FREESKIER’s Full Recap From Level 1 SuperUnknown 21

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FREESKIER’s Full Recap From Level 1 SuperUnknown 21

Featured Image: Brie Cooper | Skier: Kuura Koivisto

Arriving in Mammoth, California at the end of April 2024, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Never before had I witnessed first hand the dramatic rise of the Sierra Nevada Range; mountains that seemed to explode up from the desert floor into the pale blue skies. It wasn’t the location that had me curious however, it was the occasion. Every skier for the past twenty years has heard tales and seen footage from the legendary event known as SuperUnknown. But to view it digitally from afar and to be thrown into the action would be, I was certain, two very different experiences.

Started in 2003 by Level 1 Productions, SuperUnknown was originally a video talent search competition calling upon the best freeskiers in the world to put together a segment and share it in hopes of being crowned SuperUnknown Champion. Send in your video, get selected, jumpstart your career; that was the idea. This process got the ball rolling, and we saw legends like Tom Wallisch, Niklas Eriksson, and Lucas Stål Madison earn their keep in this early format. It provided a never-before-seen level of exposure for young riders in the early stages of the digital world. Around ten years ago, Josh Berman and crew made the call to make SuperUnknown an in-person event. They invited the finalists to come together and ski, and have since hosted them (thanks to the generosity of the resorts) at iconic destinations like Sun Valley, Winter Park, Mount Snow and more. As the popularity of the event and the sport progressed, a female finalist roster was added in 2019 to the freeski community’s joy. And for the first time last year, select pro riders were invited to join the event alongside the Finalists, turning SuperUnknown into even more of a proper cultural ensemble.

This spring, SuperUnknown 21 returned for another year at Mammoth Mountain, California, and FREESKIER was given the privilege of attending the event. This is our account of six days alongside one of the greatest gatherings in the wide world of skiing, from first chair to the final ice cold Dale’s. Whether it’s the culture or the camaraderie, Level 1 SuperUnknown is what’s right with skiing.

Starting off the week with a full crew meeting at the Mammoth Mountain Inn | PHOTO: Eric Hoffman

For many of the 16 Finalists, the week began in Reno, Nevada. The airport lobby was brimming with ski bags and Arsenic apparel, and perhaps more slot machines than humans. Arriving at a “competition,” you might expect tense hostility between these competitors. However, that could not be farther from the truth. While there were bragging rights, media exposure, and $2,500 on the line, the Finalists all shared the same excitement and friendly demeanor. Exchanging names, we filled out from the airport into the warm Nevada sunshine and loaded ski bags and duffles into a red & white mini bus freshly branded with a Level 1 decal. Recently purchased from a Texas church group and driven west from Denver, it was our chariot to the promised land.

The team settled into the Mammoth Mountain Inn after a three hour drive, climbing from the desert into the California peaks. This was to be the base of operations for everyone, including the invited pros, who tallied nearly 45 in total. With the faces that rolled in throughout the evening, you could recreate half of the greatest segments from the last decade. Joss Christensen, Parker White, Keegan Kibride, Beau-James and Jackson Wells, Taylor Lunquist, Forester Meeks, Mac Forehand, Skye Clarke, Kuura Koivisto, and the list goes on and on. (Click here for the full line up of pro riders.)

By morning, the cast for the week was nearly assembled. As the the snow began to thaw in the mid morning warmth, Level 1’s Conor Smith and Josh Berman gave a few remarks at the opening meeting, setting the tone for the week to come. Expressing gratitude to all who came, they made it clear that SuperUnknown only happens because of the incredible community surrounding it. As all 60+ riders stood on the balcony, varying in age and some arriving from halfway around the world, that message was perfectly illustrated. From near and far, this group of skiers had assembled for something special.

For those who don’t know, Mammoth Mountain’s terrain parks, known as Mammoth Unbound, are some of the best in the world. To ride a private park built by this group of shapers is nothing short of an prodigious occasion. Mammoth graciously donated the entirety of South Park to Level 1 for the week and crafted a horde of unique features. On day one, we rolled through with jaws on the floor gazing at the grand creations the Unbound team had prepared. Multiple skiers noted that the features were, overall, much larger than last year. A full walkthrough of the park revealed several standout features, such as the intimidating S to C Rail, quad kink rail, 80 foot challenge rail, the infamous wrecking ball, a “shark fin” jump, and a classy hip feature near the bottom which became an easy favorite. See Parker White’s backflip mute grab off the hip, as captured by Eric Hoffman, in the Photo Gallery below.

By the early afternoon riders were dialing in their lines. Perhaps the most mesmerizing part about watching the best skiers on earth become intimidated was then watching them battle and over come their fears. It’s something that we glaze over too often in skiing; the fact that even the best of the best get scared. And if you’re doing it right, you’re getting scared quite often. After all, how else can one get better?

Observing this progress up close and personal was a mesmerizing experience. As Level 1’s Conner Frank pointed out, standing on the jump knuckles here never gets old. The crisp sound of the takeoff, the whirlwind of two skis spinning through the air, and the firm stomp on the landing. A cork 9 never looked so good. Perhaps the whole thing was made even better by the good weather. While Mammoth can be known to have harsh winds, we were lucky enough to enjoy six days of sunshine and blue skies.

