Kirkwood hosts epic, big mountain competition |

Kirkwood hosts epic, big mountain competition

Photo by Ryan Salm/Sierra SunA skier drops a cliff during the Subaru North American Freeskiing Championships on Kirkwood's Cirque on Saturday.

Three days of high-energy big mountain skiing concluded Saturday with the Subaru North American Freeskiing Championships taking place on Kirkwood’s challenging Cirque.

Tucked into an isolated weather pocket, the north-facing and permanently-closed Cirque was blessed with 2 feet of cold, dry snow that fell the night before Saturday’s finals, where athletes descended from high atop the steep escarped walls of the venue. Saturday’s ideal conditions allowed for big lines through the terrain, which is riddled with massive cliffs, technical chutes and wide-open faces.

With the men and women skiers and snowboarders riding strong all week, beginning with qualifiers on Thursday and a semi-final run on Friday, the field was cut significantly for the showcase weekend event. The hundreds of spectators in the Devil’s Basin viewing area were treated to fast, fearless and adrenaline-charged skiing while the bountiful snowpack allowed competitors new and creative lines.

Whistler, British Columbia, skier Matty Richard climbed his way to the top of the podium with clean skiing all the way down, edging out Frenchmen Adrien Coirier and Guerlain Chicherit by the narrowest possible margin. Head judge Jim Jack raved about the all-around “incredible skiing from the qualifier all the way to the end. It was one of the best competitions we’ve ever had,” he said.

Knee-deep snow allowed athletes to push the progression of their sports, with inverts off huge cliffs and turbo-style, high-speed arcs over variable terrain. Some of the most impressive riding came from the female skiers and male snowboarders in the finals.

The talent gap between men and women skiers has continued to narrow the past few seasons, with elite women stepping it up to fierce, high-scoring lines. In fact, skier Laura Ogden earned Whistler a second victory with her throttle-down skiing that earned her the highest scoring run of all, men and women included.

Jackson Hole, Wyoming’s Jess McMillan placed second while third-place finisher Carrie Jo Chernoff, of Crested Butte, Colo., deserved one of the top spots after following lines that would have been top-scoring among the men. Jo Chernoff talked about her run.

“It was Alaska-style skiing,” she said. “Everywhere I went there was snow sluffing all around me. To have that in a contest is so rare. This is my favorite contest anywhere.”

The snowboarders also showed they can hang with the two-plankers, crushing giant drops and entering some seemingly unfriendly technical sections on their boards.

Sam Luebke, 16, of Squaw Valley, exhibited a polished riding style en route to his victory in the men’s division.

Kirkwood local Rose Marie Dittfach dominated the women’s snowboard competition, showing mastery of steep powder riding on her way to taking the top spot.

Squaw Valley riders performed well, with Dan Krenicki placing second on the heels of Luebke. Christy Deysher rounded out the women’s podium in third place.

Big mountain skiing’s coveted Sickbird award went to Tobias Lee, an Alaskan transplant to Squaw Valley. The Sickbird is a sort of viewer’s choice award given to the skiers who simply excite the crowd the most. Although Tobias fell on his final run, finishing 12th, his aggressive charge earned him the accolade.

After stomping a 50-foot air at the top, he skied right into a highly technical section that had other previous skiers more contemplative and choked up. Tobias did his contemplating at the top, showing confidence as he kept his speed and aired the whole section to loud cheers from the impressed crowd.

Squaw Valley locals Jamie Blair and Matt Jackson placed back-to-back in the Top 25.

On the women’s end, World Cup mogul icon Shelly Robertson finished fourth while up-and-comer Jackie Paaso, of Alpine Meadows, skied to a ninth-place finish in her first big mountain competition.

The men’s 2006 World Champion Guerlain Chicherit placed second at the Kirkwood competition.

Laura Ogden was crowned women’s champion after she won the Grand Slam of events contributing to tour points.

The North American Championships conclude another exciting season on The Freeskiing World Tour, which has stops on this continent and in Europe. A fierce and hungry pool of talented and risk-taking skiers and snowboarders will again vie for titles on next year’s tour in the ever-growing circuit.

With interest and talent increasing by the year, next season ” with various stops in British Columbia, Colorado, Utah, France, Wyoming and again in Kirkwood ” is already highly anticipated.

Jason Dobbs, a freestyle coach at Squaw Valley and food writer for Action, placed eighth in the finals for his first career Top 10.

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