Freeskiing: Chernoff, Bolduc nail down Jackson Hole titlesJACKSON, Wyoming – The first big-mountain freeskiing contest in Jackson Hole in 10 years took place this week – the Jackson Hole Freeskiing Open.
The venues both days were in-bounds, in a hike-to area called Casper Bowl. Three enormous rock buttresses dominate the bowl; the middle one was closed to competition due to the outward line of the cliffs — too much horizontal distance to a safe landing. The other two rock outcroppings and the intervening couloirs formed the venues — the looker's left was the venue Wednesday, and the looker's right was the venue Thursday.
It was a contest of epic performances by both the men and women, reflecting the big-mountain reputation of Jackson. This is a place where, in the words of competitor Linsey Dyer, 'there's a freeskiing contest every day.' Despite the rep of Jackson's locals, Coloradans took the top places on the podium. Carrie Jo Chernoff of Crested Butte took first for the women while Tyson Bolduc, born and raised in Vail, took home first for the men.
Bolduc gave his first hint that he was going to rule the contest on Wednesday. Near the top of the course, he dropped an eight-foot cornice into a launch pad above a 50-foot cliff face, airing across a 15-foot gap to a small landing pad at the top of a rocky spine following the fall line. The exposure was huge; if he didn't nail the jump he would have been tumbled backward into the ravine between the spine and the main face. When he landed, he continued to flair his run, ripping controlled turns down the knobby edge of the spine and then out into the amphitheater, grabbing a few more line points by hitting everything in sight. The run combined scientific strategy with big risks and maneuvers executed with complete precision; the package netted Bolduc a lead he never lost.
Getting past the 'Flyin' Hawaiian' Drew Tabke was no easy feat Wednesday. The Alta, Utah, skier who spent a good part of his childhood on the Big Island has been tearing up the big-mountain scene all season. Tabke was having a splendid day, the half-crusted tracked powder in the venue suiting his reverse-camber, reverse sidecut Volant Spatulas well. Tabke is a tall dude for this sport and his airs and turns are big too. The pintail of the Spatula allows him to scrub speed out of his usually enormous airs; his athleticism allows him to pull off the landings in the first place. Tabke had a stomping run, taking a 20-footer to a 40-footer with a sideways-landing hill with no hesitation, landing perfectly in flat light, controlling his speed on the landing despite hitting the traversed part of the hill and mopping up with big power turns and more of the smaller bottom airs.
At the end of the day, Bolduc was in first 38.6 to 38. Jackson Hole local Conor Horigan gave a strong showing with an aggressive line on one of the prominent fall line fins in the venue, airing off the edge of the fin and doing a ground-level back flip off a large roller in the middle of Casper Bowl — his tips were about a foot off the deck as he came around but he traveled about 15 feet horizontally. His run got third place on the day.
Ladies first is the custom in this game, but it didn't work out so well for the women this time — crusty snow both days meant that the early morning runs were in stiff conditions.
Jackson's eastern aspect and relatively low elevation make this common by springtime — nevertheless the base was deep and well-settled after a well above average snow year.
Dyer, a well-known pro, took advantage of her early start Wednesday and a good snowpack to grease the lower of the two fins on the looker's left of the venue. Dyer straight-lined nearly the whole 300-foot fin, a serious feat that was not repeated even by the men who skied it.
Amazingly, the bold run did not get her the top run of the day. She was edged out 28.8 to 30 by another Jackson skier, Crystal Wright, who unfortunately lost a ski Thursday, ending her run at the podium.
Finals day saw near-perfect weather, although the 12 women had their first run on the morning crust. The top four women advanced to the super finals and got to ski in the soft afternoon corn.
Chernoff got the venue dialed in and hit some good exposure on the final buttress before hitting the 20-foot 'dead tree' air into the amphitheater. 'I played it conservative in the morning and it dropped me into third, but I knew what I had to do for the finals and it worked out' said Chernoff. After her second victory and third podium of the season, Chernoff's confidence is growing. 'I'm picking apart the venue better, finding the scoring zones easier, and staying true to my line, picking a line that challenges and inspires and sticking to my plan' she said.
Dyer held on to second place despite having no course inspection because she was shooting a film sequence with TGR, which was her 'gold medal of the day.' She was psyched that there was again a big-mountain event at Jackson; 'everyone rips here so it's fitting.'
