Steady rising: Mac Forehand is back on his skis and ready to ride
© Brian Nevins
The rising phenom was just getting started when he was sidelined by injury last season. Now, back on his skis, Mac is poised to upend the status quo of freeskiing, in contests and beyond.
It’s early October at Saas Fe, a sprawling, glaciated mountain in the Swiss Alps. The fabled resort operates nearly year-round and each autumn, it’s a mecca for high level skiers and snowboarders who are eager to get their jumping legs back under them before the winter contest circuit begins. Mac Forehand, the Connecticut-born, Southern Vermont local who burst onto the World Cup scene in 2019 and took the overall title, the prestigious Crystal Globe, is casually destroying the early season park’s jib lines, his skiing looking as effortless as ever. He hits a few jumps, posts up on a knuckle and films his friends. It’s been nine months since Mac has been on snow and it’s clear—even when watching his Saas-Fe clips he’s posted on Instagram—how good he feels to be back.
Mac honed his two plank skills on the hardpack of New England. He started skiing at Stratton Mountain in Vermont when he was around three years old, driving up on weekends with his family, his parents incredibly supportive of his affinity for the alpine. He started competing on the weekend race team before joining his sister in the mogul field, navigating the bumps in USSA events, and further developing lightning-fast reflexes and quick response on his skis. But the park was where Mac really found his rhythm. “I just always had so much more fun going into the park, being more creative and having a more free flow state of mind,” Mac explains. When he was in eighth grade, he joined the freeski program at Stratton Mountain School where his abilities continued to escalate.
During his junior year at SMS, when Mac was only 17 years old, he capped off his rookie year on the World Cup circuit by becoming the overall slopestyle champion of the 2019 FIS Freeski tour. “The season before I won the Crystal Globe, I won the NorAm Tour, and that got me automatic starts to all the slopestyle World Cups. I was just kind of expecting to do mediocre, like maybe make some finals, and then I made finals in the first event of the season. I was like, ‘Maybe I can do well.’ My first run [in finals], I fell, and my second run I was super nervous but I ended up landing it perfectly and got second.”
The way that Mac talks about his success in competitions is nonchalant and humble, like becoming one of the world’s best skiers before graduating from high school is something he totally appreciates, but doesn’t want to get hung up on—because have you seen what his friends are doing? He gets just as stoked on their success as his own and eagerly extolls their accomplishments. It’s clear that his love of skiing comes first. Watching videos of the East Coaster, whether social media posts, competition runs, or a notorious game of SLVSH from a few years back, his bag of tricks is never-ending. Mac is fluent in making the most technical tricks look casual, and his rail game—nurtured in the renowned parks of Carinthia at Mount Snow—is mind-blowing, a hallmark of growing up in the Northeast where what the mountains lack in stature, they make up for in creative freestyle features. “I definitely think coming from the East Coast helps,” he says, when asked about his plethora of jib tricks, “We don’t have the best jumps. They have kind of flat landings and are kind of icy, so whenever I can’t jump, I’m just hitting rails and learning new rail tricks.” But it’s more than just the circumstances of New England winter conditions, Mac is constantly challenging himself. He spins left naturally, but he’s got tons of right tricks in his arsenal, too.
Mac’s preference for complex tricks is apparent in his slope runs. His winning run at the 2019 Grand Prix at Mammoth reads like an excerpt from a technical glossary of freeskiing—it included a left 270 frontside switch up back 270, frontside switch up to frontside switch up back 270, left double seven safety, a right front 630 off a pole jam to switch right 540 Japan, and a right double twelve to a switch left double fourteen on the bottom two jumps. While his contest runs are highly technical, it’s Mac’s creativity that has been a key to not only podium finishes, but also to keeping things fresh and fun when competing. “I like putting it together, trying to figure out my run-in practice,” explains Mac. “Sometimes I struggle with trying to figure it out, but then a switch in my brain just turns on and I can figure out my rhythm in the course. Putting together a full run is the best feeling in the world. Having that rush of adrenaline at the end of the run, it’s crazy.” Style is paramount, too, especially as trick progression climbs higher and higher every season. “I do a double sixteen with a blunt grab—you cross and grab tail of your ski. And then I learned a switch dub twelve mute a couple years ago. I grab it a little bit differently and I think that helps boost my scores because I’m grabbing longer and higher. I don’t like to do easy grabs in my tricks, I like to switch it up as much as I can. I just like to be creative with it.”
