Each rider in the competition was judged on a 50-point scale. Up to ten points were awarded for the following categories: difficulty of line, control, fluidity, aggressiveness, and technique.
Day one of the qualifiers started out with sunny skies and spring like snow conditions. Heaps of freeriders made their way to the top of West Baldy to lay down runs and impress the gathering crowd of inebriated individuals below. As the green beer flowed, the competitors picked their way through the venue, utilizing the terrain nuggets sprinkled across the slope. At the end of competition, a cut was made and the first round of top riders were picked for the weekend’s semi-finals. Pre-qualified athlete and perennial favorite, Cliff Bennett, commented on the day’s action, “The conditions were perfect for today’s qualifier and it was exciting to see the anxious athletes put together lines on West Baldy.”
On the second day of the qualification round, gray skies prevailed and the snow conditions were less than stellar. Imagine trying to ski a coral reef with an average pitch of 40 degrees. First time competitor and Snowbird Ski Patroller, Steve Miller, quantified the conditions as “hateful” as he came in from his run. Despite the quality of the snow, the competition continued until the clouds rolled up canyon and shut the show down. The milk bottle visibility coupled with the heinous snow conditions postponed the action till Friday, where the final 18 competitors braved the elements once more for their shot at the weekend’s event. Once the final cuts were made, the stage was set for the real deal and the semi-finals took place on Snowbird’s famed Silver Fox venue Saturday.
As you approach the top of the tram, the last thing you see is the intimidating North slope know as Silver Fox. An impressive venue, used by the tour to weed out the weak and award the fearless, Silver Fox is rife with cliff bands and bushy billy goat lines. Its aspect to the sun is also perfect for keeping the snow in decent shape. However, this season’s low snowfall had left the venue with many rocky outcroppings that provided some spicy take-offs and peppery landings. No matter though, these are the world’s best athletes and they came prepared to throw down in any conditions.
While most Salt Lake City residents were sleeping off their Friday night, the eager competitors filled the Snowbird Center, anxious to see what the mountain had in store for them. The sun’s rays filled the sky and revealed a picturesque landscape of stunning white and brilliant blue. By ten o’clock the females hit the course and showed the judges what they were made of. Snowbird’s fearless cat driver, Alaina Huestis, put together a line that ensured her a spot in the finals on Sunday. Perhaps the most inspiring performance of the women’s competition came from the young and talented Angel Collinson. Daughter of long-time Snowbird Snow Safety guru, Jimmy Collinson, this rising star burned bright and showed the world why she is tied with current tour leader Jacqui Edgerly. In addition to these fine runs, Sara Mancuso, sister of Olympic silver medalist Julia Mancuso, made her family proud as she tore up the venue and sealed her position as second seed going into Sunday’s final.
While the men geared up for their runs, the colorful crowds filtered in and snagged their seats for the upcoming madness. A formidable lineup of world champions and local heroes waited at the start for the green light. The course was rough and the landings were bombed, but that did not stop the athletes from going huge. Current tour leader, Griffin Post of Jackson Hole, made it clear that he was here to put together a progressive line that moved the sport forward. Post delivered the goods and skied one of the most exposed lines on the venue as he tiptoed through the North Chute and into the lower reaches of Silver Fox. Chilean phenom and La Parva tour stop winner, Chopo Diaz, slayed the demons as he rallied to a solid finish, grabbing a spot in Sunday’s final. The other international contenders made their countries proud and clenched several spots for the last day of competition. As Saturday’s action came to a close, the Flyin’ Hawaiian, Drew Tabke, demolished the course and threw a gargantuan back flip followed by an equally massive 360 on the final two hits of the venue. The roar from the home crowd was no doubt heard throughout the canyon. After the final cut, the remaining competitors were sent home to rest and contemplate their fate for Sunday.
Great outcomes derive from relentless training and perseverance. The final day on the final stop of the Freeskiing World Tour tested the fortitude of each of the 58 riders that were whittled down from 200 over the week’s events. With a beautiful clear sky overhead, the fortunate and dedicated few were left holding two sticks and a dream on Sunday.
