At the qualifying round of the Red Bull Linecatcher on Sunday in Vars, France, podium finishers earned a spot in the finals, scheduled for Monday. Leo Talliefer of France was first, Switzerland's Nicolas Vuignier second, and Italy's Markus Eder third. All three will compete in tomorrow's finals against some of the biggest names in freeskiing.
Candide Thovex, the 2010 Linecatcher champion, will not be competing this year. Tanner Hall, who was originally slated to compete, will also not be in attendance. But Sean Pettit, Sage Cattabriga-Alosa, Chris Benchetler, JP Auclair, Anthony Boronowski, Tim Durtschi, Wiley Miller, Bene Mayr, Chris Booth, Matthieu Imbert and Richard Permin are all on hand to face off on Vars' Eyssina face on Monday.
Paddy Graham of the UK was the first competitor down the Eyssina face in the qualifying round on Sunday. He landed a misty 720 with a mute grab and won Best Trick. However, he fell in the finish area, injuring his shoulder and missing his second run.
On Saturday, head judge and event co-founder Julien Regnier helped teach a backcountry skills session at the top of a chairlift in Vars to 20 French students. The idea was to teach other skiers how to safely pursue their own backcountry freestyle adventures.
During the class, an avalanche bomb exploded on the Eyssina face, white smoke curling up into the blue sky. Regnier followed the sluff with a finger, a perfect demonstration of the avalanche danger he was talking about. "You can know and study ... the science of the snow, but it's so complex that even the best people will tell you that there's always a doubt," Regnier said later. "You don't have sufficient information, and the information is way too complex to lead to a certain truth."
After Regnier left the group, Vars ski instructors coached skiers down an exposed ridge to a steep couloir that opens into a snowfield, explaining how to avoid terrain traps and assess conditions.
Sharing the mountain with the elite freeriders in town for the Linecatcher offered a unique teaching opportunity. One instructor pointed out tracks over a rock drop left by Cattabriga-Alosa and talked about how to pick the right line. Just as the group was stopping for a lunch break (ham and cheese baguettes, Red Bull, and cigarettes), Cattabriga-Alosa hit the lip and landed a backflip. French speed flier Antoine Montant floated behind him, filming from the air.
"It's just so fun to play and ski in that terrain," Cattabriga-Alosa says. Asked how he wants to finish in the Linecatcher this week, he points a single finger at the sky and smiles. He explains why he likes this contest, saying, "These competitions involve powder and backcountry freestyle, [and] are really the most progressive contests out there. The big-mountain contests are really sick and they've been around for a long time; it's more about how gnarly your line is and not necessarily how fun your line is. These competitions are about fun, and I like those a little better."
Saturday afternoon was spent building a kicker on a natural feature, with the students attempting 360s and backflips for the first time. French skiers Richard Permin and Matthieu Imbert joined the group for the last run of the day. Between autographs, Permin said, "Just enjoy skiing powder and just take care every time. The feeling when you land a trick or a backflip, for a few minutes you feel like a hero. I think we all have the same passion, and we live for that."