Subaru FWT Diaries: The Final Chapter

Reporting from the Freeskiing World Tour Finals at Snowbird

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By L.R. Fielding
Last Updated: March 12, 2011

V: The Final Chapter

It’s all over. The 2011 Subaru Freeskiing World Tour came to a close today on Snowbird’s North Baldy. Clouds and snow caused several hours of delay due to visibility, which affected the last leg of the men, who were in the top spots.

“I was wondering what those guys were up to for that hour and half or so,” said head judge Jim Jack. “Probably playing dice with [Ron] Panke and telling jokes.”

There were a lot of hot and heavy crashes on the men’s end, but the weather isn’t to blame, since these guys “are laid back, and professional… and understand that this is a part of skiing,” added Jack.

The weather would allow small windows of visability, enough to send one or two athletes down the venue, and also drew the competition out to about 4 p.m. (this also prevented a second run—known as Super Finals—from happening). The typically large World Championships crowd was at its usual size, but long weather-holds may have resulted in a “whiskey blanket” effect. The extra “happy” audience stuck it out and was extra supportive of the final men.

Despite the undesirable wait on top, Drew Tabke managed to hold on to his first place spot.

“I was actually stuck in a cloud in 2007—I have enough experience with this weather and on this venue,” he said. “I just put my iPod on and kept stretching.”

Tabke slayed his line, stomping drops top to bottom, but his four point lead from yesterday on Silver Fox helped him cinch the overall Tour title and the much coveted McConkey Cup.

“My goal was overall victory,” said Tabke. “This is the ultimate cherry on top.”

Lars Chickering-Ayers was headed to Snowbird winning the point game, but a nasty spill yesterday pulled him out of the running.

“It’s OK, after Ryan (died) I just came to ski and have fun,” said Lars. “But it was good to see Drew ski well and earn it.”

In second place was the industry star Sage Cattabriga-Alosa. Sage started his line in a big way with a right 360 off the sizable cornice at the top of the venue, followed by a flat-360, then a left 360, and he stomped the Amphitheater drop. (Officially, Sage had the top scoring line of the day, over three points ahead of Tabke, but Tabke’s four point lead from yesterday’s Silver Fox run pulled him into the top spot.)

In third place, was Chile’s Chopo Diaz, who snuck a huge back flip into his smooth line.

There were no surprises in the women’s competition; Angel Collinson captured not only today’s top points, but also the McConkey Cup for the overall 2011 Tour title, and for a second consecutive year.

“I skied for him,” she said, referring to Ryan Hawks, who she was dating at the time of his death.

Angel has skied consistent, “clean, technical” lines, said Jim Jack, adding, “The judges just love how she skis.”

In second place was Crystal Wright, who stomped a straight-line double drop into the Amphitheater section of North Baldy.

“Hats off to Crystal,” said Jack.

In third for the ladies was Nicole Derksen, who navigated her way through a rocky spot in the Amphitheater, skiing out of it and pointing it off a large cliff.

This has been a fabulous, bittersweet season. We’ve seen lots of snow, lot’s of phenomenal skiing, and lots of good times. This particular stop, like today’s low lying clouds, has been marked with a sense of somberness. We are all fragile. Despite our skills, training and experience, the worst can happen amongst this fun-loving, supportive community. Ryan Hawks and his “live now” spirit has reminded us all that we, as skiers, are the luckiest bastards on this earth.

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Published: March 11, 2011

IV: Crashes, Stomps, An Upset & Sage

Typical of Utah in March, today’s Day 1 of the Subaru FWT Championships was warm and sunny, signified by the deepening of many a spectator’s goggle tan.

For the ladies, as expected, Snowbird’s own Angel Collinson laid down another consistent run, crushing a double drop off of Smokestack cliff, despite a recent back injury. Collinson also recently lost Ryan Hawks, who she had been dating for a couple of months; she’s been skiing with his words in her mind, and drawing strength from his memory. She is truly an inspiration. Collinson, because of top finishes all season, has already captured the coveted McConkey Cup—for the overall title—thanks to a near 200 point lead on Ashley Maxfield of Alta. Maxfield is still riding in second place after today, thanks to a solid run. Crystal Wright of Jackson, in third, also slayed her lines with ease, stomping landings and working the skis like the former racer she is. (See the top three women’s lines and top five men’s here; today’s results/tomorrow’s start list here.)

For the men, the projected Tour Champion and last year’s Snowbird FWT winner, Lars Chickering Ayers of Mad River Glen shouldered a rocky face out of some huge air, causing him to crash violently. Chickering Ayers is OK, but will not be moving onto the Finals tomorrow. Drew Tabke of Space Needle, Mont., who has been on Chickering Ayers’ heels in terms of points, cinched the top spot, and if he places 15th or better will move ahead of Chickering Ayers in the overall season points race. In second was Chile’s Chopo Diaz, who skied an fast, fun, fluid line, ending it with large 360, and in third was Kevin O’Meara of Squaw Valley.

