Puckett aims for more glory at Taos event
FRESH OFF THEIR DOMINATING gold-medal performances at the Winter X Games, Aspen, Colorado's Casey Puckett and France’s Ophelie David will be greeted with fresh scenery but familiar foes when they enter the starting gate of the Jeep King of the Mountain Skiing & Snowboarding World Professional Championships on Feb. 10 at Taos Ski Valley in New Mexico.
Much is at stake in Taos, where Olympians, world champions and national champions from across the globe will take on one another and the Y-cross racecourse for a piece of the $450,000 cash payout, plus $20,000 in bonus cash from John Paul Mitchell Systems and the keys to a new 2007 Jeep Patriot.
Here are some of the biggest questions to be answered on the slopes as the Skiing & Snowboarding World Professional Championships hit the home stretch of the 2006-2007 season:
Is there another skier-cross racer on the same planet as Casey Puckett?
Success is nothing new to Puckett, but his current streak has taken his status as one of America’s best to another level. With four Olympic appearances, five U.S. national championships and a World Junior title under his belt, the skiercross standout wowed his hometown crowd by earning a second gold medal at the Winter X Games in Aspen. He entered the season as the defending world professional champion and showed little signs of slowing down by earning the first title in Snowbird, Utah. That brings his total to five wins in eight total Jeep King of the Mountain appearances.
Who has what it takes to dethrone Puckett in Taos?
Competition will not be lacking in New Mexico, where the epic snow conditions already have the challengers ready for race day. One athlete with a decided advantage is Jake Fiala of Frisco, Colo., a longtime U.S. Ski Team pal of Puckett who happened to grow up racing on these very same New Mexico slopes. After a decade representing the United States and with a trip to the Olympics and a U.S. national championship of his own, Fiala knows that a win in Taos is just enough to move him from second place to first in the standings.
Others to keep an eye on include Enak Gavaggio of France, winner of six World Cup titles, a Winter X Games gold medal and four International Free Skiers Association world championships; Austria’s Tomas Kraus, who has scored a world championship and two World Cup championships in the past two years, and Lars Lewen of Sweden, a former World Junior champion, U.S. freeskiing champion and two-time gold medalist at the Winter X Games.
Who’s raising eyebrows in the women’s field?
That would be the aforementioned French prodigy, Ophelie David. The seven-time World Cup titlist, three-time world champion and French national champion has never lost a race since joining the Jeep King of the Mountain Series last year. She swept the competition in Snowbird, but knows that letting up is not an option given the roster signed for Taos. Among the competitors include Anik Demers of Canada, a Winter X Games gold medalist, Magdalena Iljans of Sweden, a six-time World Cup titlist and Brett Buckles of Steamboat Springs, Colo., a Gravity Games gold medalist and North American freeskiing champion.
What competitor will be “inspiring” the series’ innovative Y-cross racecourse?
The Jeep King of the Mountain Series this year introduced the concept of “athlete inspired” racecourse design. The goal was to allow racers to hand-select the layout and technical elements most desired by the athletes themselves. This had led to a higher level of racing, and one sought after by the top athletes in the sport. Extreme sport legend Shaun Palmer built the Y-cross for the snowboard racers in Beaver Creek last month, and in Taos, Lewen and Gavaggio will tag team in completing the task. Look for a dual features section consisting of single and double rollers, followed by plenty of banked turns, jumps and tabletops where the athletes will draft, bump and tuck to get the advantage heading toward the finish line.
The ski-exclusive race at Taos will air on Feb. 18 from noon-1 p.m. on CBS Sports. Each race of the 2006-07 Skiing & Snowboarding World Professional Championships will air on CBS Sports, with additional broadcast coverage on nationally syndicated television.
The Jeep King of the Mountain Series next heads to Telluride Ski Resort in Colorado on March 3 for the season’s finale, where the World Professional Champions will be crowned.
The Jeep King of the Mountain was established in 1993. Jeep is the title sponsor for the Jeep King of the Mountain Series. The Professional Skiing & Snowboarding World Championships are the sister competition to summertime’s Jeep King of the Mountain World Professional Mountain Biking Championships. Other marketing partners for the Jeep King of the Mountain include Bern Helmets, Columbia Sportswear Company, Edge ActiveCare, Hotel Don Fernando de Taos, Infinity Systems, John Paul Mitchell Systems, Michelin, Mopar, Rossignol, Sprint and Taos Ski Valley. Based on their wins in the season’s first event at Snowbird, Casey Puckett and Ophelie David will wear the coveted John Paul Mitchell Systems black leader’s bib at Taos.