Local Badass: Steve Corbett and the first quadruple backflip (1974)

“Interviews with local badasses – an attempt to uncover some reality in the media-hyped world of ski heros. People who have pushed the limits of skiing with little fanfare.”

I’ve known Steve for over five years, and have always been fascinated with the story of the quadruple back flip. The footage actually spent several years in my own basement, in 16mm form, waiting to be dusted and the feat revisited.

Growing up on Whistler, and airing the “Camel humps” many times, I realize Steve’s jump is an amazing piece of Whistler’s history.  These humps were partially blasted to make way for the Harmony chair, and you’d now have to negotiate a cat-track, moguls and snow-plowers on the in-run.

What fascinates me most about Steve’s accomplishment is the idea of progression versus the timeless. Progression is one of the main taglines media and athletes use when hyping skiing. Always going faster, bigger, with more spins! But certain aspects of skiing resist progression.

With steep skiing, the progression of technology and technique translates little in the progression of the sport. No matter how fancy your ski set-up is, it still going to take a huge set of balls to ski the king lines. Not much has progressed in the angle of ski descents since the grandmasters like Vallencant and Boivin in the 70’s and 80’s.  Steve’s quadruple backflip is in this realm of the timeless.

His 1974 feat easily stands beside anything you’ll see at the X-games today.  It resists this notion of progression, because it takes an iron set of balls to take 160 feet of air and flip 4 times, no matter how you’ve trained, what gear you ski on, or what decade you were born.

I was lucky enough to see the footage while it was up. The flips combined with the incredible airtime is unbelievable, and easily matches anything I’ve seen in any ski movie. Other quadruple back flip videos are on the internet, but they are usually freestyle aerialist-type jumps, where the person is pitched straight up and travels very little distance down hill. Whereas Steve’s jump is laid back and massive!!

Trevor Hunt – Was it common knowledge at the time that no one had done a quadruple backflip?

Steve Corbett – We were pretty sure there had never been a quadruple. A diving coach from UBC told me it was impossibe and that it had never been done on a trapeze or diving board or trampoline. I think Tom Leroi  and Herman Golhner (sp?) had each done triples. They were famous from old films like “Ski the Outer Limits” and “The Mobius Flip”.

My close friend Roger Robertson also threw a triple at a jump contest at Whistler in 1973. My friends wanted content for their ski film so I did a triple at the camel humps for them. We wanted to break new ground so I did the Quadruple in 1974 for a film called “Skiing in the Minds Eye”. I was 18 and The owners of the film company were 18, 18 and 20. We made a 90 minute film and sold out two nights at the Queen E theatre in Vancouver and a bunch more across Canada.

TH – How did you get so adept at rotating?

SC – We had a swimming pool at home.

TH – Whistler Village and Blackcomb didn’t exist at this point, nor the Peak chair or the Harmony Chair. Did it feel like you were in the middle of nowhere?

SC – You know what it was like back then you’d take a shovel hike up to a good spot and build a jump and have fun, so I was in my happy place.

TH -Do you remember any of the emotions before and after the jump?

SC – We had waited for a nice sunny day with fresh snow and at Whistler that can be a while, so I was happy to finally make it happen.

TH -How long were your skis? What kind?

SC – I took up a pair of short skis but they were a little slow for escape velocity so I swapped for a pair of 200 cm Fischer Attacks.

TH – Any memories of the party afterward?

SC – Nope.

TH – The million dollar question – did you land it?

SC – Well I did hit the ground, being a committed gravity user and all. My skis hit first but I was leaning forward and rolled once in the powder and then surprisingly stayed straight and standing after that. I was worried that I’d have to do another take so I was happy when the film guys cheered. Its hard to ski powder with big long skinny skis and no poles after doing my first quadruple so take it easy on me there. I think I had hiked and packed the in run about 7 times that day and thrown a double, a triple and then the quadruple so I was pretty tuckered.

TH – I love the stomp, then somersault, then ski away landing!  Good enough in my books. Thanks so much Steve.

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