(Ed’s note: First-year Subaru Freeskiing World Tour competitor L.R. Fielding is reporting from Crested Butte, site of the 20th annual U.S. Extreme Freeskiing Championships. Fielding’s diary from the Subaru FWT Qualifier at Jackson Hole is here ».)
By L.R. Fielding
Published: February 21, 2011
V: The U.S. Extreme Freeskiing Championships: The Perfect Day
Sunday's final competition was a dream come true for athletes. Spellbound venue was in prime hucking condition, with nearly a foot of new snow in the past 24 hours; every competitor was hootin' and hollerin' into the finish.
Oakley White-Allen, of Middlebury Snowbowl, Vt., skied a beautiful line on looker's right, save for a bobble, which downed his line score. He was still wearing a sh*t-eating grin at the end of the day. "I just had fun," he said.
Even if their airs didn't pan out, everyone was just happy to have had the opportunity to ski the big, beautiful, open-ended lines of Spellbound and High Life. Aspen’s Jacqui Edgerly threw a back flip (impressive, and rarely seen move among the girls), and although she didn't stick it, she was very pumped about the whole experience. "I want to just go ski that again," she said.
And for those airs that did pan out, it was none other than the invincible Vermonster, Lars Chickering-Ayers, of Mad River Glen, who nabbed another first place, again showing his dynamism. Skiing an incredibly tech line on Staircase in Day 1, and sending a clean big mountain run the Finals. In seconnd was Crested Butte’s Tom Runcie. Lars's younger brother, Silas Chickering-Ayers, another Green Mountain boy, cinched third. It was a spectacular reunion podium for the three top Gents, as they all grew up skiing together back East. (Full results here.)
For the women, Angel Collinson of Snowbird also added another first place finish to her repertoire. Collinson skis with an incredible amount of agility and energy, and her run was different. Emiko Torito of Winter Park, a mogul competitor, who seems to be an equally good big mountain skier, nabbed second, and Alta’s Ashley Maxfield, managed to move up from 10th place in Day 1 to third place in the Finals—thanks to some huge air she stomped in the bottom of the venue.
Congratulations to all the athletes! As an athlete who did not make it to Finals, I can safely speak for all us; we were all seething with envy of Spellbound’s pristine conditions. All the more motivation to step my game up. Next stop is the North American Freeskiing Championships in Kirkwood, which will double as a qualifier for the famed Freeride World Tour…more to come on that. Stay tuned.
By L.R. Fielding
Published: February 19, 2011, 8:41 p.m. MST
IV: Day 1: Staircase—Hope you brought your Tech Game
We've heard it over and over again: Crested Butte is a technical mountain. The description stands true on Headwall's rocky face, but Staircase's gnarly cliffed-out, tree chutes truly define it. "Crested Butte, it's the bone-yard," says head judge Jim Jack. “It comes down to very strong, technical skiing, it's not the place to open it up. Once you’re up in these rocks, and cliffs and trees, you have to be super calculated."
Today’s Day 1 of competition, on Staircase, saw a lot of phenomenal skiing, as well as hard—sometimes scary—crashes. As Jack said, athletes who crushed technical lines will move on to Day 2, Sunday, on Spellbound.
“Staircase in particular brings out a different style, a different type of skier. Obviously the locals have an advantage, they love that stuff, they play in it all the time," said Jack. “It brings out the different styles that skiers have in their bag."
One skier revealed just how much he has in his bag of skills—Lars Chickering-Ayers of Mad River Glen. The FWT champion last year at Snowbird, Chickering-Ayers nabbed first place today. (See full results here.)
"I feel like tech is more my strong point," said Chickering-Ayers. "I like this place, especially tomorrow's venue, because there's the choice—you can do a big open line, or tech."
With a storm settling into the Elk Mountains just hours after Day 1 competition ended, Day 2 will not see the regular finals live feed on freeskiingworldtour.com, and it could mean delays as well. However, the forecasted foot of freshies is welcomed by the athletes; the more snow, the more air…
By L.R. Fielding
Published: February 19, 2011
III: Skiing the Headwall
The U.S. Extremes Qualifiers, held yesterday, Feb. 18, on Headwall were referred to by IFSA judges and event coordinator, Mountain Sports International, as the, "the best they've seen yet." Everyone was putting on a show. The lines that did well were technical rather than dynamic. There was a good deal of billy-goating and hop-turning to avoid the exposed rocks, dotting all of Headwall.
Now on my second Tour stop, I have learned a lot. Just when I thought I understood the sort of line that will best show off my skills, another aspect I hadn't considered is thrown in there: location. Crested Butte is different than other venues, in that it's tech; therefore, to take full advantage of possible line points, athlete's skiing should reflect the technical terrain.
