Word and Photos: Tom Winter
After the delays, the regrouping and the finale, it came down to KC Deane. Deane, one of three team members on Team Americas, was literally the last man standing as he beat out Team Europe's Paddy Graham for the last and final point to break a tie and clinch the Swatch Skier's Cup.
"I am stoked," said Deane after his pressure packed-performance delivered the win for Team Americas. "I was really happy to clinch a point for my team in the first round, and to win the event in the last run was amazing. But it was a team effort."
Deane seized the opportunity after marginal snow conditions forced the event's organizers to reconsider the backcountry slopestyle event scheduled for Friday at Valle Nevado. With a thin, punchy snowback lurking just outside the resort's boundary, and a tiny window between soft enough and too soft conditions, Nicolas Hale-Woods showed why he's one of the premiere event organizers in the world of skiing. Hale-Woods, who heads up the Freeride World Tour, based out of Verbier, Switzerland, convened the athletes and made a gutsy and difficult call: the event would be modified, and the athletes would return to the big-mountain face high above the Yorba Loco valley in a three-versus-three format that would break the tie and decide the winner.
The decision was not a simple one. Hoards of media and spectators had descended upon the base of Valle Nevado. Time, money and manpower had been invested in shaping the slopestyle jumps and features and a move to Yorba Loco meant a rapid, swat team style attack on the face, including sending up guides to assess the avalanche danger, moving camera and video personnel and transporting the athletes.
In other words, it was a risky choice, but in Hale-Wood's mind, better than canceling the event and ending the competition in a tie. Team Americas seemed to agree. When the decision was announced, both teams huddled, with the captains (Cody Townsend and Sverre Liliequist, respectively) asking which athletes wanted to head back up to the face. The atmosphere in the Team Europe huddle was subdued, but in the Team Americas huddle, there were smiles, laughter and stoke. Perhaps this was due to the late charge that Team Americas enjoyed in the second heat on that very same face Saturday, when they fought back to end up tied in points with Team Europe at the end of the first leg of competition. Regardless, they seemed to have the upper hand mentally and the stage was set for the finals as the athletes relocated via helicopter from Valle to the Yorba Loco venue.
Captain Cody Townsend would lead the Team Americas charge, with Deane and local athlete Chopo Diaz as sidekicks. Team Europe's effort was spearheaded by French skier Mathieu Imber, Italy's Marcus Eder and UK skier Paddy Graham.
Townsend would take a point from Imbert, but Eder showed the composure and form that has won him accolades during this week's competition to steal a point back from Diaz, pulling a rodeo 540 and a rodeo 720 on his run and leaving the teams tied at nine points. From there it was all Deane, who took advantage of a miscue by Graham and performed flawlessly (his run was punctuated by a huge backflip) to wrap up the competition stage of event.
We can look back at this year's Swatch Skiers Cup and draw a few conclusions. First, that the team format of the event, inspired by golf's Ryder's Cup and other match-play style events is a stroke of genius. The camaraderie within each team, and between the teams themselves is unusual in sport like skiing and infused the entire week with the kind of stoke, energy and positive vibe that's rare in the highly competitive world of freeriding.
Secondly, Team Europe will be back. With athletes like Ender to draw upon, Team Europe captain and event co-founder Liliequist has ample talent to tap. There can be no doubt that Liliequist felt that his riders could have won this year, and that coming so close, he will be sure to return next year highly motivated.
Which brings us to next year. After two seasons in South America, with sideshows that included surfing Chile's Pichi break (where Jacob Wester, Townsend, Drew Tabke, and Rip Curl sponsored athlete and Skiers Cup judge Ben Murphy put on a big-wave show), it has been announced that the next edition of the Swatch Skiers Cup will be held in Zermatt, Switzerland this winter. The event is scheduled for February 9-16, 2013.
"Hopefully it can become a classic," said Hale-Woods of the Swatch Skiers Cup. If the 2012 edition in Chile is any indication, the event is well on its way to achieving that status, and with a new edition of the Swatch Skiers Cup slated for Europe this coming February, one of the most exciting events in skiing will make an even bigger impact on the sport.