Local skiers the favourites on freeski world tour
When the sixth annual Canadian Freeskiing Championships return to Whistler Jan. 7-11, all eyes will be on a group of local skiers who have ruled the International Freeskiers Association (IFSA) World Tour for the past few years.
In the mens competition, Pembertons Hugo Harrison is the reigning World Tour champion for the past three years and has finished second in the Canadian and U.S. Nationals two years running. Prior to Harrison, the title was held by another Whistler skier, Jeff Holden, who has gone on to become a judge for the World Tour.
"Hugo is overdue to take an event title," said Brant Moles, a former World Tour Champion and Harrisons teammate on the Rossignol squad. "Hes so consistent, it seems like its just a matter of time."
Pierre-Yves LeBlanc was second on the tour, and first at the Canadian Freeskiing Championships. Locals Robin Courcelles and Mike Stevenson were eighth and ninth on the tour list.
Far from shaping up as a Canadian duel, the Whistler skiers will face steep competition from a number of strong international athletes. Other strong contenders include Guerlain Chicherit and Nathanial Fresnois of France, Kai Zachrisson of Sweden, Kevin Mayberry-Hjertaas of Sunshine Village, Alberta, and Ehren Olson of Mount Hood, Oregon.
On the womens tour, Whistlers Jenn Ashton topped the list by almost 40 points after finishing first, second and sixth over three competitions. At one competition, she even skied a few lines that were so technical that only a few of the men dared to follow her lead.
Aleisha Cline, who moved from Sun Peaks to Squamish last season, was fifth overall on the tour, but could easily move up the rankings.
Most of their competition will come from the U.S., led by Ingrid Backstrom of Squaw Valley, California, Linda Peterson of Alta and Snowbird, Utah, and Jamie Burge, the American champion from Northstar, California.
In addition to these athletes, the list of pre-qualified local athletes for the World Tour includes Blair Fontana, Jon Johnston and Leif Zapf-Gilje. They will joined, as usual, by a group of strong local skiers that could be just one good line away from the World Tour.
Over four days, the skiers will take their pick of lines through some of the most challenging terrain on Blackcomb Mountain, which is about as challenging as it comes. Cornices, cliffs, chutes, and steeps are just part of the game.
The first two days of the four-day competition are the qualifiers, from which 25 athletes will advance to the World Tour event, which takes place on the following two days. A group of pre-qualified athletes who have competed in previous years can enter the World Tour event without having to qualify.
The World Tour event is worth more than $10,000 in cash and prizes, and will be covered by the Outdoor Life Network.
Five judges will give each skier a score out of ten in five categories line choice, control, technique, fluidity and aggression. The scores will then be averaged for a total score. Competitors will pick a line on each day, and the scores will be added together to determine the overall winner.
Different venues for the events will be announced just prior to the competitions based on snow conditions, avalanche hazards and visibility. Some of the extreme areas used in past years include Ruby Bowl, Sapphire Bowl, Chainsaw Ridge and The Bite.
The second stop on the tour is Jan. 22-26 at Snowbird, Utah, followed by the world tour finals at Les Arcs, France from March 3 to 7.