Big Mountain Prodigy

Meet Parkin Costain, a Whitefish teenager who is part of the up-and-coming generation of talented rippers

By Dillon Tabish

Looking back on winter, Parkin Costain has some fond memories.

Launching 360s and backflips off towering cliffs. Descending narrow bands of snow along craggy peaks. Carving turns in some of the most wicked and wild mountains.

Not a bad ski season, especially for a 15-year-old.

The Whitefish native is the latest prodigy to emerge from the slopes of the Flathead Valley in the same Big Mountain bloodline as Tanner Hall, Mitch Gilman, Maggie Voisin and other local ski phenoms.

Earlier this month, Costain placed third against the best teenage freeriders in North America at the de facto national championship event at Grand Targhee Resort in Wyoming. Costain showcased his skills in the 15-18 age division of the big mountain freeriding competition, navigating trees, steeps, cliffs, chutes and gullies with calm, creative and courageous flare.

By landing on the podium at the International Freeskiers and Snowboarders Association North American Junior Freeskiing Competition, Costain put himself in the top 10 rankings for the overall season out of 331 competitors and officially placed himself among the up-and-coming generation of talented rippers.

It seems fitting that one of the best big mountain skiers started out carving turns on the true Big Mountain.

Costain took his first ski turns from his father Pete’s backpack at Whitefish Mountain Resort. By age 2, young Parkin was wobbling in his own skis. Within a couple years, he was sneaking out of his parents’ leash and tearing down runs on his own. By 9, he was glued to the slopes, either racing or freeskiing with an uncommon — and noticeable — skill level.

“He just seemed like a natural,” his father says. “He was one of those kids with such natural turns and pole position.”

He developed his skills alongside a close friend and prominent skiing wunderkind, Voisin. Before they were even teenagers, the two youngsters were well-known on Big Mountain, hucking tricks in the terrain park and zipping down the resort’s advanced terrain with an uncanny ability.

But while Maggie turned into a standout in slopestyle skiing — and eventually became an Olympian for the Sochi Games in 2014 — Parkin was drawn to big mountain freeriding, a different new-school discipline of extreme skiing that sends skiers along big open mountains and through challenging natural terrain. In official competitions, riders are judged on five categories: the quality and difficulty of the line; fluidity; control; technique; and style.

Growing up at Whitefish Mountain Resort and in the valley’s abundant backcountry, Costain had plenty of opportunities to develop the various skills that are needed to survive and thrive in competitions.

“I’ve just always been skiing Big Mountain here or in the backcountry,” he says. “It’s always came more natural than skiing park.”

Whitefish Mountain Resort has a freestyle team, but its emphasis is mostly slopestyle and other freeski competitions. So to train as a true big mountain skier, Costain teamed up with his dad for exciting adventures, whether it was into the Jewel Basin, Glacier National Park or the more difficult sections of Whitefish Mountain Resort, including his two favorite runs, Picture Chutes and East Rim, both double black diamonds.

Being his father and teacher, Pete has also had to look out for his son’s safety, and the two have developed a good repertoire in the mountains. In every terrain they tackle, they review the avalanche conditions. They have also developed a trust among each other. After all, his son is likely the best skier Pete knows.

“If he looks at something and doesn’t hesitate, then I’m fine. But if he sees something and hesitates, I’ll make him rethink,” Pete says.

When he was 9, Costain went to his first big-time event. He did OK, but more importantly, it further solidified his dreams.

“I’ve always wanted to become a skier. That’s all I’ve ever wanted to do,” he says.

The next winter, he won every competition he entered in Canada and around the West.

Last winter, when he was 14, Costain dominated once again and captured the IFSA national championship for the 12-14 age division.

This year, he advanced to the highest level of junior competition, the 15-18 age group. It started off rough — he crashed in his first event and placed 10th in the next event. But instead of being rattled, Costain trusted himself and his skills and kept his cool. Pretty soon he earned a third place and then a fourth place. Conditions across the West were brutal due to low snow, but Costain’s versatility shined. While other skiers who grew up in ideal blue-bird conditions struggled to adapt, Costain responded like a skier who grew up in Montana’s fickle weather patterns.

By the time the national championship arrived, he was 33rd overall in the IFSA rankings.

That’s when he shined brightest.

In the finals, he braved one of the most complex runs of the day, hitting a double cliff with total control that only one other skier successfully landed. He also sliced through a technical section of mountain that wowed the judges while other skiers crashed one after the other.

The remarkable run earned Costain third place and moved him up to 10th in the IFSA rankings.

“It was awesome to see him hold his own this winter,” his father says. “It’s just absolutely amazing.”

Following the season, Costain put together a short film of his action-packed winter. The film is entered in Teton Gravity Research’s contest for best edits, and could land Costain a film deal next winter.

Now 16, Costain is already looking forward to the next snowfall, the next chance to launch higher.

View Costain’s film at http://www.tetongravity.com/video/ski/parkin-costain-2015.

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