Words by Greg Fitzsimmons
Bluebird skies, a bright sun, and soft, spring-like snow (as the days progressed) were the on tap for both days of The North Face Chilean Freeskiing Championships in El Colorado, Chile. An international field of 62 competitors representing 11 different countries stepped up to the starting gates atop Max’s Face on El Colorado’s side-country-2,500 vertical feet of open powder fields, massive cliff bands, and technical rocky outcroppings-and competitors, both men and women, consistently upped the bar throughout the competition.
Freeskiing World Tour Competition Director Brian Barlowe said, “I’ve never been involved with a venue that’s more perfect than Max’s Face for freeskiing.” And head judge, Jim Jack added, “These skiers are making history this weekend. Freeskiers have wanted to compete on this terrain for years, and these guys and gals are the very first to actually do it.”
Day 1 (Qualifiers):
The ladies lead things off early on Friday morning, and it quickly became clear that the entire field of 19 women were ready to throw down. Big names from across the globe turned out in force, and did not disappoint. Jackson Hole’s Angel Collinson didn’t miss a beat from last year’s Freeskiing World Tour Championship and lofted a 20-footer cleanly to her feet en route to qualifying in third place. Robin McElroy of Squaw Valley celebrated her birthday with a line that incorporated fast, Super G, “Arne Backstrom” turns and a number of airs as she skied her way to fourth place. And, atop the women’s field, Clare Burns put together a creative, smooth, and well thought-out line as she snaked through the “Maze” midway through Max’s Face, and Jess McMillan navigated the exposed terrain with style and added a few big, fast airs for an exclamation point and Sickbird nomination, ending the qualifier day in first and second place, respectively.
Seamlessly, the MSI crew transitioned from the women to the men, and things proceeded to get weird as the guys launched, weaved, and stomped their way down Max’s Face. The first Sickbird nomination for the men’s field came when Kent Hyden combined multiple airs throughout his run and threw a massive backflip off the natural booter at the finish line. Recently of age, Johnny Collinson got the crowd to their feet as he cleanly launched a 40-footer midway through Max’s Face and stomped a 20-footer at the bottom between two large boulders. “Today was super sick,” said Collinson. “I was a little scared of the flat landing at the bottom, but it worked out, and I had fun with it.” Drew Stoecklein, whose training regime consisted of a rafting trip through Alaska that accessed some pristine peaks, snagged another Sickbird nomination for his run-fast and aggressive; Fernie’s Aaron Schmidt, who kept the mood light atop the venue and reminded competitors that this was all about having fun, skied a line true to form: fun and entertaining (probably laughing and enjoying the entire descent). And then the big guns came out when Griffin Post, hometown hero Chopo Diaz, Julien Lopez, and Drew Tabke dropped in. Each drew creative and intimidating lines on the white Chilean canvas and rolled into the finish area to cheers from the crowd (none larger than Chopo’s). With his name towards the bottom of Day 1’s start list, 2010 FWT World Champion Lars Chickering Ayers decided to make it a workday and manned a camera on the venue. Even though he was on the clock for most of the day’s festivities, Chickering Ayers proved to be multitalented as he skied one of the day’s best lines: flying through “The Maze” without hesitation, linking a big double-up cliff drop, and stomping a massive air to call it a productive day.
The vibe throughout El Colorado was mellow on Friday night as the competitors kicked back, studied their lines for Saturday, and iced sore shins in preparation for Saturday’s Final. From top to bottom the skiers were all super encouraging, further proving that the Freeskiing World Tour is one large family, albeit a crazy, cliff-hucking family. Atop the venue friends were passing on words of encouragement and pre-run advice; at the bottom, skiers were smashing knuckles, passing bottles of wine, and laughing about how insane the venue really is.
“This is one of the best venues we have ever had,” says freeskiing legend Julien Lopez. “I wasn’t really sure what line I was going to ski before stepping up to the start. So, I went with the biggest option. The cliffband in the middle had some rock on the takeoff so I had to ollie over it, which made the air way bigger than I was thinking. Then, the bottom apron had some good snow before the takeoff, and I landed on my feet.”
(Nota Bene: Heavy hitters from both the men’s and women’s fields threw down big, entertaining lines with a few minor, requisite hiccups that prevented them form moving on to tomorrow’s final. But, Aspen’s Jacqui Edgerly and Squaw Valley’s Jackie Paaso pulled no punches as the two women t-ed up cliffs that a lot of the male competitors opted to schuss past. And, even after a minor hip-check, Snowbird’s Chuck Mumford was the lone competitor to venture into a long, narrow straight line on the far looker’s right of the venue, garnering hoots and hollers from his fellow competitors and the large crowd of Chileans that gathered to watch the event.)