10th Annual U.S. Extreme
Freeskiing Telemark Championships at Crested Butte
finisher Will Cardamone launching Burger Rock..
Putting The Extreme
Back In Freeskiing
March 27, 2006-- For
years promoters of big mountain telemark competitions have tried
to come up with a name for their event that describes what the
comps are about. After all, with everything from Gatorade to
Doritos bearing the word "extreme," that word had lost
a lot of meaning and become, well, kind of embarrassing. Unfortunately,
alternative terms like "freeskiing" and "big mountain"
leave all but avid devotees scratching their heads and wondering,
"huh, what's that?" But tell someone that you are going
to compete or attend an extreme skiing competition and just about
everybody will know what you are talking about.... including
potential sponsors. So it was probably a good idea when Crested
Butte officials moved to reclaim the word "extreme"
by calling their annual event the U.S. Extreme Freeskiing Telemark Championships.
Day 2 venue: Deadend
Chutes (left) and Bodybag in the trees at right
This past weekend, athletes
and spectators alike were reminded that these comps are indeed
all about extreme skiing. Two always challenging venues, Headwall
and Staircase, were made even more difficult by conditions that
can best be described as firm and boney.
Stomping landings and hanging
on at high speed after straight runs was problematic, and as
a result the two days of competition will probably be remembered
more for its many spectacular wipeouts than anything else. That's
too bad, because these freeheel athletes put on an equally spectacular
show while on their feet.
During Friday's day 1 qualifier
at Headwall, there were many long slides for life, including
a harrowing tumble taken by Silverthorne Colorado's Erin Young,
who basically slid more than half way down the enormous bowl.
"I hit a rock when I landed my last and largest air,"
Young explained later. "My skis stopped and I went down
without warning, then I just couldn't get turned around enough
to get my skis below me so that I could stop." A favorite
to end up on the podium going into the comp, Young escaped serious
injury but was crushed by the almost certain knowledge that she
would probably not make the cut. "I want to ski in the finals
so bad," she said, with a tear in her eye. But when the
points were tallied Young's score left her 6 places below the
cut, meaning the comp was over for her. Still, the two time junior
women's champion who only started competing as an adult last
year (she took third at CB in '05) should take some comfort in
the fact that she went out while going for it... her air was
one of the biggest we have seen taken by a female competitor
On the men's side of things,
Alpine Meadows comp second-place finisher Nick Devore skied a
rowdy line in the qualifier, but also fell hard and slid for
a good distance before making an impressive and athletic recovery,
allowing the Aspen local to earn and keep enough points to make
Fortunately, despite the
many long slides, there were no serious injuries during Friday's
qualifier. Sadly, the same cannot be sad of Saturday's finals,
especially the "Super Final," a last run for the top
5 women and top 10 men.
With so many competitors in the finals
(65 of the 118 athletes registered made the cut) this Super Final
was run quite late in the afternoon, as a result the already
firm snow began to glaze a bit, making it even faster and more
challenging. The very large Crested Butte crowd watched in shocked
horror as local Karen Reader tripped at the top of one of the
dead ends that gives the Deadend Chutes their name.
Reader rode down the rocks (far left in
the venue photo above) on her back, finally coming to a stop
on the apron below.
Competition was stopped while the ski patrol
attended to Karen, who tweaked her neck but otherwise seemed
to have had luck with her in avoiding a more serious injury.
Next to go down was eventual third-place
finisher Sarah Light, of Whitefish, MT. The 2004 Women's Division
champion was almost home free when near the end of her Super
Final run, in the area between Deadend and Bodybag, she fell
onto her back and starfished down the rocks, ending up with a
A tough competitor, Light got up and skied
down to the finish line before being evacuated off the mountain
in a sled by ski patrollers. Despite the mishap, Light scored
enough points on her last run, that when combined with her very
high scoring earlier runs, gave her third place in the final
Above: Sarah Light goes down heavily.
