Every year we hand-pick the best local skiers we can find, who also have intimate knowledge of ski construction, to be testers at #FreeskierFest. This year we added a particularly impressive tester by the name of Steve Karczewski to the ranks. Steve not only stood out because he was a ripping skier, but because he ripped just as hard as the rest of our testers on one leg.
Originally from New Jersey, Steve was diagnosed with prenatal bone cancer and had his leg amputated just above the knee at the age of two. At 10, Steve took to the local slopes of New Jersey and Pennsylvania with his friends and family, and despite the challenges he faced, he didn’t back away from pursuing a sport he knew he’d love. With a little help from his prosthetic leg, he was hooked.
In 2007, after sixteen years of skiing on the East Coast, Steve packed his gear and moved to Aspen to join the Paralympic Developmental team for which he raced all four disciplines: Slalom, GS, Super G and Downhill. His coaches convinced him to ditch the prosthetic leg in favor of outriggers on his poles and join the “Standing Three Track” division, otherwise he would be racing against competitors who were amputated below the knee, putting him at an unfair disadvantage. He traveled for a year with the team, competing coast to coast until he decided he was done with racing. He was tired of the expenses, traveling and all the hurry-up-and-wait that went along with it. “There was one particular morning where it snowed, like, eight inches,” Steve recounted, “and we spent all morning pushing that snow off the race course to practice and run gates. It just didn’t seem right. Racing got me out here [to Aspen] but then I grew out of it.”
A short while after leaving the racing scene, Steve watched one of his coaches, Jonathon Mika, compete in the Colorado Freeride Championships and liked what he saw. “I was attracted to more extreme terrain, steep lines, trees, drops and pow.”
Photo: JD Smith
As he picked up freeskiing, he felt his outriggers becoming cumbersome and annoying so he traded them in for standard poles and never looked back. Despite the lack of adaptive categories in big-mountain competitions, Steve has competed in a number of Colorado Freeride Championships himself and was disappointed to see the competition take a sabbatical this year. He says he plans to enter more comps in the future. He primarily loves big-mountain skiing, but when the conditions aren’t good he also likes to do some work in the park. “I love seeing people’s faces when I hit the big jumps and the halfpipe,” he says.
Steve now works at Four Mountain Sports at the base of Snowmass Resort where he does most of his skiing. Over the past two weeks of #FreeskierFest, when he wasn’t imparting knowledge on shop customers, he was on the hill with us, charging bell to bell. We were stoked to add him, his product knowledge and positive attitude to our list of phenomenal testers and look forward to having him back next year.