Intro and interview: Mary T. Walsh
Madison Blackley may be best known for her rail riding—her time spent with a Tuffy has earned her notoriety and accolades via parts in Too Hard videos, The Uninvited I and II, Buddy Cam, and more—but before she was filming in the streets she was riding on the contest circuit, a regular at Dew Tour and Grand Prix slopestyles. While Mads traded in the contest bib for time spent at spots seasons ago, her love of hitting jumps never waned and in the past few years, she has been getting out in the backcountry more and more (see Powanoia for proof). The Park City, Utah native is not short on drive and while she still loves hitting rails, backcountry zones and more airtime are calling. “I like all types of snowboarding and I’ve always wanted to be a well-rounded rider,” says Madison. “It’s a personal goal, so once I start attempting something, I’m really not going to stop until I feel like I’m excelling at it.”
In 2020, Madison’s experience and aspirations coalesced when she received an invite to Kings and Queens of Corbet’s for the third year of the Jackson Hole contest centered in the resort’s infamous Corbet’s Couloir. Dropping into the couloir and holding her own among the assembled crew of snowboarders and skiers further cemented the line she was taking. In 2021, Madison returned to the Tetons, and among a heavy-hitting roster that included snowboarders Hana Beaman, Zoë Vernon, Marissa Krawczak, and skiers Audrey Hebert and Veronica Paulsen, Madison was crowned the 2021 Queen of Corbet’s. The trophy, a massive bison skull, that she miraculously fit into the cab of her truck for the ride home is not only a reminder of a great week in Jackson, but emblematic of her snowboarding simultaneously coming full circle, while branching off in a totally new direction. Now, with a new board sponsor under her feet (Madison joined the Rome team earlier this season) and a new snowmobile ready to go, Madison is just getting started.
Do you enjoy competition?
I LOVE competition. Literally any event, I’m down. Ha. I excel under pressure, whether it’s a competition or it’s filming something. It’s not that I’m a competitive person, it’s a personal competition for the most part—like this is it, this is the time to do it. I gotta do this for myself. I like having the pressure on, I guess.
You competed in Kings and Queens of Corbet’s for the first time in 2020. How did the invite come about?
I heard that Hana Beaman put my name in somebody’s ear and it was a total surprise for me. It was totally out of the blue because I’m kind of a total contest nerd in the sense that I follow all contests of every type. I just love watching them. When I got the invite, I basically had a three-month panic attack, ha, mostly because I just had never been to Jackson Hole ever before. I went up there in January and felt it out a little bit, saw the couloir from the top, and I was able to calm my nerves to some extent. I was fine once I was there and riding, but even the night before, it was high anxiety.
Did riding in the contest last year break the nerves going into it this year?
Oh, I wasn’t nervous at all this year. I got COVID nineteen days before the competition. My first day in quarantine, I got the invite, and I was like, “Oh my gosh. I haven’t been able to ride powder at all this year and I’m sick right now. What am I going to do? Is this a good idea?” But what an opportunity, so I obviously said yes. Being at home and really focusing on my health, I was able to take that whole time off during the isolation to get my mind together. Also, being able to watch Natural Selection, I was like, damn, dude! Look how soft that snow is! This is fine. Like I can tomahawk the whole way down, no big deal! Haha. I’m so ready.
Were there any other things you took away from King and Queens of Corbet’s last year that helped you going into this year’s event?
I was actually the only girl last year who did not jump into the couloir. Watching everybody do it last year, even on their second runs, every single person went unscathed. I thought, okay, what am I actually afraid of? I’m not afraid of falling. I’m not afraid of butt-checking. I’m not afraid of tomahawking. These are things I’ve all done before. So, I just was able to think, this is big, but it’s actually nothing new. I didn’t see a worst-case scenario at all.
How did the conditions play into things on the day of the contest?
It was so, so deep. We had horrible visibility. There’s no trees there, it’s so exposed. It was very windy, too, but because of that, it just kept blowing snow into the couloir. It was almost like it was refilling people’s bomb holes, which was like, oh sweet, ha. The night before, the weather said sunny and almost no wind for Thursday. We woke up and were like, “Maybe it’ll blow off.” The contest organizers give the riders a lot of pull because they don’t want the riders to feel unsafe, so everyone gathered together and said, “We’re going to hold off an hour, see if it blows off a little bit.” It didn’t, ha. We were all like, “Well, we’re all in this together.” Nobody can see, so let’s get in the white room.
Since Kings and Queens of Corbet’s began four years ago, every year there are more and more talented snowboarders in the lineup. This year, with you, Hana Beaman, Zoe Vernon, JRob, Hans Mindnich, Garrett Warnick…
And Yuki [Kadono]! How sick was Yuki?!
Yeah! And everyone else, of course. Watching everyone’s posts on social media, it seems like there is a real crew vibe, as you said, like everyone is in it together, even though it is a competition.
