Another typical Whistler morning: wake up at four AM in the stairwell of an unfamiliar hotel to the brusque nudge of the cleaning guy (get kicked out). Find a hotel with an outdoor hot tub, climb the fence, jump in, fall back asleep. Wake up again to see that HOLY SHIT it's April 15 and the village is in the middle of a goddamn blizzard! Not sticking down here, but it's gonna be fresh up in the fog. Wash the stale beer taste out of my mouth with a Red Bull, suit up and hit the gondola.
Up at the halfpipe it's clear, but the fog is dropping steadily, and soon it's a whiteout. The judges can barely see to the top of the pipe, and a light but constant snow is making the flats slow for the riders. They're going off nevertheless, hiking off into the haze to drop in as many times as possible before the jam ends. On first hits, the rider looks like a fly on a projection screen. The only way to tell how big they're going is to listen for the slap of skis on ice.
About ten minutes into the first of two heats, Mike Riddle raises the stakes with a run that's as big as it is tech: cork nine opp true tail on the first hit, 5s both ways, all a more than respectable height out. Ryan McKeeman replies with Jon-ish consistency on his run with smooth flairs and a goofy cork 9, a run he's very familiar with, while Matt Hayward and Jon Israelson both stomp clean runs. Riddle takes the heat with a run-three 81.0, while McKeeman takes second rung at 75.0, and Hayward (73.0), Israelson (72.0) and Justin Dorey (70.0) round out the top five.
The snow is falling harder than ever and I decide it's time to ditch the crowd at the bottom of the pipe and find out what else Whistler-Blackcomb has to offer. The options are plentiful- outside the Rendezvous lodge is a demo park bristling with new models, from which I commandeer a pair of ARVs. I get into trouble in Jersey Cream Bowl but the ARVs are rock-solid and hold at speed like compass needles, even when my legs are wobbling like Tim Russell was at Tommy Africa's last night.
When I arrive back at the pipe the motley crowd is in a furor. Someone named Loic Colomb-Patton, despite the fog and snow, has just boosted the largest amplitude of the day, even on his switch hits- one of which, by the way, was a 900. Even the infamous Jeff Schmuck, usually unfazed by even the most ridiculous of acts, is forced to admit that the run might actually be more spectacular than he is.
Colomb-Patton takes the heat and the high score of the day with an 84.0, with Mike Henitiuk (80.0), Sean Collin (69.0) Brandon Kelly (68.7) and Matt Sterbenz (68.0) filling in the ranks. They'll join the top five from the first heat with the pre-qualified athletes in the final tomorrow.
Now it's time for the girls to hit the pipe, with seven competitors on hand to make up for the poor showing at the slopestyle yesterday. Ashley Saba locks down the top spot with a 73.3, with Roz Groenewoud (68.7) and Kate Allan (57.7) in the rearguard. All three get the chance to ski tomorrow. Unfortunately I don't catch their runs, as I've gone to return the demos but am unfortunately detained for several runs on Chainsaw Ridge, where face shots in the several new inches that fell last night don't make any difference because I can't see anything anyway.
Back at the media center, the Red Bull girls have just restocked the fridge. This is a good thing. Urban rail jam is tonight, but they're using the same rail as last year and despite the talents of the invited riders this dub-kink is not that trickable outside of disasters and switch-ups. Will someone have the cojones to send it switch? Across the plaza preparations for the Freeskier athlete party are underway with a hot tub lugged out onto the patio of the Longhorn. It's going to be a good night.
**FULL RESULTS - HEAT 1
**FULL RESULTS - HEAT 2
**FULL RESULTS - WOMEN'S HEAT