The 10th annual Subaru U.S. Freeskiing Nationals touched down in Snowbird, Utah, from March 6-11, raising the bar for big-mountain freeskiing competition.
THE 10TH ANNUAL The 10th annual Subaru U.S. Freeskiing Nationals touched down in Snowbird, Utah, from March 6-11, raising the bar for big-mountain freeskiing competition.
The nationals are part of the Freeskiing World Tour, bringing together the best competitive freeskiers at some of the world's most challenging ski areas: Les Arcs, France; Verbier, Switzerland; Snowbird, Utah; Kirkwood, California and Tignes, France.
Low snow conditions canceled the first two stops in Europe this year, making Snowbird the first stop. Snowbird received approximately nine feet of snow in the several weeks before the event, which rescued the contest from the grip of an unusually low snow season.
Hard snow conditions on the first day of qualifying were improved by two six-inch snowfalls throughout the week, giving the skiers some soft stuff to work with.
The two storms nevertheless wreaked havoc with the event schedule, causing both some qualification and finals rounds to be postponed by a day each time.
Saturday, finals day, was a weather-induced emotional rollercoaster. Swirling clouds clung to the steep slopes of Snowbird's North Baldy, cutting off the view of the judges and visibility for the competitors.
Most of the women's runs got off in the morning, but the men who were ready to start at noon had only seen two skiers go one hour later, and one of them had to re-run due to the fog. Some of the first 10 men sat at the top of the course for nearly three hours in the wind.
Again and again, the clouds rolled in and out, seldom leaving the course with a line of sight from top to bottom. Finally there was a huge hole, but most of the field was caught unprepared and a delay ensued while competitors scrambled to the tram and got themselves to the top. At 4:30, the event was called and two men had not skied.
Event organizers decided to run the last two men Sunday morning, and then continue with a “super final” for the top three women and top 22 men.
For the men, Alta's Drew Tabke tied with Chamonix' Aurelien Ducroz for first, and another Frenchman, Guerlain Chicherit (2006 World Tour champion) third.
On Saturday, Tabke had been sitting in third and like most of the competitors thought that the competition was soon to be over on Saturday afternoon. Drew threw down an imaginative finals line — like everyone he assumed there would be no super-finals run so he pulled out all the stops.
When he learned that the day was not going to complete, "It was the most shocking piece of news I'd ever heard at a contest. I thought I had the job done. I just tried to convince myself that it was a good thing."
Drew's day had already taken a strange turn: about 250 feet into his run, a cloud obscured the judges below and he pulled to a complete stop. "I was still close enough to the starter to yell up to him and have him call the judges." He waited for the clouds and stomped his line, combining three enormous airs, flawless control and blistering speed to take the lead.
Aurelien Ducroz slipped in to first place on Friday and held on to tie, despite stronger competition than ever. "Before maybe there were five but now we are 20 really good skiers. Every year we have to jump higher and higher, even if the snow is not good. But I like that," Aurelien said of the rivalry.
Ducroz put on a demonstration of the French style, with aggressive speed and direct lines. Aurelien hit the upper cliffs so fast that he effectively doubled the air time of some competitors.
Ducroz was one of the two men unable to ski Saturday, so he had to pull off two clean runs Sunday. "I had to ski twice this morning; for the legs and everything it was very hard. But I had a good run so it's good," said Ducroz. Ducroz' family has lived in Argentiere in the Chamonix Valley for many generations.
Chicherit, from Tignes, France, took third despite skiing with a broken neck, sustained rally car racing in the legendary Paris-Dakar. "I didn't have so much confidence after my crash in the Dakar," Chicherit said after his run. "I had six weeks off, and I've only been skiing again for 10 days. I probably lost four or five points on the first run, but if I can stay on the podium I will be happy."
"It's a beautiful day; we have sunshine, an incredible place, an incredible level of competition. It's perfect. I think I will have a very good memory of this comp," said Chicherit.
Craig Garbiel of Kirkwood had outstanding runs and took fourth. Garbiel threw a back flip in the middle of both his runs near "Burke's bush," landing them looking like he had never left the ground.
He then hit the lower cliff line at 50 miles an hour, tying together two cliffs and airing over a large depression in the landing zone, landing into a sweeping left turn. "You've got to hit that at 50 [to clear the depression]. I wanted to do a grab, but I was like, ‘Man I'm going too f—ing fast! So I just kept it tight."
John Witherspoon, who turned 40 two weeks ago, stayed in the hardest field in World Tour history to hang on to fifth place. Spooner found a double air in the upper cliff band with really lethal exposure, and hit the double in the lower rocks with panache. A couple of cliff-top pauses brought down his fluidity scores.
"That was a newbie this morning," Spooner said of the 60-foot double at the top of the course. "I used my super-final line yesterday when I thought it was going to be our last run."
"I almost messed it up; I wanted to air the whole thing. I came into the wrong line at the top, and I had to jimmy down to the next little gap, and by then I didn't have enough speed, so I thought I could double it through there. You only get one super-final, so you have to lay it down extra thick."
Speaking of extra-thick, Kirkwood's Josh Daiek threw a 50-foot back flip in the lower cliffs both days. He added a big 360 and landed the back flip extra clean on Sunday and got himself the Sick Bird Belt Buckle award for the most "spirited" run of the week.
