words and photos by Rom Marcucci
300 days of sunshine and 450 inches of snow pour down upon Squaw Valley California during an average year.Â At no time did this diverse weather statistic show clearer than the past month.Â During January, over 200 inches of snow fell.Â The skies cleared only two days before the 48 Straight weekend, leaving event organizers minimal time to build the skiercross course and halfpipe.
Sunday dawned bright and warm by February standards, approaching 50 degrees.Â The park crew spent the day prior fine tuning the pipe during practice and the competitors were ready.Â
The ladies started off the afternoon.Â The competition format was qualifiers, followed by finals, followed by superfinals.Â The ladies' field was stacked with some of the world's best women pipe skiers. Â Qualifying for the one run superfinal were Grete Eliassen, Jen Hudak, Roz Groenewoud and Sarah Burke.Â
Grete ran first, with large straight airs, both alley oops, an alley-oop 5 and a 7.Â Jen dropped next, with a run filled with big 5's, alley-oops, and a 7 to close it out, temporarlily landing in first place.Â Roz Groenewoud followed, with the only 9 so far from the ladies.Â Though her spins were big, her amplitude and style couldn't match Jen's, and Roz sat in second place.Â The ever dominant Sarah Burke ran last; the other ladies simply could not match her.Â Sarah landed a huge, clean 9, an alley-oop 7, and a host of smaller tricks en route to climbing to the top of the podium.Â Though still the top women pipe skier, Sarah commented she is seeing more competeition than she used to. The final results: Sarah 1st, Jen 2nd, Roz 3rd.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the day in the men's competition was Simon Dumont.Â Though he started the day in his typical form, Dumont bobbled on his second two runs, citing his recent shoulder injury, and did not make the super finals.Â With Dumont hurt, and Tanner somewhere deep in the mountains, the competition was left wide open.
Justin Dorey started off the superfinal. He'd been throwing an insanely stylish and huge 360 to switch 7 combo all day, but fell during his final run.Â Colby West dropped second, with huge amplitude, a 9 to 5 to 7 to switch alley oop 7 to 10 to switch 3 combo, one of the most technical of the day.Â Xavier Bertoni from La Clusaz, France was up next.Â He dropped in switch, with a monstrous and corked-out switch 7.Â The rest of his run was filled with every spin imaginable.Â Though his amplitude did not match Colby's, the technical difficulty was enough to unseat him.Â Jossi Wells dropped last, with a monstrous Dumontesque 5 to start things out, both 9's, a 7, and a switch 9.Â His combination of huge airs, technical diverse tricks, and the smoothest style of the top three landed him atop the podium.Â
There were a few stylish standouts for the day, but for the most part, I can't wait until these skiers style catches up with their skills.Â Regardless of style, for a field filled with relative unknowns and newcomers, the skill in men's pipe skiing was insane.Â The level of technical difficulty, switch skiing, trick combinations, and amplitude from these young athletes literally shocked me.