All the athletes were atwitter today because famed TGR star—and the skiing hero of many—Sage Cattabriga-Alosa competed on the Silver Fox venue as one of them. To see a super hero ski a line in person and not through a screen was inspiration for everyone. And Sage was equally inspired.

“The ski community involved in this is really rich,” he said. “I am stoked to be a part of this.”

Sage just happened to be in Little Cottonwood Canyon, aka home, for the week, before heading to Silverton for the Red Bull Cold Rush event. His run was as a jaw dropper; he just called it “super fun.” Off the bat, he sent a huge left 360 off the top cornice, followed by a right 360 in a tech-ier section, followed by yet another left 360. He finished off his run with—what else?!—a flat 360 off the money booter near the bottom. Sage took fifth place, and everyone is expecting it to go off tomorrow on North Baldy.

“There’s a lot of awesome skiers here,” Sage said. “It’s a cool section of the ski world, there’s a lot of rippin’ people who I don’t get to spend time with. This is a great time.”

Check in here for tomorrow’s happenings straight from the front “bench” lines on North Baldy. Stay tuned.

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Published: March 11, 2011

III: “I’d rather crash than ski a soft line”

In the aftermath of Wednesday—the first heat of qualifiers, which saw about 60 athletes tear West Baldy a new one—snow conditions were looking bleak for athletes skiing Thursday in the second heat of qualifiers. As an athlete who skied Thursday, I can happily report the venue held up beautifully for the remaining athletes vying for a chance to ski amongst the world’s best freeskiers in Day 1 of the Tour Championships. The field now includes the likes of Sage Cattabriga-Alosa, who hails from nearby Alta; Sage received a last-minute wild card spot and will be competing on Silver Fox Friday.


Collin Collins advanced through the second Subaru FWT Finals qualifier Thursday at Snowbird. Photo: Sarah Lyman/MSI.

Collin Collins advanced through the second Subaru FWT Finals qualifier Thursday at Snowbird. Photo: Sarah Lyman/MSI.

For the ladies, Australia’s Natalie Segal came out as a clear leader, stomping a large drop at the top and cruising through looker’s right, hitting small drops while keeping it going. Second in points was Katie Gillen of Taos, and in third was Amanda Hale of Tamarack Resort, Idaho. For the gents, Topher Plimpton of Jackson skied with ease, and aggression, crushing the biggest drops of the day. In second was Sam Webb of Mt. Sunapee, N.H., and in third was Colter Hinchliffe of Alta. (Day 2 qualifying results here.)

Aspen tele-skier Nick DeVore also advanced from Thursday's qualifier at the Bird. Photo: Sarah Lyman/MSI.

Aspen tele-skier Nick DeVore also advanced from Thursday's qualifier at the Bird. Photo: Sarah Lyman/MSI.

So here’s how it went down for me… I was the first drop-in of the day. I was supposed to run fourth, but no one else ahead of me was on time (or willing to ski first), so I stepped up. I made smooth, fast turns through a wide chute on looker’s right, linking a turn into a sideways 10-foot rock drop, landing well (minus a goggle malfunction). Without scrubbing much speed, I cruised through the soft snow and into a large cluster of pine trees on looker’s right. My confidence was up, I was feeling good, so I decided to go for a big finish. I checked my speed and then sent a 12-foot hidden tree booter. Off the lip, I stupidly I cut skier’s right, instead of straight-lining it. And in mid-air, the inside of my right ski hooked a small pine and I did what we “freeskiers” like to call a “ballerina!” My right leg shot behind me, sending me into a spinning crash. Thanks to soft snow, the digger was actually kind of fun.

While frustrating, I think I now finally grasp that “fine line”—out of control verses aggression and smart skiing verses soft skiing. Finding that fine line came from my own mind, and I blocked out all the over analysis: “Am I on the right skis? Hmm, the snow is soft, I probably should have brought out the rockered skis. How many turns should I make, where are my landmarks, and so on…” So I just skied for skiing’s sake, because it’s freakin’ fun, and we all know the purest fun are those natural lines. Of course, pole-check your landings, check the snow, have an idea of where you’re headed, and all the while giving your line some breathing room and rolling with it.

If you’ve followed my earlier Subaru FWT Diaries from Jackson Hole and Crested Butte, then you probably know that up until today I hadn’t had a run worthy of much personal stoke. Throughout the FWT, I’ve done everything typical of a first timer—poor line choice, switching lines at the last minute, missing key entrances that would’ve upped my technical points, etc. And so, while I will not be moving onto Day 1—which was a goal of mine, since this is the last hurrah of the 2011 Tour—I am proud of how I skied. I’ve learned so much in just three competitions, and am already looking forward to next season’s Tour.

Now… it’s back to spectating for me. Tune into for live streaming coverage of Day 1 on Silver Fox Friday (slated to start at 10 a.m. MST), and keep an eye out for TGR star Sage Cattabriga-Alosa.

