Words & photos by Keith Carlsen / MSI
“Today was a milestone in freeskiing, proving that big mountain and freestyle technique exists within each of our tour athletes,” event director Bryan Barlow said as he addressed today’s competitors. “You are inspiring the ski community all around the world.”
Even coming from the man running the event, his words were not hyperbole.
This morning, thirty-six of the world’s best skiers assembled atop Las Lenas’ famed run, Eduardo’s, looking down on a 2,000-vertical-foot, never-before-seen mix of sculpted booters and natural big mountain terrain. Unlike many other competitions involving built jumps, today’s venue featured hardpack, windcrust, and crud. Despite the conditions, the invited athletes proved why they are the biggest names in international professional big mountain freeskiing.
Coming out of semi-retirement, Guerlain Chicherit (FRA) dominated the men’s field with a huge front flip off the mandatory top air, landing perfectly on his feet, before heading to a 30-foot cliff drop and a front flip off the bottom kicker and into the finish line with a 38.27, the top score of the day.
“I am here to win,” said the former champion Chicherit, “But that is not my only motivation. Now I want to be with my friends and my sport. I love skiing and have missed it very much”
On his heels, John Collinson (USA) delivered his best ever competition run (31.23 points), with a left side 3 off the mandatory top air, a straight air off the second official jump, and smooth 3 off an athlete-made kicker, known as the Pepsi-Cola jump because they marked take-off with said soda.
Putting Collinson in a French baguette sandwich, FWT veteran Julien Lopez (FRA) finished third, stomping his line like an American football linebacker: backflip off mandatory air, mute grab off second official air, stomped 30-foot cliff drop (same as Chicherit’s), and three more airs in the bottom section. The former FWT champion is back and ready to win this event.
The women of the FWT also made history today, stepping up to man-made booters, sending them into fields of hard-pack chunder and handling it with grace.
Crystal Wright (USA), in her first competition since a broken fibula, proved with her strength, that even though there was a focus on jumps and tricks, that fast and fluid still wins the game (29.47 points). “I know that it always goes back to the basics and conditions and to not slow down on the entire venue,” she said.
Angel Collinson (USA), 2011 overall FWT winner, applied a similar approach. Starting with a spread eagle crotch grab – a la judge Brant Moles circa ’97 – Collinson laid her signature picture perfect turns down the huge Eduardo’s face, dropping airs all the while (27.50).
Rebecca Selig (USA), known in the past for her aggressive style that often ends in dramatic crashes, held it together like the pro she is, sliding into third (26.07 points).
But for Selig, placing in the top three was merely a backdrop to a more important experience today. “I'm so honored to be skiing in a competition with Ingrid Backstrom,” she said. “Just to go up a chair with her today, made the trip worth it....she's always been the best in my eyes.”
Yes, former FWT world champion and decade-long Matchstick Productions film star, Ingrid Backstrom, stepped into the gate today with a humble, but proud attitude. She skied strong and solid and placed 5th in her first contest since 2004.
When the 350-mph winds settled, FWT judges Jim “Norm” Jack, Brant Moles, Claudio Margaride and Estanislao Vasiuk, chose nine of 11 women and 20 of 25 men to advance to the finals tomorrow on Cerro Martin, a picturesque, 2,000 vertical foot powder face dotted with classic Argentinian rock spires.
“When we went out today I was really excited to see the venue and conditions. I was hoping for soft snow, so these athletes could really show off their talents,” said judge and former FWT champion Moles. “The reality was it was one of the toughest competitions in terms of terrain and snow conditions I’ve ever seen. But these competitors showed they are true pros by taking what they are given and making the best of it. And that’s what this sport and this tour is all about. I’m so excited to see what these athletes do tomorrow in powder conditions.”
Subaru Freeskiing World Tour - Red Bull Powder Disorder: Day One Highlights from Subaru Freeskiing World Tour on Vimeo.