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Telluride freeskiing: Somerville, Coirier rule

TELLURIDE, Colorado — Despite dicey snow conditions and scarce hard-packed snow, the 2007 Subaru Telluride Freeskiing Open featured a top-notch athlete pack and some terrific skiing.  
    With a stacked field on the men’s side that included David Lamb, Cliff Bennet, Tyson Bolduc, Canadian phenom Joel Jacques and last year’s Sick Bird belt winner Chris Tatsuno, this competition was all about technique, as each skier made the 30-minute hike to the top of Prospect Bowl, where a killer line between ice, rock and snow separated the best. Friday’s competition featured outstanding performances by Griffin Post, Adrian Coirier, Bolduc and Tatsuno.    
    In Saturday’s finals, after making the 1,500-foot descent into the finish corral, with the women’s leaders Crystal Wright and Jess McMillan both being taken out with falls at the bottom, Jane “Saw” Somerville of Aspen took her first win of the year. Second place went to Kate Olson, also from Aspen, and Andria Huskinson of Alta, Utah, took third.
    “I used a different technique the last two days,” Somerville said. “I skied conservative, but strong. I realize that sometimes taking a gamble, you could win big time, but I’m also learning that conservative, clean, difficult runs linked together could also add up to a winning score.”
On the men’s side, an amazing performance by Frenchman Coirier moved him into first, six points ahead of Chason Russell, who took second, and Post, who placed third.  The tour heads to Squaw Valley for competitions beginning Wednesday.
    “I’m here to win the series,” Coirier said. “I knew I was six points ahead going into the final, so my run was not that big. I skied fast but I didn’t take any risk. I wanted to get to the bottom. I’ve never won any competition!”
Although the fields for both men and women are growing, and fans are taking note of the growing interest, money and sponsorship still seems hard to come by for big mountain.
    “It’s because it’s hard for this sport to become a spectator sport,” said Tatsuno, who was third in the competition on Friday. “The venues are located on the top of bowls, not at the bottom of chairlifts. Anyone who actually makes the effort to come watch is forever hooked. It’s an awesome thing to see.”
    While the men’s talent pool is deep, the women’s ranks are still in the building stage.
    “The women’s field is getting better,” Tatsuno said. “Before there were like five women who crushed everything and the field just fell off from there. Now more women are coming out and giving it a shot. They are looking more confident than ever and the field is getting deeper.”
    With 42 men and only 17 women making the trek up to Prospect Bowl for the final day of the competition, it’s clear that the women have a ways to go. Another trend to note is the number of former alpine ski racers who have been entering big-mountain competitions. Tatsuno, Lamb and Bennet are former ski racing talent who have made the leap, quite literally, over to freeskiing.
    “If you can bash through gates at 40 miles an hour,” Tatsuno said, “then you can certainly try this!”

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