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I walk the deserted, village streets of Whistler. It is early Monday morning, hearty tourists are braving the slush and grim locals head determinedly to work. The streets look the same, the air smells the same, the snow under my foot reacts in a familiar way as I rock my boot sole over it. Imperceptibly though, ever since the last competitor of the 2004 Canadian Freeskiing Championships glided across the finish line, the (freeskiing) world has changed.
The first freeskiing competition of the year, the first World Tour stop of the year, pressure was intense for athletes who traveled from around the globe. Countless hours of preparation, incredible sums of money and sleepless nights are all small prices to pay for the chance to be a world champion. The majority of athletes left Whistler empty handed, but with visions for next year and only three hundred and sixty days to prepare for it.
Diamond bowl, a venue approximately fifteen hundred feet in vertical rise, full of hair-raising steeps, life-threatening drops, wreck-inspiring chutes and painfully sharp rocks. After four days of competition, the field had been narrowed down to only thirty men and eleven women. A light breeze pushed the fog in and out of the valley. The snow conditions were soft, but not optimal. A moist, Pacific wind swept through the previous day and settled the snow considerably. Athletes at the start visualized their run, stretched vigorously and chatted nervously. Local Ian McIntosh clung to his two-point lead over Frenchman Manuel Gaidet, the returning International FreeSkiing Associationâ€™s (IFSA) World Tour Champion. Less than half a point behind Manuel, Jack Hannan of the USA was in striking distance. The field was tight, with an inspiring runâ€¦anything could happen.
Leaping from ninth place, with a blistering run that included a forty-five foot cliff and a thirty-foot double drop, Aurelian Ducroz of Chamonix had the second highest score of the day to finish third overall. His skiing was phenomenal, super fast and totally fluid. Ian McIntosh, determined to win in the presence of his visiting parents, stomped cliff after cliff with aplombâ€¦. Yet just couldnâ€™t hold back the incredible Flying Frenchman, Manuel Gaidet. Manuel charged the hill, landed a huge drop at the top with nonchalance, skied nasty bumps like freshly groomed powder and iced the cake with a tricky three-sixty in the finish, to win the run by almost two and a half points! Props must also be given to Canadian Moss Patterson, who won the highly regarded â€œSick Birdâ€? award for launching himself some seventy feet off a rock face, pulled a huge grab, and then skied out of it like it was nobodies business.
Competition was fierce in the womenâ€™s field. Susan Medville of the USA tenuously held to her lead over Ane Enderud of Norway. Lia Darquier of Argentina was right on their heels in third place. Lia came out of the starting gate with a mission to win, showing aggressiveness rarely beheld. She stomped a twenty-foot air onto ice right out of the gate, charged through the rocks and almost landed her next airâ€¦. But not quite. Which left room for veterans Ingrid Backstrom (USA) and Laura Ogden (CAN), who skied similar, technical lines through the steeps to take first and second place, respectively. Ane Enderud stayed in the background and smartly held to third place.
It is all over now, but images of the 2004 IFSA Whistler World Tour of Freeskiing will persist, permanently ingrained in the minds of athletes, spectators, and judges. Changing the (freeskiing) world forever.
The Canadian Freeskiing Championships are part of the â€œBig Mountain Experienceâ€? hosted by Whistler each winter. For more information see: http://www.whistler-blackcomb.com
The IFSA is the governing body of freeskiing. Check out: http://www.freeskiers.org to view the complete results or to become a member of this fine association.
For the complete story, photos and video, visit: http://www.biglines.com and: ski.mountainzone.com
Author Elijah Lee is an aspiring freeskier, writer, world traveler. He despises pickles and olives with a passion. Without the help of his sponsors-- Volkl, Leedom, Cloudveil, Granite Gear and Tecnica, one would probably find him rummaging the trash behind Dunkinâ€™ Donuts.