PUBLISHED ONLINE: TWSSF COVERAGE w/ Stewart Medford
The ski racks that were sat, fully stacked, in front of Blackcomb’s Rendezvous restaurant looked a little off the day of the WSI Slopestyle event. The zone where snowboards, telemark skis, mono skis, snowblades and snow limos tend to adorn, rows and rows of crisp, brightly stickered twin tips (think NASCAR mid-race (Tide, Shell, Best Buy!) filled it at present: energy drinks, department stores, hometown shout-outs and recently acquired endorsements proclaiming crisp near the noses and tails of skis that look fresh out of the presses. And the “I’m Easy!” Green circles and “My drinking team has a skiing problem” stickers are nowhere to be seen.
After all, the AFP Platinum slopestyle event did bring the heavies to town – as per usual – and ended up proving to be one for those skiers who could effectively adapt to the ever-changing weather conditions of Whistler, as the landing – between Thursday (qualifying) and Friday (finals) was less similar than milk and vodka; the unflinchingly consistent conditions of a NASCAR track it sure as hell was not. In short, qualifying to the esteemed final few was like jumping out of a 3 story window and landing on a hockey rink, and the night of the finals themselves: 20cm’s of fresh snow fell – requiring a few extra shovel strokes from park and event staff, and too, a very adaptable top ten qualified slopestyle skiers.
(“Ah, skiing park on a powder day!” Tom Wallisch was overheard saying. )
James Woods, Henrick Harlaut, PK Hunder, Bobby Brown, Noah Morrison, Torin Yater Wallace, Tom Wallisch, Russ Henshaw, Joss Christensen and Gus Kentworthy rounded out the final ten qualified for the last, high-ranked freeski event of the year – one on par with Dew Tour and X-Games for point value. And the three jumps (two big ones and a channel gap), three rail sections (with seven feature options) and one – highly utilized – quarterpipe sitting ready.nSo did the crowd in the VIP area, so did (not) the commentators Reed Speedman and TJ Schiller (whose banter never dried up and left the audience in cracks) as the finals got underway and every skier stomped unreal feats with ease. There were everything from pretzel fours, switch right-side doubles, switch tens over the channel, doubles over the channel, inverted sixes out of the rail features, nose butter corked 1080’s (well, the incredible single one by Henrick) on the final showcase jump and Kentworthy, in an insanely technical run did a switch four into the deathly gap to rail (dubbed, “the Cohiba”) in the middle of the course. All tricks seemed to be perversely commonplace for these skiers – not to mention, done stylishly and easily held together by both the male and female fields of the most elite park skiers on the planet.
Noah Morrison and Yuki Tsubota of the BC Freestyle provincial team have been both familiar with and officially ‘coached’ by Head Coach Mike Shaw for some time. When they both worked their way into the finals of their respective heats, Noah (who just got back from the Jon Olsson Invitational and eighteen other contests this year:
“I can’t even remember half of them, it’s crazy!” Morrison said.) And Yuki (who just got back from getting 5th at the Grand Prix at Mammoth, CA) seemed overjoyed to be included in such a stacked competition. Their collective relief and excitement was palpable before dropping in on their final two laps in which Tsubota got 3rd overall and Morrison, 8th.
“The course is soft today so it’s sick,” Morrison said smiling. “Yesterday was pretty icy but you just have to deal with the weather.”
On his way to finish grade 12 after the competition and then following a few of his idols / competitors to New Zealand for more park skiing, it was clear that the chance to be able to compete along side the best of the best was not lost on Morrisson.
“There’s a lot of big names here,” he said. “I’m the underdog and I’m just pumped to be in the finals.”
“”One of the reasons why he’s so good is his work ethic,” says BC Freestyle Team’s head coach, Mike Shaw. “Noah is incredibly talented but has the fundamentals – like really, really good take-offs – and he has the skills, so that make easy for him to progress, basically.
