Canadian Freeskiing Championships 2002
Hucking to Hardpack, Flat-Light Straight Lines and More? Nothing Stops the Canadian Freeskiing Championships from Upping the Anti
After mother nature finished pissing on Whistler/Blackcomb and the rest of Western North America's resorts, things weren't lookin' good for the IFSA Canadian Freeskiing Championships. Rain to 1800m, gusting winds, sounds pretty juicy eh? Local Whistler competitors had their doubts; some of them waiting as late as possible to register for the comp, and others like myself bailing out entirely. Bad call. How dare I doubt the competition that for five years has kicked off the season with the most epic up-the-anti game there is.
The fun began on Day 1 of the World Tour Qualifier, which doubled as a North American Tour competition with IFSA tour points awarded to the winners. That meant skiers couldn't just play it safe and qualify, instead they had to put on a show. And what show it was, held on a bump run on Blackcomb appropriately named the Bite. Kurt V. brought stream skiing back in style by falling short on his waterfall gap and going for a slip and slide down the wet rocks and into the 'hole'. Fortunately for his ego, two or three other skiers enjoyed the same delight. In other parts of the circus arena, skier after skier went soaring over the 'day wrecker' dip at the end of the run and let fate decide their outcome.
The highest scoring run of the day came from Team DOGLOTION athlete Blair Fontana who stomped three clean airs, styled a root-grind-to-straight-line, and floated over the 'day wrecker' like it ain't no thang.
For those who made the cut, Day 2 was held on Chainsaw Ridge: high enough up for competitors to bag some powder turns rather than wallowing in the slush and streams. With another cut looming over their shoulders, the front of the pack had to stay on their feet while the laggers had to step it up a notch. The men and the women all skied super strong, leaving no clues to spectators that it was only a qualifier for the real meal deal. The best show was from Johnny Law who had some major catching up to do. He flashed the most technical line down the Fin and then went for extra credits by stomping an air at the bottom that dwarfed other competitors' drops. But Day 1's leader #21 Blair Fontana skied a solid and technical billy goat line that scored him the overall win! The Mammoth Lakes contingency of Brett Lotz and Ben Cumbie took 2nd and 3rd. Out of the girls, Sarah Oakden from Fernie absolutely ruled the competition with an 8 point lead after two days. Oakden… hmmmm, what do they feed those kids? Behind her was Lindsay Yaw from Aspen, and Meg Oster from Red Mountain. And that was just the beginning? they all needed to save tricks in their hat for two more days of competition in the Canadian Freeskiing Championships…
The Main Event?
The Canadian Freeskiing Championships has a huge reputation in the freeskiing community after five years of epic snow and absurdly awesome athlete performances. But this year's hokey mix of powder, ice, frozen slush and flat light was lookin' rough. Even after the wicked performances in the qualifier, some people were still doubting this comp?s reputation. But the show must go on, and the circus was due for two more days of stellar performances. Day 1 was held in Ruby Bowl where the girls started the show with flair. Local snow slayer Jen Ashton nailed the run of the day like it was her annual duty, leaving Ingrid Backstrom trailing 4 points behind. Unfortunately 1st place qualifier Sarah Oakden didn't make the final cut.
When the guys were up to bat, Ryan Oakden upheld the family name by throwing a huge spin off a steep shelf at the start of his run. Unfortunately his bindings didn't appreciate the abuse and let him go. Other crowd pleasers included Will Burks' huge huck in the first two turns of his run, Mike Tierney's sick dissection of that same cliff, Daisuke Sazaki's accidental acrobatics, and Johnny Law's endless line of hucks-to-hardpack. But the high scores and ooooo's and aaaaaaah's this year were for the skiers who skied the cleanest, smoothest lines. Local ripper and AFT athlete Pierre-Yves Leblanc linked a bunch of solid airs and fast turns together with more style than anyone else, earning him the highest score of the day. Hugo Harrison knew the judges were stoked on such a fluid line, so he went up to try the same, only to finish less than a point behind Pierre. If these guys' scores were any indication of what freeskiing judges are looking for, it must be all about charging a hard line with style and finesse. And why not? It?s way the hell harder to flash a hard line with unrelenting style than it is to huck your carcass. But nobody will complain about sick crowd pleasers, especially the Day 4 action that stopped most passer-by tourists for a long game of "what the hell is that guy doing"?
The girls started the Day 4 cabaret, and Jen Ashton again led the pack by four points, earning her a solid seat in the Canadian Freeskiing Championship thrown for the second consecutive year! Ingrid Backstrom held on to 2nd and Aleisha Cline narrowly stole 3rd from 4th place finisher Meg Oster.
The guys brought the circus show into full effect with every athlete charging from start to finish. Local AFT skier Robin Courcelles skied a heinous, technical line down a steep ramp, followed by a pile of rock drops and grinds. But he lost a would-be podium spot by twirling into an accidental ski-ballet demonstration, cartwheels, fakie turns , rolls and all. Full props to Robin for skiing so aggressively both days, and for sticking the ballet moves! DOGLOTION and AFT skier Leif Zapf-Gilje skied hard like he wanted that podium again, but an invisible snow-troll sent him twirling over some rocks to his demise. And the sick bird award goes to… Ryan Connelly, the Comor Freeride Team member who took his skis where no man had gone before. In true up-the-anti style, Connelly saw the daily rock-grind bet and raised it ten fold; skiing diagonally across 60 feet of frosted rock until friction denied him and threw him onto an uphill landing. Aaaah, freeskiing at it's finest, and props out to Ryan for risking his 6th place standing to teach us all how to grind with class.
All grinding aside, the best runs of the day were again thrown down by the guys who skied aggressive, solid, and fluid lines. True to his reign from Day 1, Pierre-Yves Leblanc once more skied like he was surfing through powder, stomping all his airs and hauling from crux to crux without hesitation. P-Y scored the highest on both days to become the Canadian Freeskiing Champion. Other solid runs were skied by Hugo Harrison who snagged 2nd place once again, Kevin Hjertaas in 3rd, local Mike Stevenson in 4th, and Nat Fresnois in 5th. And just when the show seemed over, crowd favorite Daisuke Sazaki came from nowhere and ripped a line that upped him from 30th to 8th! He dropped a huge air into a narrow coffin, stomped it, hit some quality billygoating to the finish line, and sealed it with his signature bowing and chanting ritual.
At the awards ceremony, female Champion Jen Ashton didn't hesitate to douse the photographers with Champagne. Male champion P-Y Leblanc shoved his bottle in his throat and chugged almost all of it before dumping the rest on his head. Both these champions call Whistler home, and overall the Canadian contingent kicked ass. But it wouldn't be a competition without imports like Peterson and Binning pushing the women, or Tierney, Burks, Olson and Sazaki going large every time.
Next stop, Snowbird. They've seen it, who's gonna raise it?
1. Jennifer Ashton 1. Pierre-Yves Leblanc
2. Ingrid Backstrom 2. Hugo Harrison
3. Aleisha Cline 3. Kevin Hjertaas
4. Meg Oster 4. Mike Stevenson
5. Linda Peterson 5. Nathaniel Fresnois
6. Andrea Binning 6. Ehren Olson
7. Jessica Baker 7. Robin Courcelles
8. Susan Medville 8. Daisuke Sazaki
9. Anne Catelin 9. Jim Jack
10. Jennifer Berg 10. Mike Tierney