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Bennett, Chernoff tops at Telluride Freeskiing Open

Bennett, Chernoff tops at Telluride Freeskiing OpenTELLURIDE, Colorado – Snowbird's Cliff Bennett and Crested Butte's Carrie Jo Chernoff emerged from talented fields to win the Subaru Telluride Freeskiing Open this weekend.

The event was the first big-mountain freeskiing event ever to grace Telluride, taking advantage of alpine and sub-alpine terrain accessed from the relatively new Prospect Bowl lift (lift 12), the highest lift on the looker's right of Telluride.

Competitors and event organizers loved the true big-mountain venues the area provided, despite a well-below-average snowpack. The athletes hiked into the competition venues, a five-minute hike on Friday to Cowboy Chute. The run followed a jagged line of cliffs and protruding rocks running across the fall line from looker's right to left, punctuated by peppery gaps that allowed for airing this way or that. The snow was mostly hard wind buff, with some areas of sugar where the pack got shallow.

Semifinals day saw some big wipeouts but no injuries. Chris Tatsuno of Boulder, Colorado, received the highest run score of the day with a 20-foot air then straight-lined into another 15-footer out into the apron, where he finished with speed and flair. Tatsuno took home the Sickbird award for the weekend. The award goes to the skier laying it all on the line.

Overnight, there were 87 mile-per-hour winds, blowing down several trees at the ski area, and the weather was overcast and threatening to snow. The venue was in the super-wide Mountain Quail couloir that lies to the looker's right of the black Iron Cliffs of Palmyra Peak, a burly 25-minute hike from chair 12 on the windswept ridge. After a brief opportunity to enhance line score in the rocks at the upper right of the course, skiers came down the wide couloir to the looker's left and entered a treed area with numerous cliff faces called the Nice Face. The Nice Face area provided most of the high-scoring moves and being close to the judges was the showcase area for most athletes.

After course inspection, women's field leader Chernoff said, 'I'm not that psyched about the snow – it's either hard pack or punchy where all the airs are.'

Bennett took advantage of the entire course, setting his run apart from those of all the other men. Many men were dropping into the rocks high at the top, but most were skiing hidden behind a large rock tower, allowing their speed and composure when they appeared again to tell the judges 'I ripped it!'

Bennett aired off the wind lip at the top of that tower, directly toward the audience, then took another air off another wind row, making a big right airplane turn into the fall line. With the flat light and wind at the top of the course, the sequence made a powerful statement that Bennett was going to own the day. Bennett completed his run making very fast time through the Nice Face, but also hitting a couple of the larger features.

Bennett attributed his success in part to an alpine racing childhood at Colorado's Eldora Ski Area, one of the windier places on earth. 'Days like today, the flat light shows who has a lot of time on their skis. Lots of times growing up, my races were on days like this – flat light and wind – you learn to deal with it. From racing downhill, I'm used to sticking big fast air onto hardpacked landings.'

Bennett's first run put him in the lead, but just to prove it on his second run in falling snow, he hit the top airs just as hard, taking plenty of chances in the bad visibility as he came screaming into the Quail at 60. He turned it down a bit at the bottom, stood up, and when he crossed the line standing up, it was clear who had won.

Fred Mooney of Winter Park, Colorado, took second with an aggressive starting air off the large cornice, and chopping cleanly through several big features on the Nice Face. With a severe flu and almost no voice, the former moguls skier was ecstatic about holding on to second place in his second-ever big-mountain comp. Walker Willey from Salt Lake City took third, edging a tightly packed top eight men. The slightly small men's field was chock full of young Salt Lake City area athletes, making for intense competition. Judging by their antics, they aren't spending Sundays at Temple either.

The big story this year is the changes to judging emphasis on the U.S. tour. Judges are trying to encourage fluidity and control by rewarding lighter lines skied more quickly and with no errors. Hand in hand with this approach has been fractional line scoring, where the panel will add .2 points for jumping a rock on what would otherwise be a six line, for example. 'The competitors can build their line, all the features on the mountain are worth something' said judge Rob Greener. 'I think it's a lot more consistent.'

The biggest change in practical terms is that the 'Aggressiveness' score will suffer greatly now if a skier pauses at the top of a big hit, even if it is in a nine line. Previously, only 'Fluidity' would suffer for a pause in a threatening area.

Also with the change in emphasis, the most subjective category of 'Form and Technique' can also get hit hard with a pause or touchdown. For the audience, the judging is pushing the sport toward a more dynamic and safer show.

