By Derek Taylor
After over a week of sunshine and warm temperatures at Snowbird, the weather appears to be set to turn for the North American Freeskiing Championships, taking place March 14-19. Though the National Weather Service was originally calling for snow to hit on Saturday, it has recently pushed that forecast back to Sunday, with little to no accumulation predicted for Saturday.
What this means for the competition is that flat light, refrozen crud and dust on crust are all possibilities. This takes the advantage away from competitors that prefer big airs and freestyle tricks, and gives it to skiers who are able to charge fast, smooth, fall line runs and are able to make difficult conditions look easy. Look from a run similar to Kent Hyden's world championship effort in Alyeska in 2008, or what Lars Chickering-Ayers put together to win here in 2010, to take the title this year.
Here's our interview with Lars after that 2010 win.
Speaking of Chickering-Ayers, after a strong showing in the Southern Hemisphere that still has him in 4th place overall despite missing the Revelstoke event, he has decided to take the remainder of the tour off. He is, however, prequalified for Snowbird. Should he decide to show up, he would be my favorite. Unfortunately, there's no indication that Chickering-Ayers will do that. Defending champ and reigning Subaru Freeskiing World Tour champion Drew Tabke is also expected to miss Snowbird. Which brings us back to reality.
Guerlain Chicherit is likely the best natural athlete in the field, and has a knack for making difficult conditions look easy. Though his results have gotten progressively worse as the 2011-12 tour has progressed (1st in Las Leñas, 6th at Ski Arpa and 26th in Revelstoke), poor conditions tend to reward the best technical skiers. Look for the veteran to return to the top of the podium in Snowbird.
Fellow Frenchman Adrien Courier has finished just off the podium twice this season, landing in 4th in both Ski Arpa and Revelstoke. This will be the event he breaks into the top three.
Current tour leader Josh Daiek earned his ranking with consistent top finishes, including a 2nd in Chile. Look for him to continue that trend, and land the number three spot here.
Dark Horses: Johnny Collinson grew up on this mountain and might know the terrain in all conditions better than anyone. Collinson's mindset and skills, however, might be better suited for filming than competition (and he has been in talks with MSP Films with the goal of doing just that). In other words he skis for show and fun better than he skis for score—a commendable trait, but not what wins big mountain contests. He did manage a second place in Las Leñas in tough conditions over the summer, but that was a contest that rewarded freestyle more than a traditional tour event. If Collinson can ski this event with a mindset to impress the judges rather than the spectators he could easily win this. It's more likely, though, that he'll spin or get upside down at some point during his run and the conditions might not be right for that.
Oakley White-Allen is coming off a second-place finish in Revelstoke. He's local to Snowbird, knows the venue, and took third here in 2010. White-Allen is becoming a more seasoned competitor with every event. The momentum from such a strong finish against a tough field in Revie could carry over to Snowbird.
It's hard to bet against Angel Collinson anywhere. She may be the best pure competitor in the history of big mountain freeskiing, rivaled perhaps only by Jen Ashton. On her home turf, where she's won the last two years in a row, she's practically a lock. Collinson has yet to finish lower than 2nd on the Subaru FWT all season, is coming off a win in Revelstoke. Perhaps most importantly, she grew up with a view of the finals venue.
The last woman besides Collinson to win in Snowbird, and the last woman to win the Subaru FWT overall title was Crystal Wright. Wright has been almost as dominant this season as Collinson, landing on each spot of the podium once in three events this season. Expect the Jacksonite and Collinson to push each other, but look for Collinson to prevail on her home mountain.
After missing the South American stops, Jess McMillan took 3rd in Revelstoke, behind Collinson and Wright. Look for her to repeat the placement. She's the strongest skier and most experienced competitor of the remainder of the field.
(Editor’s note: As for press time, neither Wright nor McMillan had registered.)
Dark Horses: Louise Lintilhac has been hovering around the podium for two years, but has yet to land on a podium in a 5-star world tour event. Living in Crested Butte by way of Stowe, Lintilhac knows how to turn a ski, and could be poised for a breakout performance.
Sole Diaz notched a surprise victory at Ski Arpa last August. In doing so, the Chilean proved she has what it takes to win a big event. Now to see if she can pull it off in the Northern Hemisphere.
Tune in to watch the North American Freeskiing Championships live at freeskiingworldtour.com