By Andrew Mitchell
More than 90 skiers and snowboarders took part in the Sports Illustrated for Kids Next Snow Search Super Qualifier this past weekend, looking to qualify for the Next Snow Search Finals in Killington, Vermont this March, or the Next Snow Search All Starts contest at Steamboat, Colorado.
Athletes received grades in three events on Blackcomb — a big mountain contest on The Bite, a giant slalom style race on the snowcross track, and a slopestyle in the intermediate park — as well as a fun halfpipe jam.
As well as skill and style, the judges took into account things like age, personality and sportsmanship when deciding which of the 10 athletes would face off in a big air contest at the Fire and Ice Show on Sunday night, with the best going to either the finals or the All Stars contests.
The Next Snow qualifier was open to all kids who will be aged 9 to 12 at some point in 2007, which means the field included a few eight year olds and kids who turned 13 in the first few weeks of January. This is the third year that Whistler has hosted a Next Snow qualifier, and some athletes taking part have competed for several years now.
The top-10 selected for the big air contest were:
• Yuki Tsubota of the Whistler Blackcomb Freestyle Club
• Whistler J4 Logan Pehota, who has qualified for the finals the last two years
• Brin Alexander of the Whistler Valley Snowboard Club, who qualified the last two years
• Max Ripper of the Whistler Valley Snowboard Club, who qualified last year
• Jake McGregor of the Whistler Blackcomb Freestyle Club
• Hunter Vissar of Apex
• Cameron Shuster of Vernon
• Brendan Kelly of the Whistler Blackcomb Freestyle Club
• Jai Woo Choi of the Whistler Blackcomb Freestyle Club
With a crowd looking on the athletes showed off their best tricks before waiting nervously for the judges to make their final decisions.
The three athletes nominated for the Next Snow All Stars contest were Tsubota, Shuster and Vissar. In addition, both Shuster and Vissar will join Alexander and Ripper in Colorado for the Next Snow Finals.
Ripper says he played it safe through the contest, and tried to have fun with the events.
“I landed all my runs, which I’m pretty happy about,” he said. “In the slopestyle I did quite easy tricks because the jumps weren’t all that big. I did a half cab melon, and corked 360, and a rail with a nose press, and 180 out. Everything felt really good.
“The big mountain was pretty sketchy. It was basically icy moguls the whole way down but I did my best to make some fun out of it. I went off all the biggest cliffs I could find on the way down and did my best to land them, and I actually enjoyed this event a lot.”
The GS race down the snowcross course was good, he said, but it’s definitely not his favourite event. “I’ll go through the course at the end of the day with my friends, but I’m not looking to take it up,” he said.
In the big air he took it safe for the most part, then clinched his place in the finals by landing his biggest trick, a rodeo 720, on his last run.
Now that he’s heading to the Next Snow Search finals for a second year, Ripper says he’ll have a better chance against the other riders because he’ll know what to expect.
“I’m really pumped for this. Last time I went there I was only used to riding Whistler where there’s nice snow most of the time and it’s not really too icy,” he said. “Everything was just a sheet of ice, it was like starting all over again. I did the first jump and just slid out on my edge, I had no idea what was going on.”
Ripper credits the Whistler Valley Snowboard Club for getting him to where he is — one of the top local riders in any park contest or rail jam.
“I love it, the coaches are so supportive and they teach you so much,” he said.
For more information on Next Snow Search, visit www.nextsnow.com.