Coming off his championship year on the FIS contest circuit, Mac had plenty of momentum to build on for the 2019-20 season. Things started early. He headed over to Italy for a big air, but didn’t place, so he set his sights on the Visa Big Air in Atlanta, GA in December. “I had never done an American city big air, so it was pretty insane to do it in a baseball stadium,” Mac says. “I have a lot of family down south and they all came out to watch qualifiers, so I was like, I just have to lace my run. I didn’t land my first jump, I landed my second jump, and qualified third into finals. I was so hyped before finals—I feel like I got a little bit too hyped—and it got kind of cold and the snow got harder and faster. We didn’t have that much time to train before finals started. I hit the jump switch first hit. I was the first one to go and I did a switch five. It was stupid. I should have just done a straight air. I went way too big, over-rotated a little bit and when I landed, I felt a pop in my knee.” While Mac was able to get up and ski away, his knee didn’t feel right. The physical therapist on site recommended that he withdraw from the rest of the comp. Mac would find out later on he had torn his ACL, a season-ending injury that required surgery and months of rehab—but when he talks about that night in Atlanta, his easy-going and unpretentious outlook shines. “[Getting injured] was definitely a bummer, but I was pretty hyped because a kid on my team, Alex Hall, ended up winning the big air, so watching that was pretty insane.” Mac is no doubt driven—it’s apparent in his skiing, even with his relaxed style—but his pure love of being on his skis and sharing that with those around him is fundamental to his experience.
Last January, Mac had knee surgery in Vail, Colorado. “The surgeon, he’s one of the best for ACLs and he has such good hopes for me. After I got surgery, he was like, ‘Your knee is going to be so strong for the next season. It’s even stronger than what your ACL was before.’” Then began the process of recovery and rehab. “It was really hard,” admits Mac. “I’ve had injuries in the past, but I haven’t had anything that bad. It’s a long recovery. It takes nine months until you can ski again. I was really bummed for sure; I’ve never taken that much time off snow. But I think that actually built a fire in me to want to go back and ski as much as I can this season.” Mac missed the X Games—the second year he was invited and the second year he couldn’t compete due to getting hurt (he had a more minor scapula injury in 2019). But then at the next event on the schedule, the Calgary World Cup in mid-February, everyone was sent home after finals due to the pandemic, and the rest of the contest season was put on hold. While there’s never a good time for an injury, a small silver lining of the shortened season and unprecedented global situation was that Mac was given time to really focus on getting stronger. “I just worked my ass off pretty much the entire time I was out,” he says. He was doing PT at SMS post-surgery, but when the pandemic lockdown began, he had to put things on pause. He stayed sane by filming his friends hike rails locally (socially distanced, of course) because “Going out and being with them and seeing them ski, that got me really hyped,” he says. Once it was safe to do so, Mac started working out with a physical therapist in Killington, VT. “That guy helped me so much. I got so much stronger.” And then, after graduating from high school, he made the move out to Park City, Utah, snagging a condo with friend and Red Bull teammate Cody Laplant, where they could take advantage of the US Team facilities, as well as the prolific single-track trails in the area. “I’ve just been trying to get as strong as I can for the season,” Mac says of the summer. “The US Team headquarters is ten minutes from where I’m staying, so we go every day. I’m a big mountain biker, too, and mountain biking out west is unreal. It’s so fun. I’m trying to keep it as easy as I can on my knee, so I’ve been doing cross-country stuff mostly, just having a blast.”
