GRIT IS IN THEIR GUT: The Corona/RSN/Tahoe Daily Tribune Lake Tahoe North American Freeskiing and Riding Championships |

GRIT IS IN THEIR GUT: The Corona/RSN/Tahoe Daily Tribune Lake Tahoe North American Freeskiing and Riding Championships

Gregory Crofton

They often look like the mountains they master: chiseled, burly and hardcore.

Not concentrating on the fear involved, instead they focus on expanding their skiing or snowboarding horizons.

“You stoked or what?” “Oh yeah,” said a friend. “It’s gonna be a fun ride.”

A fun ride means razor sharp turns down a chute or hucking oneself off a 40-foot cliff. And despite the less than great snowfall at Kirkwood Mountain Resort this season, fun rides were in abundance for entrants in the Corona/RSN/Tahoe Daily Tribune Lake Tahoe North American Freeskiing and Riding Championships, an event also sponsored by the Horizon Casino Resort.

The Cirque, an area of expert terrain at Kirkwood opened only for the contest, drew more than 100 snow riders, mainly skiers, from places like Utah, Montana and Washington.

These athletes do whatever it takes get to a snow-covered mountain. Many were too poor to rent accommodations, so they spent nights in the parking lot. They make what money they can as ski techs or snowcat operators or dry wall contractors or banquet servers. Regardless the job, a common theme is: “Anything to get a pass.”

This go-round good weather made up for the lack of deep powder. Saturday’s temperatures climbed into the 50s making a stretch of snow beneath The Cirque into a beach for at least a 100 spectators. Skis stuck in melting snow became “lawn chairs,” and people sat with their shirts off on benches dug from the snow.

Fans and friends cheered, hog piled and covered in beer entrants such as Craig Gabriel, a 25-year-old from Markleeville. Out of a possible 150 points, 50 points being the best score possible for each of three runs, Gabriel earned 94.8 points taking 10th place overall.

That finish qualifies him to compete at the World Extreme Skiing Championships March 28 to April 7 at Valdez, Alaska.

“If someone wants to help me get there (Alaska) I’d be more than willing to go,” Gabriel, employee for five seasons at Kirkwood’s demo and repair shop, said.

It’s ironic, but Gabriel has been riding non-stop at Kirkwood for years but he’s never been able to ski The Cirque until last week when he entered the championship.

“I’ve never skied what I skied today ever. I wish I had,” he said. “It’s the longest run and has the best terrain. I guess they feel it’s too dangerous.”

As far as the snow conditions, Gabriel said he wasn’t bothered, in fact he liked them.

“I like the mountain when there is low snow,” he said. “It makes the mountain burly. I like more exposure.”

Scoring the burliest number for female snowboarders, was Robin Soifer, 24, who took first from a pool of six women with a three-day total of 59.6.

Soifer lives and snowboards at Snowbird/Alta, Utah. She last competed in an extreme contest in New Zealand in August and supports her snow habit with a job as a banquet server.

“I was going to do just one more air but my legs were so tired,” Soifer, who won with a score of 59.6, said. “This was my third time down, and it’s a long one.”

Despite a rise in the number of woman and snowboarders at the championship, Soifer said she was disappointed in the turnout, a turnout she thinks low because she doesn’t believe the event was advertised in snowboarding magazines.

“Snowboarders should be more involved in extreme competitions . . . but skiing extreme is a little bit “cooler” right now,” she said. “They didn’t advertise in any snowboarding magazines they only advertised in Powder. I can’t believe there were only 15 or 20 snowboarding guys and six girls. I know if they advertised there’d be 5 to 10 more in each category.”

Skier, snowboarders – it doesn’t really matter. This was the sixth year the Corona/RSN Lake Tahoe North American Freeskiing and Riding Championship was held at Kirkwood. It was well-organized and spectacular to watch. It seems the sport of free skiing and riding, as well as this event, have no where to go but up.

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