Words by Brendan Walmer
Photos by Jamie Water
Video by Oliver Hoblitzelle
As one of the esteemed judges Andy Parry once said in an episode of his now famous web series, ďItís what makes the east coast different, man, itís the weather, itís not powder, itís not steep and deep, itís not Alta man, itís like East Coast Hardcore Real stuff.Ē That pretty much exemplified Saturday at Killington Resort in Vermont during the eighth annual Rails 2 Riches contest. The weather was not exactly on our side, with rain, mist, fog, and a tease of sun for the last two minutes of qualifiers. However, it didnít slow the competitors down one bit; from the start of practice to the last dash for cash, they went all out and didnít stop putting down crazy trick after trick. Some started off with a bang with 270s on and k-feds on the DFD while others decided to take it slow and feel out the technical close-out feature. Late arrivals Steve Stepp and defending champion John Kutcher showed up a few minutes after practice began and quickly got to work. However there was one talent who was missing, LJ Strenio was nowhere to be seen, which was not unlike his last appearance at Rails 2 Riches in 2010. LJ however had good excuse; he forgot his boots, and showed up for the last few minutes of practice sporting a pair of rental boots.
View of the foggy course from inside the athlete lounge in the K1 Lodge.
The coveted R2R Jerseys.
Keiran McVeigh signing in.
Skier Charlie Dayton after registration.
The Judges: Ian Compton, Matt Benedetto, and Andy Parry.
The athletes hiking the course.
LJ Strenio and his rental boots.
Luckily for the riders the snow was nice and soft.
After 25 minutes of practice and a quick rider meeting with the judges and event coordinator Tess Hobbs, qualifiers got under way. As soon as they were told to begin, it was a flurry of calling drops and huge tricks. Stand out tricks from Giray Dadali included a frontside 810 and a switch 270 continuing 450 on the close out. Newly announced Nordica team rider Kieran McVeigh, who was so new to the team he wasnít able to get his skis mounted before the event and had to ride his old ones, was pressing and surface swapping everything in sight, including a blunt slide 450 out of the down tube and a surface blind swap continuing 2 on the close-out. Fellow Nordica team riders Christian Franchino and Luke Hagearty also made their presence known. Christian was working on 5 swaps on the DFD, Luke threw down a switch tails over disaster to front side 270 out of the DFD and lip slide 270 on continuing 270 out of the down tube. Meanwhile, Jeremie Veilleux unleashed a lip slide 270 on to the down tube from the close out side and stalled from the close out to the down tube. Defending champion John Kutcher would not be denied entry into the finals, as he put down super smooth 450s onto the down tube over the close out and a really stylish nose tap 270 on the down tube also over the close out. But it was LJ Strenio who seemed the hungriest of all to come back and regain his title. With a blindside 360 switch-up on the DFD, and front side switch-up pretzel front side 450 off the DFD and a massive rodeo 5 safety out of the close out, LJ easily made his way into the finals.
Hugo Pelletier with a smooth 270 on to the down tube over the close out.
Defending champion John Kutcher with a tail tap into the down rail.
Christian Franchino winding up for a 540 switch up on the DFD.
Tyler Duncan on the close out.
Giray Dadali's switch 270 on continuing 450 out of the close out.
Steve Stepp with a switch right 270 on to the down tube.
Colin Sirois with a lip slide disaster on the DFD.
Charlie Dayton on the DFD.
Catherine Warchal on the DFD.
Megan Clinton on the DFD.
LJ Strenio with a 450 disaster on to the elbow kink rail.
Kieran McVeigh pressing his way into the finals.
John Sirois with a rodeo 450 on attempt.
Luke Hagearty setting his edge on the DFD.
Jeremie Veilleux tapping the close out during a lip slide on to the down tube.
Making their way into the finals later that night...
After a break for some lunch provided by Killington and relaxing with friends, the finalists made their way back to the freshly groomed and raked course under the lights. The weather continued to be a factor as some heavy winds picked up during finals. Practice time was given to let the competitors warm back up followed by another quick rider meeting, and then it was on, this time for all the cash. With a $4,000 first place check on the line, it was a no holds barred competition with heavy tricks being thrown left and right and no one was holding back anything anymore.
The crowd watching intently as finals get underway.
Kieran McVeigh was the first of the skiers to drop in for finals and he put down a super smooth surface continuing 270 out. McVeigh continued putting down trick after trick including a blunt slide front side 270 out of the DFD, a blind swap blind 270 out of the DFD, and possibly the most technical and stylish trick of the night with a 270 on tail press pretzel 270 out on the DFD that earned him $100 and a spot in the dash for cash. Dom Laporte put down a front side 810 which also earned him a spot in the dash for cash, and worked on tricks with one foot backwards on his take offs all night. Tyler Duncan wowed the crowd with his rodeo 450 on to the down tube attempts while John Kutcher kept it stylish with multiple tap and 270 on combinations. Will Hibbs put down a 450 disaster on continuing 270 out on the DFD and some smooth surface swaps on the close out. Steve Stepp was really consistent all night; a blind 360 switch up on the DFD and a super-fed on the close out were just some of the stand out tricks that he put down. Giray Dadali put down a 630 disaster on to the elbow rail and a massive switch 270 on rodeo 630 out of the close out getting him into the dash for cash and $100.
Kieran McVeigh with what many are calling the trick of the night, a smooth 270 on tail press pretzel 270 out on the DFD.
Dom Laporte spinning an 810 out of the close out.
Luke Hagearty on the DFD.
Tyler Duncan rodeo 450 on to the down tube.
Jackie Kling disastering the DFD.
Catherine Warchal on the DFD.
John Kutcher with a nose tap 270 on to the down tube.
Steve Stepp spinning on to the elbow kink rail.
Steve Stepp disaster 270 on to the DFD.
But the night belonged to LJ Strenio who, even on his rented boots, put down banger after banger including a switch 270 on rodeo 450 out and a front swap rodeo 450 out of the close out, a blindside 360 switch up continuing 270 out of the DFD and some massive spin on disasters to the elbow rail. LJ also earned a spot in the dash for cash at the end, and won it with his switch 270 on to rodeo 450 out of the close out to please the crowd. With all the hype surrounding this event, mostly generated by Saga Outerwearís ďBattle of the JohnsĒ video, Strenio came out on top and helped complete Sagaís quest for a clean sweep of the podium.
LJ Strenio mid front swap front 450 out on the DFD.
LJ Strenio rodeo 450 out of the close out to end the finals.
The ladies waiting to hear the results.
The two Johns.
Women's podium: Kim Lamarre (2nd), Jackie Kling (1st), Catherine Warchal (3rd)
LJ making his way to the top of the podium.
Men's podium: Giray Dadali (2nd), LJ Strenio (1st), Steve Stepp (3rd)
John Kutcher celebrating with his Saga Outerwear teammates.
LJ celebrates his fifth time atop the Rails 2 Riches podium.
On behalf of myself and photographer Jamie Walter, Iíd like to thank Killington Resort and Tess Hobbs for putting on such a great event and all the hospitality, as well as the Killington Park Staff for all their hard work building and maintaining the amazing set up (even though the conditions were not in their favor).
Rails 2 Riches Finals