By Derek Taylor
This weekend, the Subaru Freeskiing World Tour hits its most remote venue ever, the obscure and rootsy cat operation of Ski Arpa. Located 13km up an unpaved road, El Arpa is one of those secrets of South American skiing hidden in plain sight. People have known of it for years, but it's difficult to get to, so it doesn't get a ton of traffic. Don't expect many spectators to make the trip. Athletes, on the other hand, can expect some world class, empty powder skiing.
Word from the Twittisphere this morning is that it is snowing all the way to Santiago, which is rare. Two-and-a-half feet have fallen since Tuesday, and with wind loading, organizers expect four feet in the venues. Assuming the weather clears and competitors and organizers can get up the road, they will be treated to all-time conditions for a big mountain comp, crossing tracks only they laid themselves. Arpa's terrain is worthy, but the venues will likely be shorter than what competitors are used to.
Who will the conditions benefit? Well, everyone. I think we can all agree that skiing in powder makes for a better contest than variable or hard pack conditions like competitors saw last event, at Las Leñas. However, Saturday’s Day 1, Cornices, also appears to lack big, vertical cliffs, which could have two effects. First, it could help competitors who shine at hard and fast fall-line skiing, such as Lars Chickering-Ayers. They'll be able to clear the bigger, more horizontal airs. It will also help the more style-oriented skiers, such as Johnny Collinson, as they'll be able to earn style points on smaller features and spines. Those who will be hurt the most are the billy goaters, who won't have much to work with.
I also don't see this venue playing to the strengths of current tour leader and Red Bull Powder Disorder champion Guerlain Chicherit. Guerlain is best by taking difficult conditions and terrain and skiing them like a groomer. But hero snow on a short course? It's like shortening and widening a hole on (the old) Tiger Woods: his advantage disappears when everyone can drive the green.
On to my picks:
1. Johnny Collinson. He's not going to like that I picked him, and if he reads this before the contest, it could actually throw him off. But I'm banking on the fact that Internet in Los Andes (the town where the competitors are staying) is unreliable. In Las Leñas, Collinson finally exhibited the maturity to put down a winning run as opposed to a crowd-pleasing run. If he keeps that mentality—spin when it's set up for it, but straight-air when it's not—he'll win his first World Tour event. He can ski fast and fluidly and has great style in the air, and now that he's had a taste of what it takes to win, he's ready to take it one step further.
2. Lars Chickering-Ayers. This is a venue Lars should be able to flash with style. He and little brother, Silas, finished off the podium in Las Leñas, but don't expect him to stay there. Lars is a tour vet, and he'll bounce back here.
3. Guerlain Chicherit. Shorter venues and great conditions are the equalizer when skiing against someone who can smooth out the shittiest snow. But don't expect the French veteran competitor to be too far out of the lead. He likes powder, too.
Darkhorse: The Local: Chopo Diaz missed the cut in Las Leñas. He's skiing in his homeland and will likely be hungry. The Vet: Tommy Ellingson is a former Superpark standout who is relatively new to big mountain contests, but not to big mountain skiing. He could put something together on the Cornices venue. The Young: Leo Ahrens, Zach Halverson and Silas Chickering-Ayers. All are graduates and former winners on the Junior Freeskiing Tour and have experience getting on podiums— just not at this level (with the exception of Silas). Any one of the three could podium. Silas and Leo are legitimate threats to win.
1. Angel Collinson. If we were Sports Center, I'd start this off something like this: "…and what is wrong with Angel Collinson? Winless on the tour in five months. Can she get it together for the Chillean Freeskiing Championships? Next… duh-duh-duh, duh-duh-duh." The answer, of course, is there's nothing wrong with Angel. She finished second at the Red Bull Powder Disorder to a very experienced and very solid Crystal Wright in a one-day contest. It's hard to bet against her, as always.
2. Rebecca Selig. Selig is a strong all-around skier who isn't afraid to go big when the conditions are good, and with Jess McMillan reportedly stuck in New Zealand and Ingrid Backstrom in Portillo, the women's field is even thinner than last weekend, where Selig finished third. Conditions are ripe for Selig to have a big day.
3. Crystal Wright. If I always seem to pick her to podium, it's because she always seems to end up on the podium. Look for her to be there again. She won her last event in Argentina, and has been consistent, if not dominant, her entire career.
Dark horse: Sole Diaz grew up skiing at Farellones, outside of Santiago. She has two career FWT podiums, and both were in Argentina. This is a home game for her, so look for her to step up.