Out of the start I skied along the ridge, cruising over moguls, quickly working my way into my entrance, but there was a wind lip and I couldn't safely drop into the technical salt-and-peppery section in the middle of Headwall, which would've upped my score. So, I had to cut around and hit my air. Perhaps, I focused on the drop a little too much, rather than nailing the hairy, rock section. All in all, I skied solid, stayed on my feet, and got lots of high fives from my hometown ski buddies, who assured me that I skied stronger than last round. I guess that's all you can hope for as a rookie. (Full qualifying results here ».)
II: Crested Butte Qualifiers—A Test of Character
At the athlete meeting preceding the Qualifiers on the Headwall venue—which was delayed a day due to extreme wind and blowing snow—Head Judge Jim Jack left the competitors with a message critical to success on the FWT: Grace, Sportsmanship and Enthusiasm.
The vast majority of FWT athletes are not pre-qualified, so the 2011 Extremes saw about 70 men and 20 women vying for the chance to move onto Day 1 with the "big boys and girls"—names like Lars Chickering-Ayers, Leah Evans, Jacqui Edgerly and Griffin Post, also known as the pre-qualified athletes. As a three-year spectator I've seen many newcomers rise quickly to sponsorships, films, the proverbial "big show," which is all well and good, but not necessarily realistic for all of the 150 or so athletes who compete at the majority of the stops.
Many of the these “unqualified” athletes have had moments of glory: a Sickbird nomination, a top-ten finish, a Young Gun Award, and some of them have even managed to pre-qualify in years past. Perhaps, many seasons have passed them by without any fulfilling results, or even worse, sweet lines and perpetual wrecks. Some of them are certainly "chasing the dragon" so to speak, but the vast majority fork over the $175 registration fee not only to showcase their skills, but to be a very real part of the freeskiing community. If McConkey and his buddies didn't get stoked about each other's outside-the-box lines, what was the point? Self-satisfaction, sure, but there's always the old saying, "if no one saw it, it didn't happen." In a sport where bragging rights are highly scrutinized and typically in need of an eye witness, the FWT is the ultimate stage: skiing a line in front of a large audience, namely comprised of all your friends, and hearing the cheers, horns and cow bells in the finish, and knowing that whether you skied perfectly or not, that you went for it.
Jim Jack’s message was pure and honest and very relevant: there are many variables in this sport, anything can happen, so take it all in stride, and give props where props are due, because it could be you next time.
By L.R. Fielding
Published: February 17, 2011
I: Welcome to Crested Butte
Welcome to Crested Butte: Host of the 20th U.S. Extreme Freeskiing Championships. Like most stops on the Subaru Freeskiing World Tour, the hosting resort tends to be of skiing legend. They're the places that we will tell kids and grandkids about over and over again; a bedtime story of sorts that we can only hope they'll dream about skiing one day.
Crested Butte stands alongside Jackson Hole as the granddaddies of extreme freeskiing. In addition to its famed "steeps" and plethora of rocky spines and faces to huck, Crested Butte has OG rights of its own; this whole dang thing—the Freeskiing World Tour—started here. Nearly 13 years ago, a couple of guys—Shane McConkey among them—got together and decided to get the ball rolling. "The Extremes" have produced industry names such as: Seth Morrison, Allison Gannett, Wendy Fisher, Dean Cummings and on. Jim Jack, the head IFSA judge, was also a part of the Tour's origins, and has served as a saavy and enthusiastic leader since, ushering in the next generation of the world's best freeskiers.
As a first-season competitor, the grassroots energy—both on and off the mountain—radiates from the Butte upon arrival. Everyone goes about life a little more deliberate here; development has been capped by the town, locals love bikes, microbrews, dressing up in costume and partaking in the former all at once, and the steep, rocky terrain is not taken lightly—it is respected. Slides are inevitable and often happen inbounds. Not only does Crested Butte serve as a bedrock of big mountain competition, but the locals, the town, and the resort have encapsulated the spirit of our sport: respect for mother nature.
And as much as the FWT and its participants appreciate Crested Butte and all that it stands for, the love is mutual: "This is an iconic event for Crested Butte," said Daren Cole, vice president of sales and marketing for the resort. "Many of the best-known freeskiers in the world have carved out a place in history at this competition. The Extremes are such a unique aspect to the resort.”
The athletes arrived yesterday and spent the day inspecting their lines on a very skied off Headwall for the Qualifiers today… which was snowed and weathered out. It all picks up again tomorrow.