Mount Baldy is indeed one of the most daunting venues on the tour. Sporting numerous cliffed benches and spiny chutes that carry on for nearly 2,000 vertical feet, Baldy is the perfect host to determine who the best of the best are. This year also marked the first time in nearly a decade that the finals could start from the true top of the mountain. Usually, the prevailing North winds scour the upper reaches of Baldy, but this year’s Southern storms had filled in the higher terrain. The increased length of the venue meant that the competitors could throw a few extra hits into their line and impress the crowd (and judges) a bit more. In addition to Baldy being a great final venue for the competitors, the flats at the bottom provide the perfect stadium for the thousands of spectators that gather each year to cheer on their favorite riders. The Snowbird Ski Patrol definitely had their work cut out for them as they tried to keep the peace and make sure everyone had a great time.
As the clock struck ten, the first of the ladies hurled themselves down the slopes in an effort to reach the podium. Tour co-leader Jacqui Edgerly put together a nice run, but her stutter at the bottom kept her out of the super-final. Her friend and rival, Angel Collinson, however, blasted down the fall line and racked up a spectacular amount of points that secured her spot in the super-final. Crystal Wright and Emily Teague also wowed the judges enough to move on. The field of thirteen was narrowed to five and the top ladies were given on more chance to fulfill their dreams. After an impressive display of talent and sheer grit, it was Snowbird’s own Angel Collinson that prevailed and took home the gold. Not only did she win the event, but she also took home the overall tour title, The McConkey Cup. This year’s tour was dedicated to the late Shane McConkey, who pioneered the world of competitive freeskiing. Shane died last March doing what he loved in the mountains of Italy, but his adventurous spirit lives on in competitors like Angel and Crystal. Oh yeh, add the North Face Young Gun Award to Angel’s list of accords as well. Teague, Huestis, and Mancuso rounded out the top five for the women.
With the women left to relax a little, the men began their assault on the mountain. An impressive array of world-class talent absolutely annihilated the slopes and left many a gaping fan clutching their Pabst tall boy in awe. By three o’clock the crowd had grow to riotous proportions and the sounds of horns and cheers could probably have been heard downtown. The 45 men that started the day were brought down to twelve for the super-final. As the remaining men marched their way back to the start, the crowd was entertained by the winged wonders from Ozone speed flyers. The insanity reached its peak as they took off and soared high into the air and touch back down as gracefully as a dove landing on a branch. However, it was now time for the final twelve to send it one last time, without parachutes of course.
The final cast was certainly impressive. But what was more impressive was the fact that eight out of twelve hailed from Little Cottonwood Canyon. Your favorite Tram Club doorman, Nick Greener, had himself one and blasted through the upper venue, only to send it off the Amphitheatre at the bottom bigger than anyone. The sound of the stomp as he came back to Earth could have stopped your heart. This impressive feat earned Greener the much sought after Backcountry.com Sickbird belt buckle, the prize given to the competitor who throws caution and personal well being to the wayside just to impress the judges and spectators. On top of Greener’s ridiculousness, Snowbird shredder Oakley White-Allen, produced one of the most creative runs of the week. Battling through the qualifiers and making it all the way to the super-final, White-Allen impressed his fans and himself with a phenomenal run that culminated with a colossal air at the bottom of the venue. His performance earned him the third spot on the podium and his best finish since he began competing. Tour veteran and all around bad-ass, Lars Chickering-Ayers hung himself out when he scorched a line through the course and cleanly stomped the high-speed double with out hesitation. Lars’ aggressive style and fluidity landed him in first place for the event. Alta local Drew Stoecklein snagged second place with his incredible run, exhibiting perfect balance and timing in his encounter with the course.
Truly an awesome weekend came to a close on the Snowbird Plaza deck when the top athletes were awarded and cheered on by their fans. The beer flowed like wine and the first place finishers enjoyed a Sierra Nevada shower as they accepted their trophies. Once the sun faded behind the canyon ridges and the tired spectators made their way to the bar for a celebratory round, the athletes were left to revel in their accomplishments. Check out the tour’s epic coverage on www.freeskiingworldtour.com for complete athlete profiles and information on next years exciting events. Schuss!