The sun had long since baked the snow into mashed potatoes, but a group of elite freestyle skiers were still sending it without hesitation into the clumpy landings.
“Coming into that bottom air I was just thinking OK, I’m not going to check any speed. I just hit it, grabbed and got both tips,” Squaw Valley skier Jake Hickman said.
The nation’s top moguls skiers sped through the slushy mogul finals Friday during the first day of the Sprint U.S. Freestyle Championships at Heavenly Mountain Resort. Skiers were scored on their turns, speed and air. Turns are the most important, accounting for 50 percent of the score. Speed and air are each worth 25 percent.
The snow was soft, and those who came out standing picked their spots well.
“You could see the course had some teeth, there were a lot of mistakes and a lot of crashes,” Heavenly skier Sho Kashima said. “You wanted to push your speed, but you really didn’t want to too much because once you lost control there was no getting it back. You had to ski a fine line of organized chaos.”
Kashima and the Wilson brothers found that perfect balance.
Bradley Wilson and Bryon Wilson took first and second place respectively and climbed the podium together for the first time.
“This event always brings you back to the freestyle roots and what freestyle is about,” Bradley Wilson said.
“When I remember to have fun I’m usually really happy with my results.”
Kashima, South Tahoe’s own snow hero, captured third in front of his home crowd. It was Kashima’s first podium finish after coming back from a second knee surgery in February.
“I still haven’t found what comp speed is. I had one event where I was slow, but felt really good and I missed out on the finals because of it,” Kashima said. “I’m just still trying to find that comp speed because I’ve only been competing for three weeks before this.”
Kashima sure looked like he had competition speed on lock Friday. He threw a single twist back flip off the first air and accelerated through the long mogul field making up the middle of the race. He capped his run with a double spin that initially landed him in second.
Hickman, a former Heavenly skier, and Trevor Semmens, who attends North Tahoe High School, both turned in solid runs that placed them in the top three in the first half of the competition.
In the women’s competition, Heather McPhie, of Bozeman Mont., grabbed first place with a new twist on her final trick that no other woman was throwing. It was just enough to give her an edge over first-place regular Hannah Kearney, who captured second. Eliza Outtrim snagged third place in the women’s finals.
“I’ve been sick all week and I really had to dig deep today to pull out the win,” McPhie said. “There is so much depth on our team and you really see it at an event like this. To be up on the podium again with Hannah and Eliza is something that is just so unbelievable.”
The U.S. Freestyle Championships resume today with dual moguls finals at 2:45 p.m. on Gunbarrel. Ariel finals will follow on World Cup at 5:45 p.m. It will all be capped off by fireworks at 9:15 p.m.
— The U.S. Ski Team contributed to this report.