By Derek Taylor
The Freeskiing World Tour is partnering with Red Bull for the first tour stop this year, which brings with it some minor changes. Rather than the open format of standard Subaru FWT events, the Red Bull Powder Disorder at Las Leñas is an invite-only, two-day contest kicking off Wednesday, Aug. 10. And while the field will be more exclusive, a few things haven't changed. The stop will still carry full FWT points, and the competition format remains mostly intact. The only competitive difference is the skiers will have two checkpoints (read: kickers or airs) they will need to ski through.
Chopo Diaz has established himself as the man to beat. He won here last year, and though he's Chilean, this is largely a home game for him. But one thing we know about big mountain contests is the person who is supposed to win rarely does. And with an all-star field in Las Leñas, that could be even more true than usual.
Drew Tabke is the reigning tour champion, and if his win to clinch at Snowbird last year proves anything, it's that he has the ability to step up when he needs to. Lars Chickering-Ayers went a long way toward shedding his win-or-fall reputation during last year's tour, but he crashed and missed the finals at Snowbird, thus opening the door to Tabke. Griffin Post and Josh Daiek are also proven contenders. And then there is the vet, Guerlain Chicherit, who took third in Kirkwood last year in his first FWT contest in years. Guerlain may be the best natural athlete at this stop, and now that he's focused on competing in the entire tour, he'll be an even bigger threat.
The easy money is on Chopo. It's his season, while most other competitors are travelling from summer climes to compete. But I'm not going to go for the easy pick. I see it like this:
1. Guerlain Chicherit. The 2006 and 2007 tour champion is focused on his comeback and knows how to win. His freestyle skills have always been underrated, so the checkpoints won't be an issue.
2. Chopo Diaz. This is still his contest to lose, and I don't expect him to go down easily.
3. Drew Tabke. This is a tough choice between Tabke and Lars, but I'm giving the nod to Tabke, who may have a bigger bag of tricks, and is usually more consistent.
Darkhorse: The young guns. In their first year being allowed to compete on the senior circuit, Johnny Collinson and Silas Chickering-Ayers showed they belong. Silas nabbed the podium in Crested Butte (3rd) and took 5fth in the finals in Snowbird. Collinson took two top fives in South America last year. This year they're joined by Leo Ahrens, who finished 7th at the prestigious Red Bull Cold Rush last season, but more importantly, was 3rd in the big mountain day against a stacked field. Ahrens is also coming off a team win at La Parva's Eye of the Condor, so he's acclimated to South America and on a roll.
Collinson has all the athleticism, but at times lacks the maturity to back off a trick if he's not set up for it, which makes for exciting skiing, but poor results. If he keeps his feet, he'll be top 5 again. This is Leo's first go on the senior tour, but he was a consistent winner on the Junior Freeskiing Tour, which lately has been a good indicator of things to come. He has the talent to win this, if he skis smart and handles the pressure. The addition of the checkpoints will favor the youngsters.
The women's side has been easier to pick as of late: Angel Collinson, followed by the rest of the field. Last year I said Collinson's recent domination of the tour is reminiscent of Ingrid Backstrom back in the day, and it is. But it's also even more impressive. Whereas Backstrom consistently podiumed, Collinson just wins. Take a look at her results last year: 1st in Snowbird; 1st in Kirkwood; 1st in Crested Butte; 1st in Las Leñas; and 2nd in El Colorado. (She fell in Revelstoke last year, her only true stumble). And she dominates on the European-based tour as well.
Things are not going to be so cut and dry in Las Leñas, however. Backstrom is returning to FWT competition for the first time in several seasons, setting up a clash between two of the most dominant women to ever compete on the Freeskiing World Tour.
Truth be told, Collinson's skiing, at least in contests, is not as dynamic as Backstrom's was back in the '00s. But she's a smarter competitor, more reminiscent of Jen Ashton perhaps. I expect Backstrom to take more aggressive lines, but for Collinson to be more fluid and score better.
Look for the cowgirl Crystal Wright to be in the hunt as well. Wright is always lurking around first place, and finished behind Collinson the last time these two competed against each other, as well as in the overall tour.
1. Angel Collinson. She's seasoned and has the competitive mindset.
2. Ingrid Backstrom. The MSP Films star will be competing for the first time in over a year, but even with a few minor stumbles, has the raw talent to win any given day.
3. Crystal Wright. As steady and consistent as they come.
The registered athletes, as of Monday, Aug. 8:
Guzman Cimorelli, Santiago