Each day had its differences, from trick variety to the games of SLVSH, (keep an eye out for those) but there were certainly plenty of similarities. Riders would arrive around 11:30 AM after the nightly freeze had been thawed. Everyone was allowed to ski at their pleasure, and each Finalist was assigned a filmer on different days. This gave each one a chance to stack clips for the Finalist compilation video at the end of the week, which all riders would watch before voting on their pick for the SuperUnknown 21 champions. The devoted crew of videographers went above and beyond day in and day out. Conveying the emotion and feeling that comes with the skiing is no small task. Andrew Mildenberger, Ian Avery-Leaf, Gavin Rudy, Ty Urlich, Espen Thomassen, Freedle Coty, Josh Berman, Tristan Steen, Jake Strassman, Laura Obermeyer, and Jack Benziger put in countless hours to help bring SuperUnknown to the masses.

Beau-James Wells blunt grabs his way towards Mammoth’s Minaret Mountains | PHOTO: Brie Cooper

Of course, no Level 1 event would be complete without a sunset session. Sunday, April 21st served as the ideal weather window. After a full day in South Park, the riders were treated to an evening shred in Mammoth Mountain’s Main Park from 5:30 to 7:30 PM. With the unique shadow of the Minaret Mountains as our backdrop, the sun began to dip below the western horizon. Words hardly do this spectacle justice, so I encourage you to have a look at the full photo gallery from the evening. Riding high off of the golden hour sends, the crew prepared for the final two days of riding.

It became evident that the vote was going to be as close as ever for this years SuperUnknown champion. In addition to the winning riders, Keagan Supple, Mathias Høgås, Evelyn Mule and Liv Cull were four finalists that continuously stood out. As everyone gathered on the balcony of the Mammoth Mountain Inn, the final evening award ceremony commenced. Parker White took home the OG Award and Jed Water was dubbed Pro Rider of the Week by his peers. After the votes were counted, it was Japan’s Shiori Takahashi and New Zealand’s Felix Klein who took home the finalist titles from SuperUnknown 21. Klein was as composed as could be throughout the week, skiing with a poise that is hard to come by, even in seasoned pros. For Takahashi, it was her consistency and tangible style that won the day. Both of these riders found a way to carry their own creativity into this massive park, which is far from easy to do. There was perhaps no better scene from the week than Takahashi being brought to tears as the award was announced.

“I love skiing. There were so many cool-style skiers, skiers I admired, and being able to ride with them had a huge impact on my future skiing life. I had so much fun! Winning there made me want to ski even more! Thank you so much, Level 1.” – Shiori Takahashi

“Arriving at a park this big was scary. Everyone was a little nervous the first two or so days. Over the week it was so sick to watch everyone gain confidence and come up with new lines to suit their style. Huge thank you to Josh, Connor and the Level 1 crew for giving myself and everyone this opportunity. Events like this show how strong everyone’s love for skiing and the ski community is. Shout out boom club!” – Felix Klein

Click here for more on the SuperUnknown 21 Awards.

SuperUnknown 21 champions Felix Klein and Shiori Takahashi reap their rewards | PHOTO: Brandon Enouf

While competitions like the World Cup circuit, the X Games, and others serve a valuable purpose within the world of skiing, it’s events like SuperUnknown that provide a beating heart. In bringing together the people that cherish and value this culture more than anything, Josh Berman and the Level 1 team have found a way to continue to blend freeskiing across age gaps, distances and even time. By doing so, they actively strengthen the culture and allow it to grow. What began as a way to give young riders a platform and an avenue to connect with others has culminated a unique community that you’d be hard pressed to find any substitute for around the world. Simply put, this many happy, passionate people in one place is rare, and the more ways we can find to foster it, the better.

The truth is, at SuperUnknown skiing might be the focus, but it’s hardly the end goal. Our fearless leaders at Level 1, Conor Smith, Tom Crandall, Conner Frank, and of course, Josh Berman, reminded everyone of this continuously. And they couldn’t have been more spot on. SuperUnknown is about the people beyond anything else. The passion and camaraderie stem from a deep love for life that is all but contagious in the best possible way. Thank you to Mammoth Mountain for the unparalleled hospitality, thank you to all the riders for coming together and skiing your hearts out, and thank you to Level 1 for continuing to not only document, but also progress freeskiing into the future. In every sense, SuperUnknown is what’s right with skiing.

Take a look below at the immersive SuperUnknown Photo Gallery, made possible thanks to the incredible photographers.

Keep an eye out this Fall, as FREESKIER will be featuring SuperUnknown 21 in our November print issue.

Photo Gallery

Immense thank you to all the talented photographers that captured SuperUnknown 21

SHIRT GUY: Sampo Vallotton | PHOTO: Eric Hoffman
SKIER: Evelyn Mullie | PHOTO: Eric Hoffman
SKIER: Mac Forehand | PHOTO: Brie Cooper
SKIER: Parker White | PHOTO: Eric Hoffman
SKIER: Kuura Koivisto | PHOTO: Brie Cooper
SKIER: Oliver Karlberg | PHOTO: Brandon Enouf
SKIER: Joss Christensen | PHOTO: Brandon Enouf
SKIER: Cody LaPlante | PHOTO: Brie Cooper
SKIER: Mac Forehand | PHOTO: Brie Cooper
Full moon caps off the sunset session | PHOTO: Brie Cooper
Jed Waters accepts the Pro Rider of the Week Award | PHOTO: Brandon Enouf
SuperUnknown 21 winner Shiori Takahashi takes her award with resounding applause from the crew | PHOTO: Brandon Enouf
SuperUnknown 21 winner Felix Klein receives high praises from all | PHOTO: Brandon Enouf