Yuki also has a phenomenal work ethic and has been involved in an organized freestyle program since she was pretty much just past crawling,” Shaw continues. “She focuses on volume, volume training, so she does her tricks over and over again and then she comes out and kills it. As a girl who just entered pipe and park skiing this year, to start competing on this stage is spectacular.”
Tsubota finished behind Anna Segal (AUS) who came first, throwing huge 720’s off the first massive step over jump, and Emilla Wint.
When it all came to a close, Gus Kentworthy (USA) took the men’s top spot with James Woods (BRI) second and Joss Christiansen (USA) rounding out the pack in third.
– Ben Wannamaker
Between practice and finals, twenty-eight men and five women were jumping the seventy-three foot snow-interpretation of a huge slice of brie cheese at the base of Whistler Mountain for nearly five hours; in the rain, for five hours! In the rain, jumping a seventy-three foot jump, for five hours?
However the pack made heads roll with their consistency of skiing and variety of big tricks in front of the huge crowd of: hell-benders, families in costume, seasonaires off-work, fan clubs, weekend warriors and spectating stagettes, who all braved the rain that monsooned in for the first half of men’s elimination and the women’s big air finals. The pouring rain only barely turned to a dull merciful mist at one point during the finals and turned the landing of the Big Air from a barely manageable stew into literal wet rubble by the sixteenth and final hit from the men’s field.
Torin Yater-Wallace, James Woods, Bobby Brown, Gus Kentworthy, Alexi Godbout, Russ Henshaw, Vince Gagnier and Kai Mahler made the elimination of twenty of the world’s best with Woods, Yater-Wallace and Henshaw leading the pack on the way in.
The women’s final started off in scary territory when the first three competitors landed either on the knuckle of the white whale or a few feet in front of it. Everyone managed to walk off the potentially career-ending fall, but thankfully it was only a quick scare. Emma Dahlstorm of Sweden took the win with Eveline Bhend of Switzerland taking second and Rose Battersby of New Zealand rounding out the top three.
After the army of red jacketed events organizers side-slipped the transition of the jump once again, to clear out what Whistler Blackcomb Park Staff member Peter Mathews called ‘elephant snot-snow ’ the finals were underway with Woods qualifying first, Henshaw second and Wallace third of the final eight. But it’s important – in a field this talented – to talk about the caliber of those who didn’t make the finals. Jossi Wells, Henrick Harlaut, Joe Schuster, Dane Tudor and David Wise all had phenomenal tricks, stomped to their feet and didn’t make the cut: double twelves, switch double twelves and some of the most creative axis of double nines and tens the ski world has seen; every one of these skiers was a potential contender for the gold medal and glory of taking the last big air competition of the season.
Yater-Wallace’s rebate after his first run’s fall, a prodigal double twelve with a picture-perfect tail grab, rounded out the top six after all was said and done: the impact his skis had on the transition snow could be seen from the adjacent hotels. James Woods took fifth with one bail and one stomp after a night of double-dipping but not quite double inverting a host of switch 1080 octograbs. Bobby Brown took fourth with a switch double twelve that was hopelessly in control and third place was given to Russ Henshaw, who had a double ten mute to japan air that was held until his landing gear almost made contact with the snow; due to the state of the landing on the jump, Henshaw was strategically sending his tens noticeably lookers right to stay out of the way of the growing spring slush.
When Vincent Gagnier put down the early score of 94.2 in his first run of the finals – when most of the field fell and took a mulligan – the level of intensity went up immediately and his underdog win was forced to be delayed only by Gus Kentworthy’s wildcard 1620 that left the pack one point behind and earned him a 95.6.
In the end, there were no triples and Tom Wallisch – who seemed to be taking a perpetual glory lap throughout the festival – did a huge laid out double backflip that didn’t get him into the finals albeit was much of a crowd pleaser, just as Colby James West’s triple ‘worm’ in front of the massive crowd of spectators was; an audience that easily rivaled a potential X-Games turnout in the future.
