Welcome to the Show: The 2010 Visa Freestyle International

Posted January 18, 2010 in

For years the Visa Freestyle International has been coming to Deer Valley, Utah to showcase the world’s best skiers in front of thousands of eager and inebriated spectators.  This year was no exception.  The festivities began Thursday with an eardrum bursting performance by The Bravery on Park City’s historic main street.  The concert was followed by a fantastic fireworks display and plenty of delicious libations for all to enjoy.  Friday, the qualifiers for the aerials competition narrowed down the field to 24 lucky men and women on Deer Valley’s famed White Owl course.  As the sun’s golden rays faded into a beautiful twilight, the crowds filed in, armed to the teeth with a spectacular selection of booze, blankets, and enough film in the camera to capture the excitement that permeated through the venue.  By eight o’clock, the first of the women rocketed into the stratosphere and dazzled the crowd with a wide array of flips and spins.  Aerial skiing is essentially a combination of gymnastic ability, art and flat out fearlessness.  The athletes propel themselves down an icy 250 foot in-run and launch off of a vertical jump measuring somewhere between 56-70 degrees.  They then perform an elaborate series of flips accompanied by a mind-boggling number of spins, only to fall out of the sky onto a steep as hell landing covered in chopped up snow and pine needles (for increased visibility).  The Chinese team made a brilliant showing, but it ended up being Lydia Lassila, a.k.a the Flying Kangaroo, who took home the gold.  Her flawless acrobatics and smooth style impressed the judges and gained her the title. 

The men’s finals pressed on immediately following the women’s, and the highly anticipated performances of Jeret “Speedy” Peterson and Warren “The Wookie” Shouldice were on display for all to see.  Speedy took off second and unleashed his patented “Hurricane,” which involves up to five twists and three spins.  Unfortunately, he didn’t quite stomp the landing and ended up double ejecting.  We will see if he can perfect it by the Olympics.  After a few more gravity defying routines, Anton Kushnir of Belarus awed the judges when he stuck his maneuver like stepping of a curb.  Although Kushnir was the winner, hometown hero, Dylan Ferguson, showed his phenomenal poise and strength and proved that he is the athlete to watch in the future.

After the podium presentation and fireworks show, the hoards of people disbanded and the real excitement began.  Equipped with anything remotely slick, the mob of excitable spectators tore off towards the parking lot in a frenzy of asses and elbows.  I was even stopped by a bewildered ski patrolman as I attempted to best them all with my recently acquired red sled, which I nicknamed El Diablo in the spirit of the evening. 

As the weekend’s events rolled on, Saturday marked the long awaited moguls final.  Held on perhaps the most daunting competition course, aptly named Champion, the brave men and women began their grueling descent under the lights.  The run was perfectly situated directly above the crowd and allowed for maximum views of the madness that unfolded.  At over 800 feet long and 60 feet wide, the course consisted of four side-by-side mogul runs, meticulously carved and shaped by Deer Valley’s finest.  The competitors can choose any of the identical runs, which also contain two kickers; one near the top and one near the bottom.  The athletes must weave their way along the run and perform some type of aerial insanity off of each jump.  No mean feat when you consider they are traveling at speeds of nearly 30 mph.  By the end of the event, North American domination was the name of the game.  Topping the podium was number one seed Jennifer Heil of Canada, with the USA’s Heather McPhie and Michelle Roark rounding out the top three. 

With the ladies all squared away, it was time for the men to let their hair down.  The crowd knew they were in for a show when the leadoff competitor, Arttu Kiramo of Finland, knocked himself out cold after a botched landing off the bottom kicker.  I believe he was still unconscious when he finally came to rest after sliding across the finish line.  Fortunately, he was able to walk out under his own power.  The rest of the event was highlighted by aggressive and powerful performances by the likes of Patrick Deneen and previous World Cup champ, Dale Begg-Smith.  However, it proved to be the frantic Frenchman, Guilbaut Colas, who won the gold.  His blistering pace combined with huge air and perfect balance made him the stand out at the end of the night. 

Just another exciting weekend marked by big air, big checks and big crowds in that quiet little nook of Park City known as Deer Valley.