Freeskiing: Typical Tanner Hall unbeatable at Park City's World Superpipe event


Freeskiing: Typical Tanner Hall unbeatable at Park City's World Superpipe eventPARK CITY, Utah – The best snowboarders and skiers came from all over the world to compete at the fourth annual World Superpipe Championships at Park City Mountain Resort, Utah, this weekend.

The stunt ditch here is truly huge. The 22-foot deep superpipe is shaped by a 22-foot Zaugg pipe cutter, of which there are only four in the world. By contrast, the pipe at the X Games and Torino were 18 feet deep. Compared to X and the Olympics, the Park City pipe is also 11 feet wider, 65 feet wide.

With a blustery return of winter after a week of 60-degree highs, the pipe was firm. The sun was in and out on Saturday, giving the side saddlers better visibility than for the skiers Sunday, who had to ski through wave after wave of heavy snow squalls.

The WSC organizers have not yet stepped up and provided a competition for the young women skiers, a flaw shared with the X Games (X Games has women's superpipe but not ski slopestyle). The reasoning on the part of these organizers is that the women's talent pool is not yet big enough, or that the viewership isn't there.

These events need to realize that they are creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. By not providing coverage, they are killing interest in the sport on the part of young women. The underlying premise that there are fewer female ski rippers than boarders is debatable at best – Winter Gravity Games, the U.S. Open, the Vermont Open and the Aspen Snowmass Open stand as contrary evidence, to name just a few.

Sunday, the two-plankers had to deal with heavy snow and wind. Although there were breaks in the weather with some hazy sun, the majority of the runs were in flat light if not an actual blizzard.

Tanner Hall, now a Park City local, took his third superpipe victory of what could be called the triple crown of pipe – the U.S. Open, the X Games and now the WSC. Hall skied with his silky fluidity and appeared entirely unaffected by the visibility or soft conditions. In two years of covering freeskiing contests, I have never seen anything less from Hall.

'The flat light doesn't affect my game plan at all. I know I can ride pipe, I know my run – my comp run, I train that, I know it like the back of my hand," Hall said. "Come rain, sleet, snow or shine, I'm gonna be there and I'm going to give it my all.'

Hall was able to maintain his speed in the soft belly of the stunt ditch – he attributed this to his tech skills. 'When it's a little bit slower, pumping trannies for speed is crucial. I'm just psyched that I've been skiing pipe hard for the last three years, and I've developed a good tranny pump that's starting to work out for me.'

Hall's comp run is highlighted by two 900's and a 1080.

Hall is now done with competition for the season, focusing on making movies with his movie production company the Big Picture. As he has all season, Tanner dedicated his victory to his best buddy, CR Johnson, who has been sidelined this year by a severe head injury sustained at Brighton, Utah, in December when another skier collided with him.

Simon Dumont took second in the blizzard conditions. 'I think I skied … pretty well. The soft pipe wasn't cooperating with my style' Dumont said.

He has changed his first hit from earlier this season, losing the unique truck-driver grab but still doing a big 540.

'A lot of people have seen the truck driver; I kind of made my point with it. I just want to do as many different tricks as I can, different grabs, show that I can be versatile' said Dumont. He will be shooting in British Columbia with Matchstick and Poorboys, as well as going to the one more contest, the Jon Olsson invitational in Are, Sweden.

Third place on the podium was claimed by Andy Woods. The 22-year-old Woods, now based in Salt Lake, has been among the top park riders since he was about 15.

'It feels really good to still be on the podium – it's not an easy thing to do," he said. "There's lots of super good kids every year and it's tough to stay competitive, but you just have to push yourself – and battle.'

Woods was kicking off his run with a huge straight air – on his third run he was about 23 feet above the deck, despite the slow conditions. Woods' run included his beautiful flare (a back flip 180), and a clean 900.

Scott Hibbert wowed the spectators with a double back flip at the bottom of the pipe on his third run. His second run he did his 'fish out of water' back flip at the same place, shimmying in the air as he went upside down, like a fish flopping on the deck.

Hibbert took eighth, saying, 'I've been thinking about that double since the fall. I've tried it two other times and I finally pulled it together in this event so I'm happy. I kinda landed a bit sideways and just reverted around, so I'd like to clean it up some more, just stomp the landing switch and ski away. Hopefully I'll do that at the Vermont Open in two weeks.'

After taking second at the X Games in pipe, the gregarious and cheerful Laurent Favre had a nasty deck-out on his second run, falling into the pipe backward and losing his helmet in the fall. The French skier may have also done his knee (he thinks possibly his MCL) and may be out for the rest of the season.

The story of the WSC wouldn't be complete without mentioning 15-year-old Josiah Wells of Waneka, New Zealand.

The diminutive Wells ('I can't gain weight – it's kind of annoying!') had trouble keeping his speed in the slow snow and finished 11th, but still showed why he is worthy of contests like the WSC. A junior racer, Wells has temporarily given up alpine racing due to knee problems and taken up the knee-friendly sport of superpipe skiing.

'When I race, it loads up the patella tendon too much," he said. "I guess it's just the buildup of force in the turns. I don't know why because there is more force, but freeskiing doesn't hurt it' he said.

Wells has been ski racing since he was in the single digits, and is in the Northern Hemisphere for the third winter of his young life. With that kind of dedication and talent, 'Joss' is sure to be a future power in freeskiing. He is competing at the European Open, the Candide Thovex Invitational and the Jon Olsson Invitational in Europe in the next month.

It always seems to snow just when you plan a comp, but skiers in the Rockies are nevertheless celebrating the return of winter and powder after a warm, dry four weeks. The snow continued after the contest, bringing over a foot of light and dry to the Wasatch.

PARALYMPICS: Opening Ceremony kicks off; 58 medals up for grabsVeteran ski jumper Harada to retire

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