Dyer, originally from Sun Valley, has been living in Jackson for two years. Apparently the town's localism is already sinking in; 'To be honest, it's a bummer that a local couldn't pull it off, male or female, but it takes a good skier to win here so it's fair enough' said Dyer.
Jessica Baker, a Jackson girl and two-time World Freeskiing Tour overall third-place finisher, took third. 'Not competing on the circuit this year, I miss the traveling community of freeskiers. It was like a high school reunion or something to see everyone, all the creative lines, they're really some of my best friends' Baker beamed.
By about 10:45, just as the women's field was finishing the first run, the sun began to loosen the snow. The men got right after it on the south-to-southeast facing slopes of the right-hand buttress as the snow rapidly changed to corn. Quite a few of the cliffs got the 'excess' snow cleared off of them in the early runs, leaving a nice launch pad of rock in many cases. Competitor after competitor looked into a cliff they had inspected earlier only to turn away as soon as they saw there was no snow left, hopefully without losing too many fluidity points.
The 31-man field was cut to 12 for the last run, and by the time the ninth starter, John Witherspoon, ran, the heat was turned up to full.
Witherspoon hit a dead-end air at the top of the course, causing the crowd to suck in their breath in anxiety as he came to a perfect stop on a nice pad above a nasty 60-foot cliff. Spooner had no intention of hitting the 60-footer, but did a quick kick turn and cut out through the rocks to the right, all the while above the cliff face. A few sidesteps were needed to do this but Spooner got moving quickly again and made his way out to the edge of the south-facing cliffs again, dropping a solid 18 feet to a pad of rotten spring snow, straight lining off the double jump out into the amphitheater at 50. The crowd was in disbelief, but it was only the start of a series of mind-blowing runs. The run was a personal victory for Witherspoon, returning to competition after judging for a few weeks, being sidelined by a troubling meniscus. 'I wanted to ski something with a lot of exposure, but without huge hits. It felt great to be back in it — I was planning to hang it up after this year, but I love it so much' said the 39-year old originally from Jay Peak, Vermont.
Spooner was given a notably low score, presumably for the slowdown above the cliff, and moved up only one position.
Fluidity has to be taken in context of the lethal exposure of the move, especially when the judges are telling competitors to 'use every
feature on the hill' to build a line score. This has marked a departure from the old days, when zigzagging across the hill to nab more features was actually penalized — this judging panel rewards that line choice if it leads to more hits — if they do it for the little no-fuss airs, they should do it for the grandioso moves too.
Tabke held on to second place after a mediocre first run of the day. Tabke's second run was fast and full of big hits, especially a gutsy straight liner off a bulgy 40-foot rock face with no takeoff — unless you count the six feet of flat bare rock before the face drops out. Landing in the low angle punchy corn at the base is just pain hard to do at 60.
Tabke did it with his usual stability, dumping speed and coming right to the edge of the lower buttress, making several fast turns on the edge and right into his last air of 20 feet and into the run-out cleaning the run's clock. Of his run, Tabke said, 'If you can repeat your first run it's smoother sailing. There was about six feet of bare rock on the takeoff that you kind of had to tail slide over, so I was ready for that the second time. I have a lot of respect for everyone in the top 10 it's definitely a privilege to ski with them.'
Bolduc held on to first place after his Wednesday gap at the top of the course. At 22, Bolduc has now been doing these big-mountain comps for three years and learning the ropes of competing, starting with the Colorado Freeride Series. 'I crashed in like five out of the last eight comps I did. But it's a mental game and I've figured out the mental aspect of it. You have to look at all five judging criteria to do well.'
Bolduc had a great last run, airing a new line at the top, and hitting several medium-size features aggressively before making his way out to a lethal-looking cliff. The snow ended before the edge of the cliff. 'I really had no idea what I was getting myself into, except what I saw from the bottom. I skied along the cliff until I saw a clean exit and went. I put my poles out on the rock and lifted myself up so I didn't get caught on the edge, and pushed as hard as I could.'
Bolduc dropped off and made a nice bomb hole about six feet below the rocks at the base of the cliff, stood up out of his hot tub and charged off down the hill to victory.
Adam Heller is a former professional freeskier, with years of experience out of Chamonix, France, and currently works as a sports journalist and photographer based in Boulder, Colorado.