As horrific as these two bad falls were,
the most serious injury of the comp was still to come. With just
three competitors to go, E.J. Poplawski, a crowd favorite in
recent comps, took the mandatory big air at the bottom of Bodybag
with a lot of speed, barely making the needed hard right turn
and narrowly missing a head-on collision with a large tree.
Those of us with a good view of the Salt
Lake City local were momentarily relieved, believing that E.J.
had dodged a bullet, but then we were shocked to see Poplawski
inexplicably lose control. He smashed into a smaller tree, breaking
one ski in half and ejecting out of his other ski before coming
to rest 20 yards downslope.
Reports from those who rushed to attend
to E.J. (including Couloir's John Atkinson, in the blue parka
at right) indicted that the popular athlete who began the day
in eleventh place, suffered a tib-fib fracture, a shoulder separation,
a possibly broken humorous bone in his arm and an apparent concussion.
At the awards ceremony that evening the
word was passed that E.J.'s condition had deteriorated to the
point that medical personnel had made the decision to fly him
out of Crested Butte for immediate medical care rather than take
the time to get E.J. to a hospital by ambulance.
After waiting at the top for well more
than an hour due to the breaks made necessary by these mishaps
, Mark Robbins and Dylan Crossman had to pull it together for
their Super Final runs. Both skied runs that scored far below
their earlier efforts. Crossman's 33.4 was 7 full points below
his earlier finals run. The perennial tele comp champion who
now calls Alta home, uncharacteristically fell and slid on his
side. Unable to stop his slide immediately, the former Mad River
local ended up too low to make the traverse over to Burger Rock
where he had planned to launch one of his trademark stylie airs.
In spite of this, Crossman finished with a total of 110.4 points,
to second-place winner Will Cardamone's 107.6, giving Dylan yet
another comp victory, extending a winning streak that goes back
to when he first burst onto the scene in 2003.
As bad as the carnage was last weekend,
there were many memorable highlights and very positive stories
that can be told. For instance, the 118 entrants, including some
40 juniors, was the most impressive turnout ever for a telemark
competition. Beautiful weather encouraged folks to come out and
watch the competition as well, with an estimated 200 enthusiastic
spectators in attendance for the finals. When we first started
covering these comps six years ago, typically there would be
half as many competitors and the "crowd" would consist
of maybe a dozen friends and parents. Things have definitely
changed at the tele comps and much of the credit for this must
be given to Gina Kroft, Crested Butte's VP of marketing and communications,
and event coordinator Jeff Moffet. Through their efforts, and
in partnership with Tough Guy Productions, the U.S. Extreme Freeskiing Telemark Championships
have become the event of the year in freeheel skiing. With
thousands of dollars in cash prizes, including $1,200 going to
both the men's and women's division winners, as well as tons
of gear, Club Med vacations, and more, the organizers of the
Crested Butte comp are leading the ski industry in recognizing
the growth and booming interest in telemark skiing.
We'll have more coverage
of the comp coming up this week, but for now I think I'll close
this report by letting the extreme smiles on the faces of these
competitors speak for themselves. Putting the extreme back in
The top three men, from left, third place
finisher Seaton MacMillan, taking second is Will Cardamone, and
holding his first place trophy is Dylan Crossman.
The top five women, in order
of their finish beginning with fifth place winner (left) Karen
Reader, Rather Hosch, Sarah Light, Martha Burley, and repeat champion
Janae Pritchett (formerly Janae Deverell).
Left: Frank Clause, Zach Marquis,
Mark Robbins and Ben Morello. Right: Junior Women's winners (from
left) third place finisher Jozy Gessner, second place winner Francesca
Pavillard-Cain and first place finisher Mackenzie Mailly.
The Junior Men winners: in seventh
(on left) is Brian Burger, Rob Wear, Max Shefte-Jacobs, Kjell
Ellefson, Adrian Pougiales, Tony Ryerson, and first place winner
Meanwhile... for some the after
party was a little different... and even the arrival of this very
friendly gendarme didn't totally spoil the fun. I don't often
wish I could go back to being a kid again but...