What a difference two days can make.
When the World Pro Ski Tour (WPST) race kicked off on Saturday, fresh legs were no match against new snow and variable course conditions. Two days and more than 12 runs later, clear skies and hard snow welcomed the athletes back to Steamboat’s Howelsen Hill on Monday, Feb. 8 for the Moose Barrows’ Trophy. With a sore back that left him sitting out most qualifying runs, Robert Cone appeared in the finals once again against the only guy who has beaten him, Michael Ankeny.
The field only had 16 starters for the day, once again eliminating the round of 32 and adding a second round of qualifiers. While everyone qualified for the round of 16, athletes battled for the fastest combined qualifying runs, which earns an extra five points toward the overall standings.
Out of the gate, no course seemed to have a clear advantage, making it anyone’s race on any run. Cone was head to head against Garret Driller in qualifying rounds, another chance for Driller to get a lead on Cone after he finished runner-up on Saturday during the finals. Cone was clearly not skiing like himself in the opening run, somewhat locked up and missing the smooth skiing that was on display in Saturday’s race. Following the first qualifying run, Cone decided to sit the rest of the runs out to work on loosening up his back that had been causing him trouble.
Three-time Olympian Nolan Kasper put down the fastest run on his first run down the blue course and seemed to be the fastest as athletes looked tired and slightly slower as the runs progressed. Kasper’s tight line held strong until Bolivian Simon Breitfuss Kammerlander came down with a strong run in his third qualifier, beating out Kasper for the fastest run by 0.09.
The standout of the morning was Miha Kuerner, of Slovenia, who showed fast, consistent skiing throughout the four qualifying runs. Kuerner’s consistency gave him the two fastest combined red and blue runs of the day, giving him the speed run title and momentum into the head-to-head races.
Heading into the finals, Cone was hurt; Driller wanted the title; Kammerlander wanted to show his speed, and many athletes were looking tired. But who would regain his strength and win the Moose Barrows’ Trophy?
In the round of 16, veteran athletes were met with trouble. Driller had a massive mistake on his first run against Jake Jacobs down the red, with his ski flying high and hitting his inside ski, twisting his body and putting him 0.7 seconds behind Jacobs. On the second run, Driller pushed out of the blue course strong and skied out of his mind to catch Jacobs, but his first run mistake was not enough to surpass him, leaving Saturday’s second place finisher Driller on the sideline.
“It’s a bummer,” said Driller. “I had a big mistake first run, definitely not what I was going for. But that’s the exciting part about the tour, consistency gets you where you want to be.”
Cone came back to the field after a few hours of rest and showed conservative, yet consistent, skiing in the early rounds against Steamboat local Alex Borounos to move to the next round. Meanwhile, it was a head-to-head battle between Vermont natives Robby Kelley and Thomas Woolson with a 0.02 difference in the first run of 16. Kelley pushed himself on the second run and seemed all over the place, while Woolson slowly skied away and beat out Kelley to move on.
Round of 8
Woolson turned his skiing up to the next level when he met Kasper in the round of eight, staying consistent and on top of his line for two runs that would beat out the Olympian. Meanwhile, Cone faced Jacobs in what seemed to be a head-to-head battle until Cone turned it on, six gates from the finish and led Jacobs by 0.70. The speed run winner Kuerner could not respond to determined Ankeny who took the lead in the first run and charged into the semifinals.
“I just turned 30, so I have the old-man strength,” said Ankney, who would face young gun Woolson in the semifinals.
In Kammerlander, Cone met a tough match in the semifinals. Cone pushed out of the start with skiing not seen the entire day. Even with a mistake on his second run, he pulled away from Kammerlander with a gate lead through the finish to once again advance to the finals. Meanwhile Woolson kept getting better throughout the day but clean skiing was not enough for Ankeny out in front. With a huge save on the second run, Ankeny held it together and moved to challenge Cone in the finals.
“I think both of us are hurting,” said Ankeny before the finals. “But I’m loving it, it’s so fun. I’m just doing it run by run, hopefully I’ll have a good one next.”
It was Woolson against Kammerlander for third in what would already be Woolson’s best pro tour result thus far. Kammerlander put the hammer down on Woolson in the head-to-head battle, skiing his heart out and pulling just slightly ahead in the last six gates to finish 0.03 ahead of Woolson into the second run. Kammerlander seemed to know where to juice the ski in the second run, skiing a slightly straighter line in the last six gates to inch ahead and finish third once again.
“Fourth place today is awesome,” said Woolson. “I had a couple bobbles in qualifying, which wasn’t great but was able to qualify sixth still in the mix and finally able to put a couple of runs together. I kinda lost it there at the end, I guess I have to get back in the gym a bit and try to make sure I can make it through 12 runs in one day.”
For the win
It was Cone against Ankeny for the top spot, a familiar matchup for Cone, who lost to Ankeny at Eldora last season. Ankeny was in the blue course first run and pulled ahead of Cone after his first major mistake when his arm caught on a gate in the middle of the course and twisted him inside. Ankeny pulled ahead and finished 0.51 ahead of Cone.
Ankeny had the clear advantage going into second run. Cone hoped to make up the deficit on the blue course and seemed to be pulling ahead of Ankeny when trouble struck out of the start. Ankeny tried to pull it back together but was met with an equipment failure just before the first jump, losing his ski after ripping the binding toe piece off the plate, giving Cone the win.
Cone knew Ankeny had a problem at the first jump but couldn’t tell if he exited the course. When he got to the second jump it was full gas to the finish in case Ankeny was making a comeback. It wasn’t until Cone crossed the finish line that he saw Ankeny out of the course.
“I am feeling pretty pumped to come away with number two here,” said Cone. “I think there is a lot of skiing here at Howelsen, and a lot of runs came at all of us. I wasn’t the only one fatigued but I was just trying to do my best run by run. I’m feeling fatigued but pumped to come away with the win.”
Cone captured his second win of the weekend and holds onto the overall position going into the next WPST race.