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Backstrom, Gaidet claim freeskiing titles

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Moss Patterson claims Sick Bird award at annual freeskiing championships

The warm, wet weather, low visibility and changing snow conditions took their toll on the field of more than 65 skiers who took part in last weekend’s Canadian Freeskiing Championships, knocking out some favourites early, and opening a window of opportunity for a new batch of up-and-coming skiers.

For a sport that is based on making the best out of difficult situations and taking calculated risks, it was a fitting challenge.

In the women’s contest, Ingrid Backstrom of Squaw Valley, California claimed her first Canadian title after finishing second the last two years. In her last run of the day in Diamond Bowl, she flew off a tough cliff section at full speed, and disappeared from the spectators’ view into a gully. After a tense moment Backstrom reappeared, and skied a strong line down the bowl despite the choppy conditions.

The run was scored at 36.8 points, more than five points better than any other women received on day two. She moved up from sixth place to first in the rankings to take the title.

"I was going out today for a bit of redemption because I crashed on the last couple of days," said Backstrom. "Coming up from behind was a little bit of a challenge for me, but I did good today."

The conditions were difficult, but Backstrom stuck to the line she planned on from the begging.

"It wasn’t too bad," she said. "It got messy on the bottom third, but I was prepared for that. Where I went there weren’t as many tracks so the snow was a little bit nicer until I got out into the open bowl, and that’s where I knew I just had to hang on and keep making nice turns to the bottom. That was the plan from the beginning and that’s what I wanted to do."

Although she is consistently among the top skiers at World Tour events, Backstrom has missed the third and final event at Les Arcs, France the past two years, and with it the opportunity to win to the overall world championship title. She plans to make the trip this year.

"I’d love to compete at Les Arcs, and will hopefully try to do well there as well," Backstrom said.

"(The tour) is always fun. The best part is coming out and seeing all these people and watching all these girls ski – and seeing how well they’re doing, because it makes me step up."

Backstrom was amazed by all of the new talent this season, and is enjoying how competitive the tour is becoming.

"It’s awesome, definitely. You have to step up because there’s an awful lot of good girls out there, and they’re coming from all over the world. The talent’s getting scary."

Backstrom was followed by Pemberton’s Laura Ogden, who skied a similar line and used more of the terrain on the edges of Diamond Bowl.

Third place went to Ane Enderud of France for one of the fastest runs through the bumpy sections of the bowl.

Susan Medville of Crested Butte, Colorado was the leader after the first day, but slipped to fourth after losing a ski in a rough patch.

Lia Darquier of Argentina, who is living in Whistler, took the hardest line of the day with the most air time, but had trouble with her landings to finish in fifth. The only skier to attempt as much on her run was Dana Carmichael of Squamish, with similar results.

From Whistler, Alisha Reilly-Roe finished in sixth place after four days of competition, and received an award for being the top woman through the qualifiers.

The men’s competition was nothing short of intense with at least a dozen skiers still in the running after the first day of competition.

Ian McIntosh of Panorama led the way on the first day with a score of 41.2, dropping four good cliffs, and taking Ruby Bowl at speed.

He had a strong run again on day two with lots of air time, but got into a little trouble in the choppy snow of Diamond Bowl. His second day score of 35.6 was the third highest, but it wasn’t enough to hold off Manuel Gaidet of Courcheval, France, the reigning Canadian and World Champion.

Gaidet started with a huge drop, skied the bumps like he was at a freestyle moguls competition, and ended his run with an off-camber 360 at the bottom.

Gaidet finished the day with a combined score of 82.2, six points ahead of McIntosh.

"It’s crazy," said Gaidet. "I wasn’t expecting to win today. I won last year, and it was a big day for me, with all the best guys around, and I was really together for that. I was impressed to win again here, because the other skiers are really strong."

Gaidet said the terrain in Diamond Bowl is pretty similar to the terrain he skis in France, and that he enjoys this face because of the variety of line choices. Although the conditions were less than perfect, Gaidet said he stuck with his original line choice.

"I had the choice coming into today between two lines, one easy and one harder. I chose the harder one. It wasn’t a big deal, but I had to think and I skied it not badly. It’s always a bit risky (dropping cliffs) but I did well because all the landings were good. I did a good job, and had a fun run."

Less than half a point behind McIntosh was Aurelien Ducroz of Chamonix, France, who started the day in ninth place and moved up six spots with a 50-foot drop and a huge double drop in an exposed section of the bowl.

Whistler’s Moss Patterson finished in fourth, winning the coveted Sick Bird award for the most daring run of the day. Estimates on the height of the cliff differ, but it was at least 50 feet from top to landing. Increasing the difficulty, Patterson crossed his skis and held a stylish grab most of the way down.

"I’m super stoked. Actually, this is my second time winning the Sick Bird. I won it three years ago at Snowbird in the U.S. Nationals, and was fifth place," said Patterson.

Although it would be nice to win, getting the Sick Bird trophy was a good consolation prize said Patterson.

"Winning a contest is great, although I’ve never done it before. The Sick Bird is something a bit different. It’s entertainment, and a big part of the future of the sport is making sure than it’s entertaining, and that we keep pushing it," he said.

Patterson doesn’t know how big the cliff was. "I have no idea," he said. "You just come off and see the bottom."

And the grab?

"I feel more comfortable grabbing off the large airs, you tweak back a little so you’re really stable, and when you release you come out of it in a solid position for the landing. If you get out of control a little on the bigger drops, it’s hard to come back out of them.

"You get used to it after a while. I’ve always done big drops, 50, 60 feet, and once you get more and more comfortable, it’s almost like second nature."

Although the conditions had some competitors second guessing themselves on the second day, Patterson said he made the decision to stick with his line.

"The conditions don’t really mean much because everyone is going to go hard," he said. "On the first day we saw a lot of injuries because people didn’t change their minds. I just stuck to my game plan, and things went as planned."

Jack Hannan of Crested Butte was solid on both runs to finish fifth.

From Whistler, Leif Zapf-Giljie was 11 th . Shane Carmichael of Squamish was14th, Alexander Blais was 22 nd , and Chad Sayers was 27 th .

For complete results, visit www.freeskiers.org.

The Internatinal Free Skiers Association World Tour continues Feb. 2-6 at Snowbird, Utah before heading to Les Arcs March 1-5 for the third and final event in the series.

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