On Monday, Lars Chickering-Ayers and Leah Evans won the Revelstoke, BC, stop of the Subaru Freeskiing World Tour, the first North American stop of the 2011 tour. Athletes were taken by helicopter to the venue, 1,600-vertical-foot Mac Face on Mount MacKenzie, which offered gnarly exposed rocks, big cliff bands, and massive powder aprons.
"These athletes are about to put on a show," said judge Dash Longe prior to competition kicking off.
The 19 skiers that made up the men's field went toe-to-toe with Mac Face, displaying a diverse approach to big-mountain skiing -- from puckering lines like Gord Spurgeon's memorable 900-foot straight line and subsequent tumble to Sam Cohen's big-mountain jibbing and Chickering-Ayers' highly consequential technical run.
Chickering-Ayers, who's originally from Mad River Glen, Vermont, was in second place behind Drew Tabke coming into Monday's finals. But Chickering-Ayers beat out Tabke for the championships by fluidly navigating his way to a massive mandatory air with total composure. "I knew I was headed into that area after the visual inspection," says Chickering-Ayers, "and I knew I would find a way out of it." Tabke ended up in second place and Spencer Brinson took third.
In the women's field, of the seven ladies who advanced to the finals, nearly all of them suffered falls or lost skis. Leah Evans, the top contender coming into Monday's finals, skied a smart, entertaining line and stayed on her feet, earning her the win. "I had a really sweet line picked out," says Evans. "But everyone fell in the same section so I went somewhere else. I've learned that sometimes you need to play the game in these comps. I wasn't planning on skiing the line I did, but I decided to take a fun and safe run down before opening it up in the good snow at the bottom." Revelstoke locals Tatum Monod and Nicole Derksen took second and third, respectively.
During the trophy presentation in downtown Revelstoke on Monday evening, judge Chris Rubens said he was impressed by the skiers' performance. "You couldn't get anymore burly on skis than what Lars did today," said judge Rubens. "And, just like what Leah said, she played the game. She definitely earned her championship with her day one line."
Young gun Sam Cohen, from Alta, Utah, was awarded the Sickbird Belt Buckle for throwing huge 360s in both days of the competition. Illustrating the style and creativity that is ubiquitous in ski movies, Cohen's spins are indicative of the direction big-mountain skiing is headed.
The frigid temperature didn't deter hundreds of spectators from sitting in the shadow of Mount MacKenzie and watching one of the most anticipated finals in recent memory. A large bonfire burned at the base of the venue, and crowds huddled around the fire to stay warm.
The skiers were only allowed to visually inspect the course -- as opposed to skiing through the venue and inspecting the terrain first-hand -- prior to dropping in from the gate. Two feet of untracked powder blanketed the venue and Revelstoke's ski patrol triggered a number of avalanches with ski cuts and hand charges prior to the finals getting underway.
Next up on the Freeskiing World Tour, athletes who have yet to pre-qualify for the tour will head to Jackson Hole, Wyo., Jan. 27-30, to vie for the coveted remaining pre-qualified spots.