By Chris Casula
BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. — With another incredibly warm, sunny afternoon for a backdrop, eleven of the best superpipe skiers in the world took to the freshly cut stunt ditch in the Winter Dew Tour, Nike Open Superpipe Finals on Saturday. Unfortunately, Noah Bowman suffered a brutal crash during one of his practice runs and was unable to compete, narrowing the field from the planned twelve. Coming into Saturday's final, the question looming heavy on the minds of many was whether Frenchman Kevin Rolland could continue what could only be termed his utter domination of major superpipe events dating back to 2009.
With an estimated combined crowd of 10,000 looking on from the pipe venue and the Peak 8 base, the surviving skiers from the previous day's semifinal anxiously awaited their chances to best the pre-qualified threesome of Thomas Krief, Simon Dumont and Rolland. As competitor after competitor landed picture-perfect runs, it was evident that the judges were going to have their work cut out for them trying to spot deduction worthy mistakes.
Canadian Matt Margetts—who undeniably possesses podium-level talent but has struggled with his consistency at times—was an early standout. Margett's first run, described by one announcer as probably his best ever, included an absolutely huge, physics defying down-the-pipe flatspin and an alley-oop dub flat Japan to switch. Matt would be unable to improve upon his first-run score of 82.25, and the fact that such a respectable score only landed him in eighth place speaks to the level that freeski superpipe has reached.
The lone athlete to make his way to finals after fighting through both qualifiers and the semifinals was Switzerland's Nils Lauper. Nils, the oldest competitor in the field at 29, also pulled out all of the stops in his first run which included a left-side Screamin' Seaman 720, and back-to-back opposite direction double flairs. Nils was scored a debatably low 77.75 and finished the day in ninth place, but he's certainly a competitor to watch out for heading into the next tour stop at Killington.
Last year's Dew Cup runnerup, Simon Dumont, entered Saturday's final at a distinct disadvantage. After suffering a ski-related injury to his right hand and undergoing two surgeries to repair damage, Simon—unable to hold ski poles and forced to do without them—smashed his casted appendage on the deck during a practice run. Afterward, Simon took about ten minutes to himself in order to ward off the pain, and perhaps against better judgment, he insisted on competing. Simon's competitive nature is well documented and has even at times been criticized, but all in attendance were left in awe at The Dumont's incredible drive and refusal to back down. While Simon finished the day with a decidedly un Simon-like score of 69.95 after struggling to land his first-hit double-cork 1260 mute on both of his runs, he undoubtedly gained some admiration and respect.
Duncan Adams, the Breckenridge local, landed two of the most stylish and unique runs of the afternoon, and when all was said and done, found himself in third place. In stark contrast with his double-flipping counterparts, Duncan's run included an unbelievably controlled switch straight air, and a bevy of impeccably grabbed smooth switch tricks; all executed to perfection, and all absolutely massive in terms of amplitude. Similar to Phil Casabon's slopestyle approach, Duncan manages to consistently make finals at premier events, and even podium, all while doing so on his own terms.
To the uninitiated, Duncan's runs may look relatively "unimpressive" when compared to the sheer rotational prowess of some of his fellow competitors. However, as those who have actually attempted any of the tricks that Duncan makes look effortless know, within the understated nature of his run lies a deceptively technical level of difficulty. Asked about his approach to halfpipe skiing, the 19-year-old Duncan simply said, "I just like it better, and I think it looks better, though I'm sure many don't agree with me." Maybe that's true, but clearly the judges agreed with Duncan on Saturday afternoon.
After a hip check on the right wall turned Justin Dorey's first run into a throw away, Dorey let it all hang out on his second go. Dorey began his second and final run with a grabbed-the-whole-time massive dub cork 12. It appeared for a split second that he might have landed too far in the back seat to ride away from the trick. However, showing some incredible athleticism, he managed to get back on top of his skis and ride away with not so much as a hand check. On his second to last wall, Justin tossed a flawless switch double flip right to the top of the transition and let a visible grin spread across his face approaching his final hit. The momentary lapse in focus nearly cost him dearly as he popped a little too hard off the final wall, and took an alley-oop flatspin 5 all the way to the flat bottom where the sheer force of his landing might have caused a lesser athlete to crash. Despite the minor hiccup, he managed to ride away cleanly, and a moment later his score of 88.50 landed him safely in second place for the afternoon and earned him valuable points towards the overall Dew Tour Cup championship.
But, despite some fierce competition, the day would belong to the superpipe juggernaut himself, Kevin Rolland. Last to drop in the first run, Kevin Rolland did what he has done consistently over the last two contest seasons; land the hands-down most technically difficult run, and do it to absolute perfection. Truthfully speaking, by the time Kevin set down the landing gear on the third and final of his trademark back-to-back-to-back double flips, a double cork 1260, there really was no doubt about the outcome.
Kevin let out his trademark yell as he slid to a stop right in front of the fencing, and was met with roaring approval from all those in attendance. You could feel the media in attendance trying to figure out a way to avoid comparing Kevin to a Mr. Shaun White, but like me, I expect they've all failed. Kevin's first and winning run scored a mind-boggling 94.50, a full 6 points higher than the Justin Dorey's second place score. Not to take anything away from the other competitors, but with Kevin's addition of a switch first-hit to his standard competition obliterating, trademark run, it looks to be a long season for the other athletes.
So, with just one day of competition remaining, Sunday's Slopestyle finals, the 2011/12 Winter Dew Tour has gotten off to a stellar start. Check back with us later for a recap of today's happenings, and a last look at what transpired over the course of a truly incredible contest weekend.
Winter Dew Tour, Nike Open, at Breckenridge Saturday
Men's Ski Superpipe Finals
1. Kevin Rolland, France, 94.50
2. Justin Dorey, Canada, 88.50
3. Duncan Adams, Breckenridge, Colo., 88.00
4. Gus Kenworthy, Telluride, Colo., 87.50
5. Tucker Perkins, North Hampton, NH, 85.00
6. Torin Yater-Wallace, Snowmass, Colo., 84.00
7. Thomas Krief, France, 83.00
8. Matt Margetts, Canada, 82.25
9. Nils Lauper, Switzerland, 77.75
10. Simon Dumont, Bethel, Me., 69.00
11. David Wise, Reno, Nev., 46.50.