VAIL, Colo.—Johnny Moseley started it all at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan.
His floating 360-degree stunt, seen by millions of TV viewers around the world, took freeskiing mainstream.
Skiers and snowboarders are now battling for the latest soaring, gymnastic maneuver on the hill. Half-pipes and terrain parks are at almost every resort in the country, packed with tricksters defying gravity and defining an evolving skiing niche known as freeskiing.
The line between skiing and snowboarding has been permanently blurred by young skiers. Ski clothing companies vie for the fastest growing market in the ski world.
A stable of magazines targeting this young generation of acrobatic skiers has flooded the market, offering inspiration to thousands through glossy photos of skiers suspended in air, their bodies contorted in unimaginable ways.
"Now it's our turn," said Glen Plake, a lifelong skier considered the godfather of hot-dog skiing, as he officially opened the new freeskiing exhibit at the Colorado Ski Museum in Vail on Friday. "I'm here to say that ski history did not end in the 1950s."
With his trademark mohawk dyed blue and hanging limply around his permanently goggle-tanned face, Plake waxed nostalgic on his rise to the top of the skiing world in the 1980s. Back then, snowboarding was on a rocket ride, its popularity soaring past expectations. Skiing's popularity, however, had reached a plateau. Lift tickets were taken from skiers who jumped. Skis were not allowed in then-new half pipes.
It simply wasn't cool to ski.
"We were suppressed in the '80s," said Plake, whose antics in the 1970s and '80s fueled freeskiing's predecessor, hot-dog skiing. "Snowboarders filled our shoes and took the spot where I thought we belonged."
On Friday, dozens of helmeted skiers in Vail flipped and flopped down the well-sculpted ditch, some rotating 1,080 degrees in the air, and some landing backwards.
Vail is hosting the fourth annual U.S Freeskiing Open this weekend -- an X-Games-type event featuring a big air contest and half-pipe showdowns.
Recognizing the burgeoning sport of freeskiing, Vail Mountain this season relaxed its long-standing ban on skiers becoming inverted on the mountain.
Several years ago, one of the biggest names in the ski world, Shane McConkey, was banned for life for throwing a then unheard-of backflip on the mountain during a bump contest. Now, skiing inverted is all the rage in Vail's "Superpipe," the only place on the mountain where upside-down moves are allowed.
"The popularity of the sport has really grown," said Kristen Yantis, spokeswoman for Vail. "We really wanted to provide a venue for those types of tricks."
"Broadly defined, freeskiing has had a huge impact," said Ken Gart, whose Specialty Sports provides the latest ski wear and ski designs in dozens of shops around Colorado. "It used to be all that energy was in snowboarding. Now that energy has moved to skiing. It's a resurgence. There's been a return to skiing being cool again."
The youthful energy of the movement, with its high-flying antics and rebellious nature, has also caught the eye of Colorado Ski Country USA, which this season formed an advisory committee of 20-something snowriders to infuse that energy into ski marketing.
"Colorado has not been the leader in embracing and supporting this strong and growing youth skiing trend called freeskiing -- yet," said David Perry, president of the trade group that represents 26 Colorado ski hills.
"There is almost an arms race for tricks and maneuvers between snowboarders and skiers in the half pipe.
"It's a trend all of Colorado needs to embrace because it is injecting youthful energy and fun back into the sport of skiing."