By Chris Casula
BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. — The best freeskiers on the planet unleashed an aerial assault on both the slopestyle course and the superpipe in the Winter Dew Tour Nike Open semifinals Friday. To the delight of the competitors and spectators alike, not a cloud was to be seen on this day, and with ideal conditions, those who managed to survive qualifications faced off with the pre-qualified athletes.
Heading into Friday’s action, it was really anyone's guess who would advance to the finals in slopestyle, as the gap in ability in the men's field is razor thin. Not unlike Wednesday's qualifying round, the first handful of riders to tackle the course struggled to put together high-caliber runs top to bottom. However, as the midway point of the first runs approached, you could sense a collective sigh of relief as rider after rider began to execute their respective runs to near perfection.
It seemed but only a short time ago that riders putting dub 10s and 12s to their feet on their last hit were guaranteed podium finishes, let alone a berth in the finals. That was certainly not the case Friday, and even those skiers tossing back-to-back doubles on the last two jumps were not guaranteed a slot in Sunday's final. One such athlete was Breckenridge local, Banks Gilberti. Banks, one of only a few skiers with the cojones (creativity?) to attack the wallride feature, stomped a left dub-flat 9 into a switch left dub-rodeo 10 and still found himself on the wrong side of the cut-off.
With only nine tickets to the finals up for grabs, it was practically inevitable that some perennial favorites would find themselves in the unenviable position of being ousted early. One such casualty was Sammy Carlson, who not only placed third at last year's Nike Open, but also is the reigning X Games Gold medalist. Other notable skiers eliminated this afternoon included Jossi Wells, Elias Ambuhl, Jacob Wester, James Woods, and the style-master himself, Phil Casabon.
As the first run drew to a close, The Man of Many Nicknames, Tom Wallisch, called his drop and proceeded to set down an absolutely Wallischian run. Tom set the bar with a lofty score of 92.50, which proved ultimately too much for the other athletes to match. As an honest to God diehard fan of freeskiing, I found myself just shaking my head in disbelief at Tom's ability to make incredibly difficult tricks look effortless.
"The rails today are a little sticky, and unfortunately I wasn't able to do exactly what I wanted to do up top, but luckily I was scored well,” Tom said, when asked about his run. He added, "The thing I'm most stoked about is just linking up those switch dub tens at the end. I did back-to-back switch left to switch right with a kicked out Japan. So, it's just nice to finally do those in a contest in a pressure-on situation.”
It's scary to think what Tom, who already holds one of the highest scores in Dew Tour history, dating to his win at Snowbasin last year, might achieve if he manages to clean up his rails up top on Sunday.
Rounding out the top three were The Norwegian Viking Andreas Hatveit, and the only skier here to earn a spot in both pipe and slope finals, Gus Kenworthy. The nine advancing riders from the absolutely fierce semifinals will bump heads on Sunday with last year's Dew Tour Cup champion Bobby Brown, and first and second runners up respectively, Russ Henshaw and Alex Schlopy, who pre-qualified for the finals.
Later in the afternoon, the pipe semifinals went down and the sizable crowd that gathered at the base of the 602-foot monstrosity was treated to nothing less than world class skiing.
Taking the top spot today was 16-year-old Torin Yater Wallace, the reigning X Games silver medalist. Breckenridge team rider and the 2009 Alpha Dawg Rookie of the Year winner, Duncan Adams, was hot on Torin's heels, finishing with a more than respectable 86.0. Duncan, best known for his entirely unique, switch-hit-laden pipe run displayed nearly unmatched execution, and also managed to up the technical difficulty as well as his amplitude; two aspects of his performance that have previously come under scrutiny. Of those riders who competed in Thursday's qualifier, only Nils Lauper of Switzerland managed to earn a coveted spot in Saturday's final.
Other notable finalists include: Justin Dorey, Tucker Perkins, Matt Margetts, and David Wise, all of whom have vast primetime pipe contest experience. The top-nine finishers from Friday’s pipe semifinal will gear up for a showdown with Simon Dumont, and the French technicians, teammates Thomas Krief and reigning X Games gold medalist, Kevin Rolland, in the finals Saturday.
So, now it's showtime… over the next two days, winners will be crowned, and the points earned will go a long ways toward determining who will ultimately hoist the Dew Tour Cups.
Stay tuned to Powder.com for coverage of Saturday’s superpipe finals.
Friday, Winter Dew Tour, at Breckenridge
Men’s Ski Slopestyle Semifinals
1. Tom Wallisch – 92.50
2. Andreas Hatveit – 90.67
3. Gus Kenworthy – 88.33
4. Nick Goepper – 87.50
5. Jamieson Irvine – 86.83
6. Chris Logan – 85.67
7. Alexis Godbout – 85.17
8. PK Hunder – 84.83
9. Joss Christensen – 83.83
*Pre-qualified for finals: Bobby Brown, Russ Henshaw and Alex Schlopy.
Men’s Ski Superpipe Semifinals
1. Torin Yater-Wallace 88.00
2. Duncan Adams 86.00
3. Matt Margetts 85.00
4. Gus Kenworthy 84.25
5. David Wise 84.00
6. Noah Bowman 83.50
7. Nils Lauper 83.25
8. Tucker Perkins 82.25
9. Justin Dorey 82.00
*Pre-qualified for finals: Thomas Krief, Simon Dumont and Kevin Rolland