Freeskiing championships return to Kirkwood
March 20, 2009
KIRKWOOD MOUNTAIN RESORT ” Near-perfect conditions greeted both competitors and spectators during the first full day of competition at the Subaru North American Freeskiing Championship here on Friday.
The event returned to Kirkwood this week after a one-year break, and Friday’s action included some of the world’s best extreme skiers carving high-speed arcs and landing successions of seemingly impossible cliff drops in the area of the resort known as the Cirque.
In 2008, a scheduling conflict and a desire by the event’s sponsors ” Mountain Sports International ” to give staff and competitors more time to prepare for the World Extreme Championships prevented the event from coming to Kirkwood for the first time in 12 years.
If winds had picked up around the Cirque ” a consistently steep section of the resort pocked with a perilous array of volcanic cliffs ” the area had the potential turn into a sheet of “icy death,” said Kirkwood Ski Patrol foreman Gabe Cortelyou.
But calm weather and clear skies prevailed and turned the snow on the Cirque into firm but smooth surface at the top and desirable “corn” conditions near the bottom, said Gardnerville resident and local favorite Craig Garbiel.
Garbiel was one of several Kirkwood skiers who turned in solid runs on Friday. The nine-time competitor at the Kirkwood stop of the Freeskiing World Tour said he was happy with Friday’s run despite missing three of his planned hits because of the speed he carried through his run.
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Several hundred spectators ” many of whom were resting on couches carved out of the snow, drinking cheap beer or merrily throwing snowballs ” didn’t seem to mind though, hooting and hollering as Garbiel passed across the finish line on Friday.
Apart from skiing the normally closed terrain of the Cirque, the good vibes in the crowd are part of what make the freeskiing championship at Kirkwood such a special event, said three-time competitor and Gardnerville resident J.J. Schiller.
“This contest is so much fun,” Schiller said. “It’s just a great time.”
While crowd noise gives a pretty good indication as to performance, skiers are officially judged by the difficulty of the line they take down the mountain, as well as the technique, fluidity, aggressiveness and control they display during a run, said competition director Bryan Barlow.
A skier’s line scores determines the maximum score they can get in the other four categories. The system encourages skiers to be more calculated than reckless when sliding their way down the mountain, Barlow said.
“When someone can really ski a hard line and stay in control, he’s going to score way higher,” Barlow said.
The start gate was perched just under the top of the Cirque on spectators’ right hand side on Friday and contest organizers expect the competition to move to the opposite side of the Cirque for two runs on Saturday.
Cuts will be made after each round, and a combination of a skier’s scores from Friday and Saturday will determine the winner of the event, Barlow said.
Competitors are trying to earn enough points to qualify for the Subaru World Freeskiing Championships April 6-12 in Alyeska, Alaska.
The viewing area of the event is accessible using a Kirkwood lift ticket, and the resort also offers cat trips to the viewing area for $20. To make a reservation call (209) 258-7360.
Live coverage of Saturday’s action is available online at: http://freeskiingworldtour.com/
” Tribune sports editor Steve Yingling contributed to this story.