By Derek Taylor
When the Subaru Freeskiing World Tour finals hit Kirkwood this weekend, all eyes will be on the women's field, and in particular the co-leaders Angel Collinson and Crystal Wright. Collinson, the defending champ, and Wright, the last FWT champion prior to Collinson's two-year reign, have been neck-and-neck all season long, trading podium spots throughout the first four stops of the tour.
A quick recap:
Wright bested Collinson in stop one, winning the Red Bull Powder Disorder in Las Leñas with Collinson coming in 2nd. The defending champ returned the favor two stops later when Collinson won the Canadian Championships in Revelstoke and Wright finished runner up. Collinson carried a slim lead into her home venue of Snowbird for the North American Freeskiing Championships by virtue of a 2nd place finish in Ski Arpa, Chile, behind local Sole Diaz, (where Wright finished 3rd). Wright then made things interesting when she threw down the run of the competition in the finals in Snowbird to jump up to 2nd, behind World Tour newbie and former Olympian Kaylin Richardson. Collinson was--you guessed it--3rd.
If you're confused, all you really need to know is this: Collinson and Wright are deadlocked in first place with one event to go, and no other woman is close to enough to catch them. But if you think either of these competitors will be happy with 2nd place, think again. Wright cut short a trip to La Grave, France, just for the opportunity to win the tour and the McConkey Cup, and is flying back to France right after the event. Collinson is the only woman told hold the cup since it was renamed for Shane McConkey.
Which brings us to the Freeskiing World Championships in Kirkwood. Kaylin Richarson, who ambushed the field in Snowbird, won't be competing here (her Facebook page says she's nursing a neck injury). Sole Diaz, the only other woman to win a five-star event this season, hasn't rediscovered the form that earned her a win in Chile and a Top-10 finish in Argentina.
Much like the battle for the overall title, I see Kirkwood being a battle between Collinson and Wright with the other 13 women battling it out for the bronze. And I have Wright winning. Let's face it: if she wanted 2nd-place, Wright would have stayed in France. And not only is she motivated, but she skied really well in the last event, putting together the run of the event in Snowbird. A couple of weeks in La Grave isn't going to hurt, either. The rest of the podium will shake out like this:
1) Crystal Wright
2) Angel Collinson
Angel has been tough to beat the last couple of years, but in Snowbird, Wright showed a willingness to get into technical and dangerous terrain, and to ski that terrain smoothly and fluidly.
3) Robin McElroy
McElroy is a tour vet turned Squaw Valley ski patroller who hasn't competed all season. She won the qualifier, and is the closest thing to a local in the field of 15. She has momentum, experience and knows the venue.
Rebecca Selig is the only other woman to podium in the field. However, she also has an enviable starting position for day one, right between Collinson and Wright. She'll have to put together an aggressive run to not be over-shadowed by the leaders.
The Men's race for the McConkey Cup is only slightly less interesting than the women's. Guerlain Chicherit rebounded from a 26th place finish in Revelstoke by finishing just off the podium in Snowbird. In doing so, he took command of the race for the overall World Tour. Chicherit clinches the title with an 8th place finish or better, which he should have no trouble doing here. I don't, however, see him winning.
Like Snowbird, Kirkwood has a reputation for rewarding the locals. Kirkwood's Josh Daiek won here last year, and also currently sits in 2nd behind Chicherit. Josh needs to make up 1480 points on Chicherit, which he can do with a win combined with Chicherit finishing in 9th or worse. Frenchmen Adrian Courier is still in the hunt as well.
With the cup on the line, Daiek is my favorite to defend his titled. The rest of the podium will shake out as follows:
1) Josh Daiek
2) Silas Chickering-Ayers. Chickering-Ayers has proven himself from the day he graduated from the Junior Freeskiing Tour two seasons ago. He's coming off his first win in Snowbird, and is a consistent performer.
3) Adrian Courier has been fairly consistent all season. I picked him to podium in Snowbird, and he finished 15th. But I'm going to go out on a limb and say I was just an event late. He has a lot to ski for, and still has an outside chance to win the McConkey Cup.
Chicherit will finish two spots off the podium, but high enough to still win the World Tour.
Willie Schnieder had one of the best runs on Silver Fox in Snowbird last event, but crashed off the bottom booter. He's a Tahoe local (Alpine Meadows), and has the ability to bounce to the podium if he keeps it together. Kevin O'Meara was runner up here last year. He knows the venue, and is always a threat to reach the podium.
Watch the Subaru Freeskiing World Championships right here on Powder.com starting at 10 am on Friday, April 6.