Words by Jeff Schmuck
Photos by Julie Weinberger, John Vandervalk & Jeff Schmuck
After two days of preliminary qualifying rounds that saw an impressively stacked field duke it out for the right to compete in the first major contest of the year, the first of three Dew Tour stops officially kicked off today in Breckenridge, Colorado.
Mother Nature had been subtlety threatening the proceedings over the past two days with variable conditions that included two of a slopestyle/pipe contests' worst enemies, snow and fog, but today she officially and violently reared her ugly head, which resulted in the postponement of the men's slopestyle prelims after only one run was completed.
The day started out promising enough with the sun rising high over Imperial Peak and conditions for the most part stayed decent for the better part of the morning during practice. The athletes in contention took full advantage of the semi-decent weather and did their best to readjust themselves on the course to reflect the speed issues that became more and more apparent as the day went on and after some of the features were slightly altered after Tuesday's qualifiers.
Derek Spong. photo: Julie Weinberger
Matt Margetts. photo: Julie Weinberger
Shining brighter than an African sunrise through the fog of Breckenridge during practice were Simon Dumont, who was slaying the jumps and especially the rails all morning long, first and second place qualifiers Henrik Harlaut and Gus Kenworthy, who were both throwing a variety of technical tricks top to bottom, and of course the slopestyle mean machines that are Sammy Carlson, Jossi Wells and Colby James West.
Simon Dumont. photo: Julie Weinberger
Sammy Carlson, 630 on, 270 off the flat-down. photo: Jeff Schmuck
Jossi Wells. photo: Jeff Schmuck
Colby James West. photo: Jeff Schmuck
Henrik Harlaut. photo: photo: John Vandervalk
Gus Kenworthy. photo: John Vandervalk
The Frenchies were also representing hard, with excellent showings courtesy of Phil Casabon, Alexis Godbout, JF Houle and Charles Gagnier, who unfortunately tweaked his back a bit today and is being tended to by the Salomon team's physiotherapist as I type this.
JF Houle. photo: photo: John Vandervalk
Charles Gagnier. photo: Julie Weinberger
After a few hours of warm-up, it was time the first of two heats to begin. As the fog thickened, the snow continued to fall and the infamous Breckenridge wind began to speed up, the 35 competing skiers (along with a multitude of photographers, filmers and team managers) crammed themselves into the tent at the start gate, causing the scene to resemble a slaughterhouse full of lambs oblivious to their fate.
Oscar Scherlin, Anders Backe, Matt Walker, Byron Wells and Tucker Perkins get ready to drop. photo: Jeff Schmuck
Tom Wallisch, broken collarbone and all, came out to cheer the boys on.
Heat one had 18 skiers with 17 in the second, which at the end by the day was scheduled to be dwindled down to 12 anointed ones who would go on to compete in Saturday's finals. Each skier had two runs, with the best of two counting and each feature would count for 20% of their score. The Breckenridge park staff has done an amazing job with the course (in part thanks to the fresh blanket of white stuff that has fallen in the last week), which begins with the option of a down rail or flat-down box, followed by Breck's legendary triple line into another rail set at the bottom.
Snow continued to pound the course as the first run of heat one began, but Peter Olenick, Bobby Brown, Mike Clarke, Sean Decker, Tucker Perkins and a host of other persevered through the muck, putting together notable runs before mobbing back up to the top in the hopes of bettering their score. Concurrent to this the snow-induced speed issues unfortunately caused a few casualties for others as Tanner Rainville cased one of the tables and earned himself a phat lip for his efforts, and Byron Wells and Gus Kenworthy went down fairly hard, which was a shame to see considering both were in the process of putting down solid runs.
Bobby Brown. photo: John Vandervalk
Tucker Perkins. photo: Julie Weinberger
Seconds before the boys were about to start their second runs, the fog densified to the point where the first jump couldn't been seen. To complement this issue, the wind began to howl and blow more unwanted snow sideways across the mountain, forcing another impromptu party in the start gate tent. Everyone then took the time to grab some hot chocolate and catch up with old friend as the first contest of the year is always a grand reunion of sorts, but after roughly half an hour of more of the same, the organizers made the call to postpone the remainder of the prelims until Saturday.
Tomorrow's pipe prelims will go on as scheduled, but Saturday will a busy day for the guys as today's first run has been scrapped in favor of quickly redoing the slopestyle prelims on Saturday before the finals. Stay tuned...