It is totally not competition vibes. All skiers, all snowboarders, the camaraderie is through the roof. Everybody wants everybody else to land, because how fucking cool is it to land, you know? It feels like everyone is just trying to film a dope video line through the couloir and everyone’s just on the same team.
How hard is it to land that first hit into the couloir?
Oh, it’s so hard because it’s huge to get to the sweet spot. It’s like forty feet to where the good snow is. The landing is actually not that steep, ha. It’s not as steep as maybe it should be for going that large. Skiers have the advantage because they can land on their tails and backslap and still stand up. But in a lot of instances, sending something off it and not landing perfect—it’s not like a slopestyle run, you don’t have to have a perfect run to do well in this. It’s all about how crazy it was, how was the execution, did you almost land? Also, how late did you drop? For the skiers, Karl [Fostvedt] landed his second run like thirty-fifth drop of the day, while the other skiers who placed dropped second and third, which is why maybe it wasn’t necessarily, in some people’s opinions, as crazy or difficult a line, but because of the conditions, that made it more difficult, which is also taken into consideration.
The contest is entirely judged by the competitors, right?
Could you explain a little bit about how that works?
So, everyone gets two runs. You don’t have to take two runs, like if one was perfect and you don’t want to do it again for whatever reason. Then we all get together at the very end of the week and we do a run review where we watch every run once. Then we score the runs out of ten. It’s definitely kind of funny because there are some things that I see skiers do that I think are really cool, and I don’t know how cool they are, really, because I don’t ski. Ha. Like, as a spectator, myself, I really enjoyed watching that trick or line, that seemed crazy to me, so I will give it a good score. Everyone could see it differently. Overall, there’s a lot to take into consideration when judging each run.
Of course, one of the things that makes this event unique, in addition to the terrain and format, is the fact that snowboarders and skiers compete against each other. What is that like?
It’s really cool because you get to see how the other side of the winter sports industry looks at snowboarding, I guess? I personally don’t mind that skiers and boarders are competing against each other because I think it’s kind of a novelty to have snowboarders beating skiers—it just makes it way cooler in my opinion because skiers are known for having more stability in that type of terrain. Last year there were significantly more skier women than snowboarder women and this year there were more snowboarder women than skier women.
Yeah, the women’s crew of snowboarders was really sick.
It was really sick. And the skiers were so, so sick too. So cool, so good at skiing.
What was it like to be crowned Queen of Corbet’s?
I feel like I blacked out, haha. It’s such a special feeling to know that my friends and peers thought that highly of me to put me in that position. Just being a part of Corbet’s last year, that was the highlight of my career. This year, I came in with no expectations. I just wanted to have a good time with my friends and do something I’ve never done before. And then to walk away with this, I honestly can’t even find the words to describe it, it is surreal and so unexpected. I do want to mention, too, that there was a guy on park crew, Michael McKelvey, who I went on a trip with last year, with Emma [Crosby], Taylor [Ellliott], and my friend Howard. He helped build the whole Natural Selection course and the Kings and Queens of Corbet’s course last year and this year. During the contest he wasn’t there and I was really confused why. I guess it was his day off, and during the competition he was caught in an avalanche on Togwotee Pass and he later died. So afterward, knowing that, there are all these emotions, you know what I mean? I wouldn’t have been there without him, because he was my guide for Jackson.
It must have been meaningful to be able to be in Jackson with other people that knew him as well?
Yeah, we were all there on the course that he helped build. It was very empowering as a community knowing that there was so much support for so many people.
So, you won a really rad cattle skull trophy…
It’s a bison! It’s huge!
How did you fit that in the cab of your truck?
I had this huge box and if it had been one centimeter bigger, it would not have fit at all and I don’t know how I would have gotten it home.
Where are you going to display it in your house?
Oh my god, I have no idea. It’s so heavy and my walls are so weird. I have to figure something out.
And of course, you won $10,000. Any idea what you are going to do with the money?
If you have seen any photos of what my sled looks like in my truck right now, it’s pretty silly. So, I think I’m going to get a new truck before next winter.
Finally, you started this season out with a new board sponsor, you have a sled, and now, Corbet’s is a big feather in your tiny hat. What is next?
I just want to hit jumps! I just want to hit jumps and I want to be taken seriously. I’m going to fuckin’ say this verbatim: I want a men’s crew to take me out because up until now, they won’t take anybody it seems. I don’t know very many girls to jump with, and in Salt Lake, everyone’s jibbers, ha. I am ready to be not looked at as “just” a jibber. It’s also more of a personal goal to hit more jumps in the backcountry because I’m never going to stop snowboarding and so I want to just keep learning things and going bigger every year. Like next year at Corbet’s, plan on me spinning into it, because I really think I can, ha.