Published – SBCSKIER.com – Deadline: A Day.
Minus fifteen degree temperatures didn’t seem to sway one single spectator to stay inside as an impressive crowd collected along the 22 foot pipe walls for the final run of The North Face’s Park and Pipe Open Series (PPOS) in Whistler, BC. Whistler got the call from the event organizers at Mountain Sports International only weeks ago, on Christmas day, to inquire if there was the capacity to host such an event (when Blue Mountain in Ontario regretfully had to forfeit hosting due to a lack of snow in central Ontario.)
To even the most trained eye, the caliber of the open competitors at the event – when compared to pre-qualified uber pros – was barely distinguishable. Perhaps the 10,000$ in total prize money was a motivator or perhaps it was the fact that this was the last contest stop that would allow successful competitors to be picked by the Winter X-Games athlete selection committee, (or maybe skiing pipe really well is just really fun?) either way, with right 10’s and casual doubles off the first hit being considered standard, the line between amateur and pro was narrowed to the point of non-existence.
The qualifying started off hot with James Campbell (USA), Noah Bowman (CAN), Marshall LaCroix (USA), Kris Atkinson (CAN) and Geoff Straight (USA) coming out on top of the pack and earning a spot in the finals.
Dropping next were the women. Due to an injury in training last week, the unfortunately Sarah Burke-less female side of the contest went straight to finals with Roz Groenewoud coming out on top – including an unprecedented right side 900 into her run. Maddie Bowman of South Lake Tahoe, CA took second and in third was Keltie Hansen of Calgary, AB. The top three women already qualified for the X Games so fourth place finisher Megan Gunning from Calgary, AB consequently earned herself a spot as well.
“It was a tough pipe yesterday and all the competitors were challenged by it,” says the extremely trained eye of BC Freestyle head coach Mike Shaw. “Even the big dogs in the contest like Canadian HP Team skiers Riddle and Margetts weren’t pulling out their biggest tricks.”
The pre-qualified male athletes: Peter Olenick, Mike Riddle, Dan Marion, Matt Margetts, Joss Chistensen, Taylor Seaton and Gus Kentworthy however seemed entirely casual in the 22 foot behemoth that the bitter cold had turned into an extremely firm trick ditch.
“It’s the ultimate challenge in park maintenance,” says the pipe’s mastermind, Rene Decary. “Cutting a 22 foot pipe requires everything you’ve learned over the years in technique: from knowing when to switch machines to being constantly aware of changing snow conditions. We did get a bit of saturated snow late in the build but it turned out to be helpful to some degree with the task at hand that final night – which was to match the transition to the chainsaw line.”
The heavily observed finals gave each athlete two runs to put down the best combination of American Freeski Professional’s (AFP) judging criteria, which includes: creativity, degree of difficulty, combinations, variations, style and amplitude.
“Personally I thought Joss Christensen had a really good run, doing both way switch corks,” says BC Freestyle Team’s Taylor Wilson. “Also Kris Atkinson had amazing doubles flares off the start. It was a crazy competition! Everybody killed it!”
One of the judges was Whistler’s own Chris Turpin, who recently took the job as Park and Pipe head coach for team Russia’s Olympic squad. He and fellow AFP judge Mike Atkinson distinguished Gus Kentworthy as the top dog with Kris Atkinson in second and Joss Christensen rounding out the top three. Kentworthy, who had considerably less time training in the pipe due to a binding issue, casually stomped both way corked nines and a left ten among other effortless ally-ooped inverts and switch hits in his winning run – all with considerable amplitude, perfect grabs and comfort in spades to rightfully earn him the top spot.