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Published: March 10, 2011

II: The Heat is On

SNOWBIRD, Utah — The first heat of the qualifiers is over. The West Baldy venue saw lots of fast, fluid skiing yesterday. With socked-in conditions—and following a recent three-foot dump—those who came out on top skied with ease, grace, and aggression; four women and 15 men advanced to Day 1 on Silver Fox, set for Friday. (Results here.)

The ladies had to battle through a soupy venue as several bouts of fog rolled in early in the day, affecting visibility and eventually causing an hour-long course hold. Two women—Katherine Crew of Vail, and Cait Morgan of Snowbird—stood at the top for over an hour waiting it out with the clouds. But it was Ciera Glenn of Crested Butte who came out on top, skiing an extremely fluid—fast, sweeping turns—line down looker’s right, smoothly dropping small terrain nuggets throughout her run. Second in points was Sasha Dingle of Bridger Bowl, who skied with her usual fiery, aggressive style. In third was Cait Morgan of Snowbird, who despite undesirable visibility conditions, skied an agile run.

Sweden's Rasmus Ekman during Wednesday's first qualifying day at the Subaru FWT in Snowbird. Photo: Sarah Lyman/MSI.

Sweden's Rasmus Ekman during Wednesday's first qualifying day at the Subaru FWT in Snowbird. Photo: Sarah Lyman/MSI.

For the men, Riley Berseng of Snowbird—points leader—skied a technical rock drop down the top center and cruised into looker’s left to hit a 25-foot rock booter, which he stomped (natch). Conor Pelton of Crystal Springs, who nabbed second, also started off on the center rock face, quickly navigating to another drop, while making big, stylish turns, and then headed to “field goal” rock, which he skied switch into, crushing the landing. In third was Rasmus Ekman of Rattvik, Sweden, who also stomped the 25-foot rock kicker.

As an athlete competing today, the second heat of the qualifiers—because of an overwhelming turnout MSI designated two days for qualifiers—I am both a little more sure of my line choice—I spent Wednesday spectating—while similarly intimidated because I am not headed into the competition blind. I know what I have to do, I can see the run in my mind’s eye. But perhaps with new knowledge also comes confusion. So a sleepless night of over-analysis.

The game is also on in other arenas: I’ve written in this space from the perspective of a competitor, but with the recent unfortunate turn of events comes new a challenge. Because on the minds of all the competitors here in Snowbird is our fallen friend, Ryan Hawks. I will be headed to a memorial event for Ryan this evening, as both a competitor and writer. I will be speaking with his closest friends, hoping to capture his spirit, and find some understanding.

Walking back from tonight’s athlete meeting, sun setting over Little Cottonwood, Sierra Nevada in hand, I thought I’d never write an obituary article about someone I knew. So two worlds collide. And for those who go on skiing in Ryan’s absence, closure isn’t so easy. Everything good about this sport and lifestyle will remind those closest to Ryan of his passing. His regular seat on the quad will now be filled by a stranger on vacation, après beers subdued, winter road-trips will noticeably different absent a fixture.

Ryan’s memory is stoking up the athletes here, not only to ski with spirit and focus, but to support one another. This level of passion and emotion, combined with world class athleticism, is making for a very special Tour Championship.

Photo: Sarah Lyman/MSI.

Photo: Sarah Lyman/MSI.

Crowd shot: Wednesday. Photo: L.R. Fielding.

Crowd shot: Wednesday. Photo: L.R. Fielding.

I: The Bird is the Word
Published: March 9, 2011

SNOWBIRD, Utah — This is it. The last chance of the 2010/11 season for every competitor, myself included, to throw down a line worthy enough to move onto the real competition of Day 1. And Snowbird Mountain Resort is certainly the place to do it, with famed steep skiing at every turn.

And the heat is on for those of us who aren't pre-qualified—this is the Subaru Freeskiing World Tour we’re talking about, after all. With about 130 athletes vying for the chance to compete in the finals, there will be two days of qualifiers—today and tomorrow.

And of course there are pros and cons to the two days of qualifiers. Competitors skiing today have the advantage of a fresh venue, with nearly three feet of snow in the past three days. (Given yesterday’s bluebird skies and snow conditions, however, “inspecting” the West Baldy venue may have been the last thing on anyone’s mind…)

But athletes skiing tomorrow will have had the opportunity to watch today’s qualifiers, and soak in the line choices, and hopefully set themselves apart tomorrow. On top of the overwhelming turnout, West Baldy is extremely well filled in, thanks to a very deep 2011—this makes for great skiing, but also a non-challenging venue. So with that in mind, competitors will really have to focus on technique and form. The Surbaru FWT’s head judge, Jim Jack, said he’ll be looking for solid basics: pole planting, bending the skis in the right place, whatnot.

Despite all the stoke and fresh snow, the 2011 Championships are bittersweet for the tight-knit freeskiing community—with the obvious and saddening absence of our friend and fellow competitor, Ryan Hawks, who died, March 1, following injuries sustained during the Kirkwood Subaru FWT stop. Many lines will be dedicated to him this week—and he will be a part, in spirit, of pretty much everything that goes on.

Stay tuned to for continuing coverage from The Bird…