The rain eased up and then finally ceased sometime around lunch. Over half-way up Blackcomb Mountain the modest crowd that had formed around the WSI Superpipe’s 22 foot walls, seemed slightly hung over, but with the level of skiers participating in the final contest of the festival – and there in fact, the season – they wouldn’t remain groggy for long.
“The pipe is awesome, it’s soft, it’s got a little rain on it,” Canadian national team skier Mike Riddle said. “That gives you a little more confidence when it has some ‘give’ to it rather than just sheer ice but it’s been quick too, so kind of the best of all worlds.”
John Melville of New Zealand is the mastermind behind the design, the manufacturing, the operation, and the promotion of the Global Cutter: the machine used to make the picturesque pipe for WSI as well as most 22 footers around the world.
“Spring conditions in Whistler are very comparable to the conditions we have in New Zealand,” Melville said. “We have the wet and wild snow, wind, full snowstorms… and the Global Cutter has a method of dealing with most snow situations and still giving a good end product. It’s a paddle style cutting machine so it packs and forces the snow into all the little holes and pockets and track marks on the pipe, and then polishes it off and puts corduroy on the wall as it’s coming out the back of the machine.”
After the qualifying round of 23 competitors, where Torin Yater-Wallace and Noah Bowman were pre-qualified, 12 remained for the final round where the heaviest of heavy weights such as Gus Kentworthy, Peter Olenick and Xavier Bertoni were eliminated.
The always entertaining Canadian and Surface Ski advocate Rob Heule also didn’t see the finals, but had an extremely different run than anyone filled with everything from zero spins to nose butter cork 9’s.
“I’ve done doubles before in the pipe and its fun because it’s a gnarly trick but at the same time it feels pretty intense,” Heule said. “I just like flying through the air, grabbing my skis and having a good time. Most of the national teams, Canadian and American are pretty set on doing the gnarliest tricks possible.”
Which is what the finals offered: back to back double 12’s off the bat from Aspen’s Alex Ferreira, allyoop doubles from BC’s Justin Dorey, flat three bow and arrow’s from Riddle, left and right 10’s and not one single straight air in the finals; needless to say, the crowd palpably snapped out of their booze fog and were immediately at wide-eyed attention by the time the two run finals were done.
The women’s final was also action-packed, Megan Gunning, Maddie Bowman, Anais Cardadeux, Rosalind Groenewoud, Dara Howell and Annalisa Drew were unaffected by the 22 foot monster and were shamelessly unleashing switch 7’s, nines and plenty of ally-ooped, white-arm-band grabs that all paid serious homage to the collective hero (of both sexes) and timeless pioneer, Sarah Burke.
After the finals the rider judged super-hit contest began. With previous winners such as Rob Heule, Gus Kentworthy, Justin Dorey and Sarah Burke: everyone was excited to have their name included in that stack of historical few and one of those few was Walter Wood.
Walter took two runs in the super-hit competition and both had a serious excess of amplitude as well as a serious lack of clothing. Donned in a thong, Walter did a very spread eagle on his first lap, but when enticed by Colby West and Reed ‘sh*t skiers say’ Speedman to do possibly the first almost-naked double, he hiked back for one more. On the last hit of his second lap, he went ass over applecart with a double flare, hit the deck upon declension and cart-wheeled red-assed (and red-faced) into the flat bottom where he was brought to his feet by the crowd’s reaction alone.
Noah Bowman, a true ‘skier’s skier’, took first in the superhit contest with a switch allyoop double 9 and massive amplitude and grabs that can only be described as unabashedly confident, overtaking the undeniably unabashed confidence of Woods for the win; Calgary’s Megan Gunning did a forward 1080 and a switch allyoop 9 as well.
– Ben Wannamaker
1. Mike Riddle (CANADA)
2. Thomas Krief (FRANCE)
3. Joss Christensen (USA)
1. Maddie Bowman (USA)
2. Anais Caradeux (FRANCE)
3. Rosalind Groenewoud (CANADA)