Early History - Pre-AFP
As told by Christopher Jerard
As the Publisher of Freeskier magazine I was lucky enough to be in touch with many different aspects of the sport - athletes, events, media, brands, mainstream concerns. Freeskier was the only resource for many contacts within these silos of interest in regard to information about scheduling, talent, formats, judging, etc. This was a problem for Freeskier and me - since the magazine's mission was to entertain a much broader message within skiing - beyond competition.
I was working with AFP co-founder Chris Schuster on picking athletes for the X Games (he has controlled this since the inception of X as the expert that ESPN contracts for skiing) - and sat on a board with numerous other athletes and media folks to pick the spots for X each year. Back then, myself, Sarah Burke, Mike Douglas, Johnny Decesare, all sat on this board and helped Chris by voting for the athletes. Doug Bishop and Shay Williams helped advise as well. Through this Chris and I started to develop a points system so that the picks were not arbitrary - given the weight of the conclusions to brands, athletes and the general public's perception of the sport. We needed to have a system to point to for our own credibility.
The fact was, no one could answer the question of, "HOW DOES A SKIER GET INTO THE X GAMES?" So we started moving toward that.
I was also working with AFP co-founder Michael Spencer, who represented many of the top athletes with his (then) company EgoSports Management, on many aspects of the athlete world. He recognized a need for a more formal communication avenue for athletes in regard to judging and competition formats. Yelling at the judge's tower wasn't working for athletes, agents, or parents anymore. Josh Loubek, AFP co-founder, was working as head judge on X Games and almost all the other existing events.
As I dug deeper into the question of whether or not Halfpipe was going to be in the Olympics post 2002 SLC, first in 2006 and then in 2010, we realized we needed a more consistent trick glossary, formats and system to stand behind if it was ever going to be considered. Because at that time what we found through our investigation and work with entities like SIA, USSA and FIS - was that freeskiing wasn't even close to being in the Olympics - beyond the rumors that were floating around.
We started having meetings. We met with USSA as a group (Evan Raps, Josh Loubek, Tanner Hall, Grete Eliasson, John Symms, Michael Spencer, Craig Elledge, Dan Schivington all gathered in Park City in 2005 sometime) to review the state of pipe and slope judging. This was pre-AFP - but these organizational meetings were the pre-cursor to us getting the sport organized - which was essential to an Olympic berth. At the time, the input our group and the athletes above contributed was basically thrown in the bottom drawer of a filing cabinet by the powers that were and gathered dust. This motivated us even more to create an organization that would listen to the athletes and keep the sport progressive, safe, and in-tune with the athlete's vision.
We were all working with Jon Olsson a lot on his events at this time. Together with Target and Simon Dumont, a group of us put on The North American Open at Breckenridge. The NAO, created by Jon and Simon Dumont, was an effort to create an open style event for athletes. At the time the US Open had gone downhill and the organizers had been contacted by Jon and Simon to help make the event better. They declined the athlete input. With no other option, Simon and Jon came up with the concept of The North American Open. Freeskier jumped in and the event took off right away. Everyone showed up and it was a great event. I think this was 2005/2006.
Jon and I worked out together at the gym in Breckenridge during the event - and on the exercise bikes discussed the real need for an organized group of leaders in the industry to take some ownership of the sport and create better communication with the outside world, between events and athletes and media. He was doing a great job of setting a new standard for events with his JOI. We talked about a new group. An association for the sport, and association of the professionals who were making things happen the way we respected. The athletes, the media, the events and the brands needed this communication hub.
The AFP was born shortly thereafter. Josh Loubek, AFP co-founder and Judging Director, recalls a phone call that we had, "I remember you calling me while I was on location in New Zealand judging the NZ Open. For me that stands out as the tipping point of all the conversations we were having about connecting the dots with the global tour of events by creating the AFP. That was August and I believe our meeting in Boulder was shortly after that, in the fall. I quietly got the word out in NZ and collectively we were able to spread the AFP mission worldwide."
We had some of the first meetings in Boulder, CO in the Freeskier offices.
Brad Fayfield, the founder of Freeskier and his staff were early supporters of the concept and later Newschoolers came to be an invaluable partner as well. As much as some of the work that had been done was focused on an Olympic berth, we started to realize that shaping our mission beyond the Olympics was just as important.
You can read the AFP Mission here
In early 2007 we officially created the AFP.
The website URL was purchased and I gave a presentation at THE MEETING in Aspen to get the word out about the fledgling organization. I asked a room full of industry insiders "How does an athlete get into the X Games?" No one had an answer. The need was obvious. I always use the metaphor of Simon Dumont being asked on a plane, by someone next to him, "What do you do?" Before the AFP the answer is a rambling explanation of skiing "like snowboarding," and X Games. Now he can say - "I'm the #1 ranked Halfpipe skier in the world."
End of explanation. A huge part of the mission is to help translate our world to the mainstream world. The Olympics will help with this - but we are bringing it there authentically - without losing our culture along the way.
Josh Loubek comments on the launch from a judge's perspective "One of my biggest initiatives when starting the AFP was to create a broader scope of judges. At the time, since I was the X Games head judge it seemed like every other event (many worldwide) was asking me to judge. Not only was I not able to accommodate, I felt that it was important to get more people involved in judging - preferably former athlete. We have accomplished this, as well as instituted a professional judges training with word-wide clinics. This along with creating a consistent format and spreading the judging philosophy to the industry and athletes."
We started building a consistent judging platform that would serve as a foundation for the only credible global ranking system in existence. Then we named our first world champions and launched the site. Everything was done with volunteers, donated time and a shared passion of the need. The founding partners, myself, Jon Olsson, Josh Loubek, Michael Spencer and Chris Schuster used our leadership roles in the industry and friendships to help source everything from initial web-design to board meetings.
The AFP would not exist without the contributions from people like Brad Fayfield, Matt Harvey, Nicole Birkhold, Doug Bishop, Gabe Glosband Jeff Schmuck, and Craig Elledge. These folks were there at the beginning and have continued to be advocates.
Once we got a site, a mission and a vision, our founding partner Target started to help support the organizational efforts for the AFP. Jon Olsson left the group shortly after playing a role in early conversations because he had too much other work to do with his own career and events. He is no longer officially associated with the AFP - but we consider him an important friend and ally. Simon Dumont and Sarah Burke came on as founding athlete members. The input from Sarah on the sport as a whole, and obviously to represent the female side of the sport, which she did better than anyone in her life, was essential to our founding vision. Sarah changed the face of women's skiing forever by her accomplishments and inspiring life. She impacted skiing as a whole with her passion and vision. She was a huge factor in establishing the athlete vision for the AFP from the start. We miss her deeply.
By 2010 we had grown to having named several world champions and moving into a World Championship event - we brought on Steele Spence General Manager and as a judging expert. Steele was an early pioneer of the sport who helped establish the AFP in the early formative years of the organization.
In the fall of 2011 the AFP brought on Eric Zerrenner as Executive Director. Zererenner's work as the day-to-day leader of the AFP brought a new era of increased organization and action to the original vision outlined by the founders.
Everyone involved with getting the AFP to where it is right now has done so because their lives are somehow tied to the sport of skiing, and they want to ensure its growth and success in the future. Now, with the HP and SS disciplines being added to the Olympic stage, it has become even more important to look after these interests.
We have all seen what can happen to a sport if they are not. The AFP exists to keep the free in freeskiing with vision, cooperation and communication.