"What do you feed those guys up there in Canada?"
That was the question most everyone was asking at the prestigious Red Bull Snowthrill of Alaska competition held in the remote Chugach Mountains of southwestern Alaska last week.
And they were justified in asking the question. With the worlds best 12 men and top four women gathered together in Cordova, Alaska to determine bragging rights for 2001, the field was a stellar one (it included past champions Chris Davenport and Wendy Fisher, French ace Guerlain Chicherit and Swedish star Kaj Zackrisson). Yet once again, Whistlers big-mountain skiing fraternity completely dominated the proceedings.
Capping a tremendous competitive season, Whistler Freeride Team member, Hugo Harrison won all four runs in Alaska, becoming the first person to win back-to-back World Tour titles.
"Hes a deserving champion," said event organizer Adam Comey. "And a great ambassador for the sport."
Easily the most consistent skier on the big-mountain circuit (his worst finish in two seasons of competition was a fifth-place in Tignes two weeks ago), Harrison is a soft-spoken 23 year old who, most often, just lets his skis do the talking.
"I finished second twice this season (Whistler and Snowbird), and I was determined not let the victory slip though my fingers here," he admits in his typically understated way. "So I skied hard from the very first run. And it seemed to work for me."
Indeed. On an extremely steep and wind-scoured venue on Day 1 (where a fall would have enormous consequences), Harrison offered up a display of 21 st century power skiing that left everyone in awe. "It seemed like he was on a totally different level than anybody else in the event," said Powder Magazine editor, Keith Carlsen. "He really set the tone for the rest of the week."
But it was another Whistlerite, 2001 breakout star Ryan Oakden (recently crowned World Champion in Tignes), who really got tongues wagging on the second day of competition.
With nearly a week of downtime due to bad weather, competitors were forced to sit idle while nasty Alaskan storms dumped snow on the coastal peaks. When the weather finally cleared, the safety crew deemed the conditions safe enough for competition. But barely.
Given that these remote mountain venues were all helicopter-accessed, an inspection run on the course was out of the question. So skiers had no other alternative but to inspect their skiing lines through binoculars from the bottom of the venue (imagine downhillers being asked to run a course without the benefit of an inspection run ). "I wish it was always that way," says Harrison. "It really benefits bold, confident skiers."