Words by Ethan Stone
Photos by Ethan Stone and the Dave
Last Saturday, April 16, Whistler Village awoke to fat snowflakes falling as if they'd forgotten that it was officially spring and the time for big dumps was long since past. It had been snowing all week in a freak addition to the revelry of the World Skiing and Snowboarding Festival, frustrating the crowds who showed up to see the headlining music acts like Toots and the Maytals and Spearhead, but none of the skiers were complaining.
When I made it to the Blackcomb pipe on Saturday morning, I fully expected this Superpipe competition to be like that of two years ago- a total whiteout where judges and skiers couldn't see from one end of the pipe to the other. The only thing worse than setting up to shoot on the deck of the pipe in such miserable conditions is knowing that somewhere above you in the fog, someone is getting face shots.
But luckily, the weather decided that enough havoc had been wreaked already on the slopestyle competition and the pipe qualifiers earlier in the week, and the clouds broke only minutes before the first competitor was scheduled to drop in. With the sky clear, a fresh-cut pipe ready to be victimized, and knee-deep snow waiting for laps in between pipe runs, Saturday was going to be a good day.
The absence of some of the world's best pipe skiers meant that the qualifiers would have to step up and show Whistler the state of halfpipe skiing. With Simon Dumont and Tanner Hall nursing injuries, Jon Olsson perhaps gracefully deciding not to compete, and Charles Gagnier down with mono, the seasoned pipe skiers with big wins already under their belts this season were Peter Olenick, Andy Woods, Corey Vanular and TJ Schiller.
Chris Turpin laid down the all-switch run that I've been waiting to see for years, linking right and left switch cork 5s all the way down the pipe, but the true surprise came from qualifier Loic Collomb-Patton, whose top qualifying run on Friday couldn't be accurately described as anything other than revolutionary. Dropping in switch and boosting a ridiculously large switch air mute, Loic pummeled the rest of the pipe with a cork 9, alley-oop flat 5, and then a switch 7 into a stomped switch alley-oop 9, with all hits- including the switch airs- bigger than anyone else. But Loic couldn't put it together in the finals, and I could hear him screaming obscenities in French every time he'd bottom out on the cork 900 or the flat 5.
But Loic wasn't the only unknown talent to turn heads: one of several Silverstar riders who'd been killing it all week long, Justin Dorey, laid down a first-run 80.7, leading off with a huge alley-oop flat 5 and linking together huge airs all the way down the pipe. Run 1 was all Dorey needed to sit safe in the top spot for the rest of the competition. Andreas Hatveit came in a close second with equally huge airs and the most technical and mind-blowing trick of the day, a switch downhill 7 on his final hit. Now I've seen switch downhill spins tried before in this pipe but this was just ridiculous- Andreas tucked in his balls, took it straight in to the wall and was boosting these babies consistently at least eight feet out, and smoother than butter every time. Peter Olenick, repping the West Coast Killaz, wrapped up the podium with the winningest run of the last few years: cork 5 first hit, cork 9, alley-oop 5, cork 7.
A few other up-and-comers who definitely deserve mention are Matt Hayward, a top qualifier in the slopestyle, who tossed by far the smoothest and biggest alley-oop hit I've ever seen, an enormous cork 9 true tail, and Mike Riddle, also a qualifier, who was going huge all day but couldn't hold it together for a podium run. Other mentionables include John Symms's boned-out shifty 900 and back to back flat 5s, and Stefan Thomas's 7 true tail to switch 7 that got him on the podium at the World Superpipe Championships in Park City.
In the Superhit contest, with an all-expenses-paid trip for two to somewhere tropical on the line, Andreas took the switch downhill 7 to new heights to claim the title uncontested, although both Charlie Ager and John Spriggs went for broke with huge cork 5s. Dorey launched his alley-oop flat 5 a few more times just for the photogs, and if Hatveit hadn't been stomping his trick like a machine every hit, Colby West might have had a chance at winning with the biggest cork 10 true tail that I've ever seen (I took a few laps with him after the comp on the glacier chair, and although these Right Coasters rip at pipe, in Colby's own words, "I have no idea how to ski powder!").
Now I'm going to regress a little and tell you about the Urban Rail Jam held off the deck of the TLC in the Village on Friday night. This was quite possibly the worst setup for a rail jam I've ever seen, and major props go out to all the athletes who risked crushing themselves on this thing. In my mind, the proper rail jam setup is one where the rail is moderately difficult with limitless potential for tricks on and off- say, a big flat-down with room for disasters, spins on and off, switch-ups, etc- basically, everything that this rail jam wasn't. The down-flat-down was the same rail used last year (lame), didn't have much potential for tricks (lame), and the short in-run and out-run made even skiing in to hit this thing sketchy. Sammy Carlson said the he was just happy to leave the comp with all limbs intact. We're glad too, Sammy.
At any rate, the competitors hucked their meat with disasters and switch-ups, but it eventually came down to a switch-up comp, as even with pole whips in, riders were having major difficulty getting enough speed for the disaster (more than one came up short, and it wasn't pretty). Dave Weale and the ubiquitous Iannick B. duked it out in the skiers' final, with Iannick nailing his blindside switch-up clean for the victory. Major props go out to Ashley Battersby, who didn't let this rail intimidate her and sent it three times, getting more than a bit beaten up in the process. And to Tom Dolezel, who resorted to- you guessed it- hitting the rail in a thong to hype up the crowd.
For those of you who didn't read the slopestyle update, this course was dope: flat rail into an option of a booter or a big hip, then another option of a triple kink (f-d-f-d) and an innovative up-box to a raised butter pad, then the channel gap into the final booter and the QP at the bottom. Rex Thomas had been yelling at competitors all day during the qualifiers Wednesday to hit the QP, and TJ Schiller showed the competition how to do it right in the first run of the finals on Thursday. 270, cab right 7, 450 disaster, ridiculous cab 7 double japan over the transfer, switch 9 mute, Schiller cork 5 far critical on the QP- the kid had it all.
TJ had the run to beat, but Peter Olenick and Sammy Carlson of the West Coast Killaz gave him a run for the money with big runs as well. And John Spriggs showed that not only can he go very, very big, but he can lay down a mean slopestyle run as well. Peter took second behind TJ, with Spriggs in third, Silverstar boy Riley Leboe in fourth and Sammy in fifth. The Superfinal was a bit haggard, as three of the five skiers just mentioned went down at one point or another during their run.
The comp was concluded with a Superhit contest on the quarterpipe, and I don't need to do anything more than show you this picture of John Spriggs.
Colby West knows what style is.
The Japanese guys were killing it too. Anyone know the skis?.
Huge zero over the channel.
Charlie Ager got the "Giv'er" award for the week.
Take that, Hans Smith!
This is what I mean by a Schiller mute. Switch 9.
Beauty meets the beast- Ashley B. faces off at the rail jam.
Sammy shot a few rail trick tips with me- they're gonna be dope!
In addition to entertaining crowds with his thong antics, Tom Dolezel has learned to shoot balls of lightning out of his ass.
Justin Dorey is stylishly out of focus.
Andreas Hatveit, alley-oop flat 5.
This was without doubt the smallest switch air Loic Collomb-Patton boosted all day.
Mike Riddle- the photo says it all.
**Watch Halfpipe video**