By Karen McColl
“Super real hungry man,” was how tour leader Chopo Diaz responded when asked how hungry he was to win the Canadian Freeskiing Championships Friday at RMR. His appetite was evident as he flew out of the start and took a fluid line on one of the biggest cliff drops of the venue. He landed it confidently, setting the tone for the rest of his run.
Diaz, who does back-to-back winters in Snowbird, Utah, and his home in Chile, finished first Friday, setting him up nicely for day two and giving him high hopes of winning the second stop on the 2010 Subaru Freeskiing World Tour today.
Not that day one of the Canadian Freeskiing Championships was easy for Diaz or any of the other veteran competitors. Friday’s venue in North Bowl was long, challenging, and true a test of endurance.
“That was the sickest venue; longest run. You could hold two separate venues on this section,” said Alexis Dupont of Sun Valley, USA, who finished in fifth place on the women’s side Friday.
The top section of the venue was steep with several cliff bands and other features. This transitioned into the more moderate but bumpy middle zone, which offered a very slight reprieve before the steep, gladed, and very technical final section. The venue ran a whopping distance from the top of Sweet Spot all the way to the bottom of North Bowl on the cat-track and left every competitor screaming for breath at the end.
Diaz, a “force to be reckoned with,” came into the finish looking thrilled but also a little awkward, with his ski pole taped to his mitt. He broke his pinkie finger during a practise run on Wednesday. “I didn’t even feel it,” he said after his run Friday.
There were no surprises on the women’s side of the competition as experienced competitor Janina Kuzma of Fernie, took the lead Friday. Where many other competitors skied more conservatively on the bottom section of the course, Kuzma charged it, and took two small airs on a carefully selected line.
Jen McMillan of Jackson Hole, another familiar face on the Tour, was exuberant after her run, and took second place.
“I hit my 20 footer! That was so fun. I picked a big air up top and landed it.”
Competitors needed to challenge themselves Friday if they intended to compete in day two of the competition today. A helicopter drop is planned for today and only the top 7 women and 20 men made the cut.
Defending 2009 FWT winner Crystal Wright, also of Jackson Hole, hit her line a bit fast and had to hike out from above a large cliff band, leading to her 15thplace finish. For the first time in five competitions, she will not be on the podium.
2010 FWT leader Jacqui Edgerly finished third Friday among the women and Ryan Sullivan, 19, from Whistler secured 2nd place in the men’s, performing an impressive 360 and back flip during his run.
Many of the top male finishers also received a ‘Sickbird’ nomination at the end of the day Friday for “spirit and representing the sport.” According to announcer Frankie Alisuag, this prize, in the form of a belt buckle, is sometimes more sought out than that actual competition prize. Combined nominees and day one finishes included Chopo Diaz, (1st, Snowbird), Ryan Sullivan (2nd, Whistler), Arne Backstrom (Lake Tahoe, 3rd), Julien Lopez (France, 5th), Aaron Schmidt (10th, Fernie), Christian Boucher (11th, Whistler), and Phil Hudec (Lake Louise, 12th).
The 2010 Canadian Freeskiing Championships conclude today with total prize money for the top competitors amounting to $20,000. Those preferring to stay in town can take part in street festivities starting at 5pm at Grizzly Plaza. Awards will take place at 7pm at the Plaza and an Event Ender Bender wrap-up party will take place later at Out of Bounds Nightclub.
The competition will be broadcast live at www.freeskiingworldtour.com starting around 10:30am PST.