Neal Valiton,18, of Verbier, Switzerland finished 14th, and currently leads the 2007 North Face Young Gun Award competition. Aspen's Nick Devore skied free heeled (that's right, Telemark!) all the way to the super finals sitting in ninth place. Devore blew up on his second air and broke a pole. He tossed the second pole away right by the cameraman at Burke's bush, and did the double air at the bottom without poles.
McMillan best among women
Jackson Hole's Jess McMillan beat out an incredibly strong field and was joined by Jane Somerville Dennis (2nd) and Tanya Christensen on the podium. The women skied similar lines to the men, in a noticeable change from past competitions.
"This is the best of the best," McMillan said of her fellow competitors. "The women are really stepping it up, taking a lot of the airs that the men are taking. It's no longer skiing down and hitting a coup
le of five-footers," said McMillan.
"This is where I can showcase my skiing: go fast, hit big airs, and have fun with it," said Jess. Yesterday was probably one of the better lines I've ever skied. It was flawless and I was able to beat the field by four points, something I've never done before," McMillan beamed.
McMillan's airs were getting all skied out, so in the super-finals she took it down a notch and tried to come in clean. She had a bobble-free run and held on to win.
"Chainsaw Jane" Somerville had a lot to say about the spirit of the comp; "I think there is something here that we haven't felt in past seasons. We are honoring our sport, honoring our dead friends and relatives. We are as concerned about each other as we are about throwing down a good line. I want to spend as much time with these people as I can, and the camaraderie is just incredible."
Somerville had to re-run on Saturday (after waiting two hours for her first run) and spent a combined total of about four hours at the top of the course. "Four hours not talking to anyone, if anyone wants to think about that — think about spending multiple hours waiting to ski. Mentally my toughness is something I've graduated to. I know skiing down here isn't the worst thing that will happen to me, so I take it with a grain of salt."
Christensen took third place in her first World Tour event, having competed for four years at Crested Butte's U.S. extremes. "At first I didn't take it so seriously, my friends kind of pushed me into it. I tended to crash or I would do a pretty easy line because I was so nervous," she said.
Christensen admits she was a little intimidated when she saw who she was up against. "They're such good skiers and so confident, it's intimidating. But once you leave the starting gate, it's just you and the mountain, and it's about having fun," she said.
A lesson from the Spoonman:
Having just turned 40, John Witherspoon's perspective on "why they do it" is particularly notable:
"I was going to kind of call this my last one, but man I love this game too much. I'm going to have to sneak back for some more.
"It's so much fun going to all these awesome mountains, and without even talking to anybody ahead of time, all your buddies are there! It's like a pre-planned vacation with all your buddies, and then we go to all the gnarliest spots and we all sit back and watch each other show off, man, it's a fun lifestyle. And it's such a great family feel to it all, I really don't want to stop doing it."
Subaru World Tour US Freeskiing Nationals
Snowbird Ski & Summer Resort
March 11, 2007
ATHLETE NAME BIB HOME RESORT COUNTRY Total Run 3 Total Run 2 Total Run 1 Final Results
Jess McMillan 14 Jackson Hole Mountain Resort USA 31.6 34.4 28.4 94.4
Jane Somerville 60 Aspen/Snowmass USA 29.2 29.4 30.2 88.8
Tanya Christensen 106 Crested Butte USA 29.8 29.6 26 85.4
ATHLETE NAME BIB HOME RESORT COUNTRY Total Run 3 Total Run 2 Total Run 1 Final Results
Drew Tabke 30 Mauna Kea USA 39.4 43.4 36.8 119.6
Aurelien Ducroz 64 Chamonix FRA 40 41.2 38.4 119.6
Guerlain Chicherit 1 Tignes FRA 40.8 44.2 34.4 119.4
Craig Garbiel 6 Kirkwood CA USA 42.2 41.2 34 117.4
John Witherspoon 95 Jay Peak USA 39 39 35.4 113.4
Jack Nelson 36 Alta USA 37.8 38.4 34.6 110.8
Matty Richard 2 whistler CAN 40.8 37 32.4 110.2
Brady Smedsrud 70 Red Lodge USA 42 32.8 34.6 109.4
Josh Daiek 28 Kirkwood CA USA 40.2 33.6 35 108.8
Olivier Meynet 4 Bellevaux FRA 44.8 27.8 35 107.6
Justin Modroo 38 Red Lodge USA 39 37 31 107
Brett Crabtree 52 Whistler CAN 38.8 35.4 32.6 106.8
Drew Stoecklein 9 Alta USA 34 37.4 33.8 105.2
Neal Valiton 33 Verbier SWZ 39.2 32.4 33 104.6
Jean Michel Gouadain 40 &nb
sp; Pyrenees FRA 28.8 37.2 37.4 103.4
Cliff Bennett 10 SNOWBIRD UT USA 39.6 28.6 33.6 101.8
Tyler Knoles 119 Snowbird USA 25.8 36.6 31.8 94.2
Nick DeVore 96 Aspen USA 21.6 39.2 33.2 94
Fred Mooney 25 Winter Park USA 19.8 37 31.4 88.2
John Mullins 44 Kirkwood CA AUS 16 38.6 30.8 85.4
Joel Jacques 21 whistler CAN 15 37.6 32.4 85
Jesse Bryan 73 Snowbird USA TDQ 40.2 32.8 73