There's a reason Crested Butte's Big Hourglass is a permanently closed zone within the ski area. It's as steep as 50 degrees and is littered with pillows, 60-foot cliffs, and trees. There is not a straightforward way down. Skiing from the top to the bottom is a great success in itself. On Saturday, conditions lined up to open the venue for this 4-star Freeride World Tour qualifier for the first time since 2009. One competitor, who grew up skiing here, said it was the steepest thing he's ever skied. Another said that it was so steep it looked like he could piss from the top onto the crowd below.
And oh what a crowd it was—a bubble of barbecues, weed, and PBR-induced reverie. Along the stadium style seating directly across from the venue, cowbells clanged and blowhorns belted, especially when a CB local performed admirably, which was often.
Local Mary Boddington got the crowd going when she won the women's snowboard division. The ever-smiling Sydney Dickinson, who works in Crested Butte for Precise Painting and the Alpineer shop, followed up Boddington with one of the most aggressive and smooth lines of the day. She skied the steepest section of the venue, above all kinds of exposure, with aplomb. The run would place Dickinson, the two-time and reigning Tele Extreme Champion (they haven't held the event since 2012), ahead of CB native Pip Hunt atop the podium for women skiers. Dickinson said it was the most fun run she’s ever had.
"It was like AK up there," said Dickinson. "It was steep and sloughy and spiny."
On the men's side, Rob Dickinson, Sydney's husband and the owner of CB's Precise Painting, turned in the first standout run for the men. He hopped a series of increasingly distant pillows with impressive control before taking a final air into the finish coral, where he was mobbed by friends.
But Dickinson would be outdone by Tom Runcie, another Precise Painting employee, who turned in the day's best run. He was the first to ski on the looker's right side of the Hourglass, and he did so with more fluidity and confidence than any of the day's other skiers, hitting a number of airs that culminated in a 20-footer, and the tremendous approval of the hometown crowd. An emotional Runcie said he had been eyeing that line for five years.
"It was the best run of my life," said Runcie, who holds a geology degree from Dartmouth. "It's so scary up there, so steep…You're looking between your tips at the finish line. I was terrified…but at some point I calmed down up there and the line just spoke to me."
Runcie's colleagues at both Precise Painting and Technica/Blizzard, brothers Matt and Randy Evans, were two of the favorites coming into the event, even though Matt had to earn his way into the competition through Thursday’s two-star qualifier. After Friday's day one, Randy had a solid lead, and momentum, but would fail to navigate his way through the Hourglass smoothly on Saturday. Matt, meanwhile, was responsible for the day's scariest moment, sending a huge air into a narrow choke and landing on rocks. Fortunately, the 19-year-old would come away with only a few scratches.
Runcie remained in the lead until Bozeman based skier Kyle Taylor turned in a solid run of his own, cutting into a final air from a pillow drop. In an event with combined scores from the two days, his 10-point lead on Runcie would be too much for the CB skier to overcome. Taylor would take home the top spot, as well as a check for $1,500.
The top two skiers from the season's four-star events qualify for next year's Freeride World Tour. The next four-star event is in Taos from February 27 to March 1.