photos: cko, Tomek Gola (http://www.fikcja.pl)
For the third day in a row riders in Laax awoke to cloudy skies and yet more snow. Welcome news during a European season that's been less than stellar, but for our purposes here during the Orage European Freeski Open, things could have been better. Unlike the two previous days, the snow came and stayed, all the way through until the event was wrapped and the prizes were being awarded. The massive amount of snow that fell throughout the day caused speed issues and ultimately changed the format from a best of two final, to an optional-2-run-final and the ability to use your best score from the semis if you so desired.
But enough about the weather, on to the skiing! This was a chance to see how those that made it through the qualifying rounds stacked up against a crop of the best in the world. Not that an invite straight to the semis was enough to guarantee a spot in the finals, as demonstrated by riders like Sammy Carlson and TJ Schiller, who couldn't work through speed issues to put down a clean run, leading TJ to announce his retirement from skiing in favour of working on his burgeoning career as a male model. We wish him all the best.
On the Euro side of things Anders Backe, Kevin Rolland, and Kalle Leinonen threw down some highlight runs and Aussie Russel Henshaw locked it down for the southern hemisphere along with NZ'er Jossi Wells. Canucks were also in attendence including frenchies Charles Gagnier, JF Houle, Phil Casabon, and West coasters Joe Schuster, Charlie Ager, and Ian Cosco. And while the course may not have been as large as some are used to, that was probably a good thing given the conditions. Changed from qualifying was the replacement of the rollercoaster box with a flat down box, which most riders took advantage of with plenty of 450-ons and even a few 630s for good measure. PK Hunder impressed with a switch 450 on to 450-out of the flat-down and followed by another 450 on to the flat box and then a super corked 450-out that looked un-landable. But land it he did, taking it straight into the jump line where he tossed one of his epic true-noses (see photo below). And Simon Dumont, compeition skiing's main man these days showed, some great variety in his runs including a really slick handplant over the double rainbox box setup at the top of the course.
When it was all said and done it was PK that took home the win and his first European Open title, with Dumont a close second and Jossi Wells in third. For the ladies it was an all out battle between the top three ladies with Virginie Favre taking the win, Ashley Battersby continuing her solid season in 2nd and Grete Eliassen in a not-so-common third.
All available fingers are crossed for good weather in tomorrow's halfpipe event and even though Dumont claimed his second place by chanting 'not just a pipe skier', he's sure to be the one to beat.
Video Courtesy Orage
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