definitely done a bit of both; absolute stoke when you land something under the chair or the complete opposite, when you’re getting chirped from people on the chair. But that’s why I like it. It’s like K-T from Squaw.
What’s the best part about calling Jackson Hole your home mountain?
The fact that I get to try stuff like this—there’s nowhere else in the world that I could practice in this same way and improve to the point that I have, to become this skier. And the camaraderie here—the fact that I met all these friends that helped me accomplish this goal for the last three years. It’s so special here; when I moved here, I didn’t know a single person. Through skiing, I was able to meet friends. It’s hard to describe, but I’ve made my closest friends in my whole life out here in Jackson. We’re all so supportive of each other, helping each other realize our [individual] goals.
There’s definitely a scene up in Jackson—you know, undercover locals, big lines you can see from the chairlift. What’s it like trying to fit into that scene?
Well, I’m from Squaw Valley, so it comes naturally. [Laughs]
What has been the most important thing these young skiers in Jackson have taught you?
Coaching is my favorite job out here. I love the girls I coach, they’re always trying to push themselves. Really, I just have so many good memories from when I was a kid, so to be able ot pass that along [means everything]. I had some incredible coaches: Jackie Paaso, Kevin O’Mear—it’s really cool to be on the other side of that now.
What sets Kings and Queens apart from other competitions?
Honestly, it didn’t even feel like a competition when we were up there. Everyone was helping each other out—the other competitors were helping me figure out my speed and my in-run. We were all up there to progress the sport and to see what we can do. The fact that we get to judge it ourselves—that there aren’t any rules—it takes all the pressure off. You don’t have to think about what “the judges” are thinking about. It just feels like you’re going skiing with your friends on the perfect day.
What usually runs through your mind when you’re on the chairlift?
Chairlifts are definitely my happy place. I’m just hanging out with my friends, talking about what [we] just skied, what [we’re] going to ski next. Just absolute stoke.
Do you ever talk to strangers on the lift?
I’ll try to make a little chit-chat.
If you could have one voice-over actor narrate your run down the mountain, who would that be?
Jonny Moseley. Does he count?
What would be your “walk up” song as you step out of the Tram?
“Thunderstruck,” by AC/DC. I got the girls that I coach really into AC/DC—that’s the reason I’m choosing this song. We play “Thunderstruck” every time we’re on the Thunder lift, and that gets us really fired up.
If you could ski a top-to-bottom run at Jackson Hole with one skier who would it be?
Probably Shane McConkey. He’s legendary, we have a hometown [connection], it would be really fun. Because of his personality; he was always stoked, always having the most fun on the mountain.