Looking toward the season, he’s excited to explore Alta and cash in on some Wasatch Range powder days. “I have a pair of powder skis that I used at home a little bit last year at the beginning of the season. We had like a two-foot day and it was sick for the East Coast, but it wasn’t anything like what they have out west. So, I’m pretty excited.” He is looking forward to getting in the backcountry, too, something he hasn’t done before. “I want to get a touring set up and do that kind of stuff. A lot of my friends in Utah have sleds, so hopefully I can get out to shoot with them and go sledding in Guardsman Pass and build jumps. That would be so fun.” Now with school wrapped, Mac is taking a gap year to focus on skiing. He has big goals and plenty of direction in what he wants to accomplish. “It’s my dream to drop a part at the end of the season—some urban shots, some backcountry shots,” he adds. But it will have to fit in with his contest schedule, which is, of course, a huge focus for him. The Olympic qualifying process starts in 2021 and earning one of the four spots to compete in slopestyle and big air is definitely on Mac’s mind. “They’ll decide two spots for the American team at the end of the season and then next year, they’ll decide two more spots right before the Olympics,” he explains. “I definitely want to try to do as well as I can this year so I’m not stressing so much next year. I try not to stress about it, but I definitely have an opportunity to go. So, I think I just have to have fun this year and just do my thing, like I did two years ago when I did so well.”
Listening to Mac talk about the Olympics, recovery from his injury, and future aspirations, his perspective is focused yet grounded, deeply rooted in enjoying time on his skis. “I feel like people take it too seriously, almost, and that’s the one thing you don’t want to do when you’re freeskiing cause it’s free-skiing. You want to do your own thing. You started doing it from having fun in the park. We’re kind of like the outcasts, almost, because everyone is a mogul skier or a racer, so with freeskiing, it’s about creativity. I think that’s what's so cool about contests bringing back the cool courses—it brings more creativity to the sport.”
But back to Saas-Fe. Back to Mac’s first time on his skis since Atlanta. Back to where he wants to be, riding with his friends. “I think I was more excited than nervous,” he says when talking about getting back on snow. “I knew I wasn’t going to be able to hit jumps really, it’s more like my back to snow camp.” He’s been regimented about his routine. Two days on snow, one day off, PT every day—continuing to build strength and get ready for not only this season, but the seasons to come. “It’ll all be worth it for the season coming, and in the future, too,” Mac says during a down day. “I have really, really high hopes for how my knee’s going to be in the future.” Watching him ski, you wouldn’t know he had taken any time off, though he’s carefully pacing himself. “I think it’s better to take it slow now and get ready for the rest of the season,” he adds. And his stoke is high—per usual. “I get to watch all my friends hit the big jumps, too. It is definitely not the worst thing to go on the knuckle and watch them chuck. It’s pretty cool.”
Knee injuries are pretty common in skiing; so many top athletes have come back stronger from a torn knee, so Mac has had support from his peers and pros in the industry when it comes to returning to competing. “I’m definitely a little bit nervous, but everyone that I have talked to that has gone through the exact same injury has been like, ‘Be confident and you’re going to be fine.’ The more nervous you are, the worse it’s going to get, so think of the upside of it. Take it slow, chill in the beginning, start feeling comfortable again and then go right back into it, like nothing ever happened.”
Tomorrow, as long as the weather cooperates, Mac will head back on hill, back to the park, filled with the stoke of finally getting to be on his skis again. And that is just Mac. He loves skiing. He loves skiing with his friends. This is at the center of everything he does and it’s the reason that he’s poised to raise the bar in freeskiing in the coming years—in contests, in the streets, in the backcountry—wherever he wants to take things, likely a mix of it all.
“My first day back, just being able to go out and turn and feel my edges under my feet again was so sick. It felt insane,” Mac beams. “It makes you remember the little things, just going out and skiing and not even hitting rails—it’s just so much fun.”
You can now check out Mac in Red Bull’s latest Red Bull Winter Edition AR Game and play for a chance to win some awesome prizes.