By Derek Taylor
Celebrating its 20th anniversary this season, the U.S. Extreme Freeskiing Championships at Crested Butte is the oldest, continuously-running big mountain contest in the world. It is also, in many ways, still the event to win. Two factors set Crested Butte apart among the Freeskiing World Tour venues: terrain and snow.
The Butte is reporting a 70-inch base, with a chance of more snow starting on Thursday. Still, the best scoring lines in CB are often in tight, technical terrain or close-out lines that end in big airs. In short, it's a billy-goater's venue, so look for skiers with strong fall-line technique to prevail over freestylers.
The U.S. Extreme Freeskiing Championships kick off Thursday, Feb. 17. Tune into Powder.com or freeskiingworldtour.com to watch it live.
Up until Revelstoke, Angel Collinson was on an Ingrid Backstrom-esque tear through the tour. She finished on the podium in three of four contests last season, including winning the World Championships at her home mountain of Snowbird and the Overall. And she currently leads the tour by a healthy margin despite falling and missing the finals in Revie. She followed up her disappointing finish at the Canadian Championships by winning the Chamonix stop of the Freeride World Tour.
The only event Collinson didn't podium at last season was here in Crested Butte, where she finished fourth. But the past is the past, and even though CB is not the best venue for her full throttle style, Collinson is skiing better than anyone else on tour right now. Look for her to erase that blemish and take home the win.
Jackie Passo put together one of the best big mountain contest runs by a female ever last year in Squaw Valley. The wild card is how well she'll adapt to a very different style of venue in Crested Butte.
That wild card could rear its head in the likes of Louise Lintilhac. Since it's inception, USESC has always been a bit of a homer’s venue, but that was due in part to the level of talent that called CB home, including Kim Reichelm, Alison Gannet and Wendy Fisher. Lintilhac, a CB local, has proven she can get quality results away from home, with top-five finishes in Revelstoke and at the qualifier event in Jackson Hole. Add to that intimate knowledge of the venue (always a factor in the Butte), and look for Lintilhac to find her first podium.
1. Angel Collinson
2. Jackie Passo
3. Louise Lintilhac
Darkhorse: Crystal Wright. Wright always seems to be in the mix at every contest she enters. If she's not on the podium, she won't be far from it.
Lars Chickering-Ayers has been on a tear since shaking the monkey off his back and scoring his first win at the World Championships in Snowbird last year. The Green Mountain Boy finished second in Las Leñas, and then won the Canadian Championships in Revelstoke. In his first contest, as an 18 year-old, Chickering-Ayers was poised to win Crested Butte, but fell on his final run, so he'll be looking for some redemption as well. His experience growing up skiing at Mad River Glen will be an asset in the similarly steep and technical terrain in the Butte.
Chickering-Ayers is currently sitting in second in the overall to Drew Tabke, who leads without a single victory this season. Tabke has been on the podium in two out of three stops so far this season, and finished fourth in El Colorado. He was second to Chickering-Ayers in Revie, which is how I see them landing in Crested Butte as well.
The 2010 Junior Freeskiing Tour overall champion, Johnny Collinson, finished in the top five in his first two adult contests—the two South American stops in the 2011 tour. Like his sister, Collinson stumbled in Revelstoke, crashing after getting inverted in the early rounds and finishing out of the top 20. Crested Butte, however, is perfectly suited to the younger Collinson's style. Look for him to regain his form, and snare his first podium.
1. Lars Chickering-Ayers
2. Drew Tabke
3. Johnny Collinson
Darkhorse: Ben Furimsky. It's been ten years since Furimsky took a knee to the face and knocked himself out while landing the final air in Dead End Chute. Had he stomped that final air, he would have won the 2001 U.S. Extremes. There are many younger, more athletic competitors in this year's USESC, but there will be no one with more knowledge of the terrain than Furimsky.