Chernoff's consistency pays off
Crested Butte's Chernoff of came off a third-place finish at her home hill to take top honors in Telluride. Aggressive and consistent skiing gave Chernoff a 7.6 point lead over Lynn Kennen going into finals, and Chernoff knew what she had to do.

'It's a competition, and you have to push it when it's necessary but pull back and just stand up when that's all you need' Chernoff said.

Skiing conservatively in her own eyes, Chernoff nevertheless extended her lead in the final two runs, finishing with a 13.4-point lead over Telluride local Galena Gleason, who greased her second-run finals day to squeak by Kennen into second place.

Returning to competition after breaking her leg in 2004 at the Colorado Freeride Series at Snowmass, Gleason was happy to be in the company of her peers.

'The level of skiing for the women has taken a major step up in the last two years' she said. 'A line that got me fourth at Crested Butte in 2004 this year was skied by 15 women. … I feel like I'm finally back to the level where I left off, and it's a real honor to be up there with these women.'

Kennen found her more difficult first run on Friday didn't pay off. 'My easier run scored better yesterday, so today I just skied something I knew I could ski fast and clean' she said. Kennen had a small touchdown on her second run, which landed her in third.

With the contest going so well despite the lack of snow, all parties are looking forward to the future of this event. This was a true, open big-mountain venue, and in a better year many other lines are possible. Using previously closed terrain may lead to increased terrain being open on a daily basis, as we have seen with terrain at Snowmass since the inception of the Colorado Freeride Series there.

Bobby Murphy, executive director of resort services at Telluride, hinted that this might be possible. 'I want to thank the Forest Service for pushing us to utilize this terrain' Murphy said. 'It's all in our permit area, it just costs a lot to keep the snow safe out here. We need an event like this as a focus to work on getting this open and better understanding the snowpack out here.'

Subaru Telluride Freeskiing Open

Women Bib First name Last name Home mountain Day 1 Run 1 Superfinal Total

1 33 Carrie Jo Chernoff Crested Butte 68.6 30.8 28 127.4
2 56 Galena Gleason Telluride 57.6 28.8 27.6 114
3 8 Lynn Kennen Alpine Meadows 61 30 22.4 113.4
4 36 Tanya Christensen Crested Butte 54.2 29 29.8 113
5 31 Iris Noack Sliverthorne 56.2 33 20.8 110
6 50 Nancy Elrod Girdwood 56.2 27.6 26 109.8
7 43 Kim Havell Telluride 54.8 26.6 27 108.4
8 52 Michele Manning Alta 56.4 16.8 26.8 100
9 44 Katie Williamson Mammoth Lakes 56.4 18.4 0 74.8

Men Bib First name Last name Home mountain Day 1 Run 1 Superfinal Total
1 9 Cliff Bennett Snowbird 65.4 37.2 35.2 137.8
2 12 Fred Mooney Winter Park 68 30.6 32.8 131.4
3 29 Walker Willey Salt Lake City 63 31.4 34.8 129.2
4 15 Robert W. Gray Jr. Sandy 61.8 30.4 36 128.2
5 49 Bill Buchbauer Telluride 62.6 31 32 125.6
6 30 Drew Tabke Alta 63.6 22.6 39.2 125.4
7 23 Forrest Coots Mt Shasta 62.8 29.4 31.2 123.4
8 18 Brandon Wilkinson The Canyons 66 23.6 28.6 118.2
9 17 Drew Billington Snowbird 67 19.2 29.8 116
10 16 Tyler Knoles Snowbird 57.6 33.8 24.4 115.8
11 58 Walker Tatum Telluride 59 25.6 26.2 110.8
12 51 Kris Knockendoffel Grand Junction 61.6 25.8 23 110.4
13 45 Garrett Russell Mammoth Lakes 60.6 28.2 18.4 107.2
14 48 Larry Segal Squaw Valley 57.6 28.4 16.4 102.4
15 4 Kenjiro Matsuo Tokyo/Alta 60.4 25.2 14.8 100.4
16 41 Devin Carrick Telluride 58.2 26.2 84.4
17 19 Todd Francis Park City 64.6 19.4 84
18 37 Doug Evans Louisville 56.2 27 83.2
19 13 Chris Tatsuno Sun Valley 56.6 22.6 79.2
20 20 David Wintzer Park City 55.6 21 76.6
21 3 Charlie Gaylord Snowmass 57 15.8 72.8
22 32 Ryan Brennan Telluride 57 13 70
23 25 Jared Lynch-Gilbert Alta 57.6 0 57.6

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