Demonstrating aptly why the wildly exciting and competitive sport of skier-cross has been accepted as one of the newest events for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, one slight misstep by four-time Olympian Casey Puckett of Aspen, Colorado, turned Saturday’s Jeep King of the Mountain Skiing & Snowboarding World Professional Championships upside down.
TAOS, New Mexico — Demonstrating aptly why the wildly exciting and competitive sport of skier-cross has been accepted as one of the newest events for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, one slight misstep by four-time Olympian Casey Puckett of Aspen, Colorado, turned Saturday’s Jeep King of the Mountain Skiing & Snowboarding World Professional Championships upside down.
The result was a surprise victory by Sweden’s Lars Lewen and an overhaul of the season-long standings.
More than a thousand race fans lined the Lower Totemoff run at Taos Ski Valley, where tremendous snow conditions and mild temperatures made for prime viewing of the Olympians, world champions and national champions who had gathered to take on one another and the King of the Mountain Series’ notorious Y-cross racecourse. The stakes were especially high, with a share of the $450,000 cash payout, plus $20,000 in bonus cash from John Paul Mitchell Systems and the keys to a new 2007 Jeep Patriot, at stake.
Puckett, the defending world professional champion who recently earned gold at the Winter X Games and is 2-for-2 at The Honda Ski Tour, sailed through his first-round matchup against Enak Gavaggio of France, himself winner of six World Cup titles, a Winter X Games gold medal and four International Free Skiers Association world championships. In the semifinals, he found himself matched against Lewen, a U.S. freeskiing champion and two-time Winter X Games gold medalist who had taken out open qualifier Cody Smith of Spokane, Washington, in the first round. Lewen bested Puckett in a very physical first race, but given the series’ unique two-run elimination format, the two headed to the top for a second matchup. In the second race, Puckett held the lead until coming in on too tight a line into the bank preceding a jump over a 2007 Jeep Wrangler. The compression got the better of Puckett and he found himself performing an inadvertent 360 maneuver over the vehicle before nearly sticking the landing. Instead, he went crashing into the fencing and was forced to end his day prematurely.
“I hadn’t had a problem at any point before that run, and when my legs could not engage, the compression just squashed me,” Puckett said. “I thought I had a chance of landing it, but just couldn’t make it happen. I decided to stay down on the course for a bit to let things calm down and figure out whether I had any injuries. I plan on being ready to go for final race at Telluride.”
Lewen, who also crashed trying to avoid a collision with the fallen Puckett, completed the race and moved into the finals. There he would meet Stanley Hayer of the Czech Republic/Canada, an Olympian who earned a spot in the event as an open qualifier. Hayer defeated fellow open qualifier Klaus Waldner of Austria in the first round before running into two-time World Cup champion Tomas Kraus of the Czech Republic in the semifinals. Hayer lost the first race, but took advantage of the two-run format to oust Kraus and reach the championship heat. Lewen swept Hayer in consecutive races to earn his first Jeep King of the Mountain title. Kraus earned third place based on Puckett’s decision to sit out the consolation heat.
“This was an awesome day of racing, and I’m so happy right now,” Lewen said. “I felt good today, and my skis were really performing well. The course was great, and that turn before the Jeep jump turned out to be very tough. I think I have a shot in Telluride to earn the world professional championship, and now I’m heading back to Sweden to get prepared.”
The women’s competition was equally enthralling, as Ophelie David of France, the defending world professional champion, continued her brilliance in the King of the Mountain Series, where she has five consecutive titles. The Winter X Games gold medalist, seven-time
World Cup titlist, three-time world champion and French national champion earned a bye in the first round before matching up against Magdalena Iljans of Sweden, a six-time World Cup titlist, in the semifinals. Iljans didn’t go down without a fight, shocking David in the first race before succumbing to her rival by a larger time differential in the second race. David would meet Brett Buckles of Steamboat Springs, Colo., a student at the University of Colorado, in the championship heat. Buckles defeated open qualifier Lynn Ott of Bend, Oregon, a Canadian national Champion and seven-time NorAm Cup titlist, in the first round before outdueling open qualifier Meryll Boulangeat of France, a bronze medalist in this year’s Winter X Games, to reach the finals. David defeated Buckles in consecutive races to earn the title and position herself for the season-long crown of world professional champion.
“The course was very difficult today, and it was also short, meaning that getting a really good start was important,” David said. “Early in the day I felt I was not focusing enough and was slightly off-balance, but thankfully I was able to get into a groove. I love this format and enjoy pushing myself to the limit when other racers are on my shoulders.”
The star-studded lineup in Taos competed on the King of the Mountain Series’ exclusive Y-cross racecourse, designed by racers Gavaggio and Lewen as part of the event’s “competitor inspired” design program. The course featured single and double rollers throughout the dual features section, before challenging the athletes with skiercross terrain elements such as banked turns, step-downs, tabletops and a jump over a Jeep vehicle.
The ski-exclusive race at Taos will air on Feb. 18, from noon-1 p.m. on CBS Sports. Each race of the 2006-2007 Skiing & Snowboarding World Professional Championships will air on CBS Sports, with additional broadcast coverage on nationally syndicated television.
Next, the King of the Mountain Series heads to Telluride Ski Resort in Colorado on March 2-3 for the season’s finale, where the world professional champions will be crowned. Men’s and women’s skiing will take place on March 2, followed by men’s and women’s snowboarding on March 3.
Jeep King of the Mountain
Skiing & Snowboarding World Professional Championships
Feb. 10, 2007 — Taos, New Mexico
1. Lars Lewin, Sweden
2. Stanley Hayer, Czech Republic/Canada
3. Tomas Kraus,Czech Republic
4. Casey Puckett, Aspen, Colo.
5. Enak Gavaggio, France
6. Jake Fiala, Frisco, Colo.
7. Cody Smith, Spokane, Wash.
8. Klaus Waldner, Austria
1. Ophelie David, France
2. Brett Buckles, Steamboat Springs, Colo.
3. Magdalena Iljans, Sweden
4. Meryll Boulangeat, France
5. Anik Demers, Truckee, Calif.
6. Lynn Ott, Bend, Ore.
7. Tess Weav
er, Los Angeles, Calif.
1. Casey Puckett, Aspen, Colo.
2. Lars Lewin, Sweden
T3. Tomas Kraus, Czech Republic
T3. Enak Gavaggio, France
T3. Jake Fiala, Frisco, Colo.
1. Ophelie David, France
T2. Brett Buckles, Steamboat Springs, Colo.
T2. Anik Demers, Truckee, Calif.
T2. Magdalena Iljans, Sweden
5. Jenny Owens, Australia