North American Freeskiing Championships return to Kirkwood | TahoeDailyTribune.com

North American Freeskiing Championships return to Kirkwood

Steve Yingling, Tribune sports editor

The wait is over.

After a one-year hiatus, the North American Freeskiing Championships are back at Kirkwood Mountain Resort.

A scheduling conflict deprived the resort and area extreme skiers of the event last year, but now the contest returns along with its entitlement to the Cirque and its normally off-limits terrain.

Registration is Wednesday, qualifying on Thursday, and the finals Friday and Saturday in the Cirque.

“It’s just the most pristine face around,” said big-mountain skier Josh Daiek of the South Shore. “It has perfect features, steep trannies and perfect runouts. It’s a big-mountain rider’s perfect venue.”

Daiek, however, will have to grind out a year longer to compete in the NAFC. Daiek, 11th in last year’s World Tour and U.S. Freeskiing overall points, suffered a broken right tibia and talus bone a month ago and won’t be able to participate.

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“It’s been tough, but it’s something where you have to pay to play. When you strap on the boots, it’s like any other sport,” Daiek said. “I’ve been one-skiing here and there, keeping my one leg strong.”

Daiek said he’s had no close calls the few times he’s been in the Cirque.

“I’ve crashed in there before, but nothing in exposure,” he said. “What’s good about it is that when you hit most of the rock features, there are clean runouts for about 100 yards or so, so you can get your act back together before the next one.”

Freeskiing World Tour men’s leader Cliff Bennett, better known as “Cliffhuck,” of Ward, Colo., takes a 10-point lead to Kirkwood. France’s Julien Lopez is a close second, while Griff Post of Sandy, Utah, is a distant third.

All three might be hard-pressed to win if Craig Garbiel of Gardnerville competes.

“He’s the one to watch for,” said Daiek, who plans to be a spectator. “He’s one of the 25 best skiers on the world tour, and he’s been killing it on that tour. He’s coming back to the U.S., and he’s going to kill it on his home mountain.”

Squaw Valley’s Arne Backstrom and Scott Hanichen are 16th and 17th in the overall standings.

In the women’s standings, Crystal Wright of Jackson Hole, Wyo., leads Phillipa Hunt of Salt Lake City by 70 points. Michele Manning of Salt Lake City is third, one point behind Hunt.

Squaw Valley’s Karine Falck-Pedersen is perched in sixth place.

Competitors are trying to earn enough points to qualify for the Subaru World Freeskiing Championships April 6-12 in Alyeska, Alaska.

Registration for the 12th edition of the Kirkwood event is from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday in the Red Cliffs Lodge. Competitors who need to prequalify must pay a $125 fee, while prequalifiers will be charged $225.

“Kirkwood is excited to have the NAFC back here again after a year hiatus,” said Kirkwood Mountain Resort marketing manager Chris Eckert. “The Cirque has been a proving ground for the best athletes in our sport, and it should be no different this year.”

Kirkwood will keep spectators fueled. Barbecued hot dogs and hamburgers will be available, as well as water, soda, Gatorade and beer.

For the extreme spectators, a snowcat will make trips to Devil’s Corral at 10 a.m. and noon and Friday and Saturday. Return trips are scheduled for 4 p.m. each day. The cost is $20 for a roundtrip. To make a reservation, phone (209) 258-7360.

North American Freeskiing Championships

Wednesday: Registration, 9 a.m.-3 p.m. in Red Cliffs Lodge

Thursday: Day 1, Qualifying on Vista, 9a.m.-4 p.m.

Friday: Day 2, Day 1 Finals in the Cirque, 9a.m.-4 p.m.

Saturday: Day 3, Super Finals in the Cirque, 9a.m.-4 p.m.

Sunday: Weather Day, if needed

Freeskiing World Tour standings

After 3 of 4 events

Women

1 Crystal Wright Jackson Hole 171

2 Phillipa Hunt Crested Butte 101

3 Michelle Manning Alta/Bird 100

4 Emily Teague Telluride 84

5 Leah Evans Red Mountain 71

6 Karine Falck-Pedersen Squaw Valley 62

7 Ariana Stufano Whistler/Blackcomb 60

8 Sonja Lercher Blackcomb 60

9 Alixandra Klein Crested Butte 50

10 Allie Donovan Squaw Valley 42

11 Daniela Anguita Snowbird 42

12 Tanya Christensen Alta 35

13 Hannah Whitney Alta 35

14 Sierra Quitiquit Alta/Bird 35

15 Kristen Schmitt Snowbird 29

16 Rebecca Selig Timber Ridge 27

17 Alaina Huestis Snowbird 25

18 Liz Norton Crested Butte 21

19 Alexis DuPont Sun Valley 21

20 Carrie Jo Chernoff-Hicks Crested Butte 17

21 Ashley Magnuson Vail 14

22 Claudia Bouvier Vail 14

23 Crystal-Rose Lee Whistler/Blackcomb 12

24 Caitlin Ciccone Jackson Hole 10

Men

1 Cliff Bennett Snowbird 160

2 Julien Lopez La Plagne 150

3 Caleb Mullen Crested Butte 84

4 Drew Stoecklein Alta 84

5 Griffin Post Sun Valley 71

6 Dex Mills Alta/Bird/CB 71

7 John Mason Breckenridge 60

8 Matt Potter Echo 58

9 Sean Cochrane Revelstoke 50

10 Mark Filippini Vail 42

11 Mathieu Gagnon Whistler 42

12 Alex Else Attitash 35

13 Daimon Bushi Snowbird 35

14 Luke Nelson Fernie 31

15 Christian Boucher Blackcomb 28

16 Arne Backstrom Squaw Valley 25

17 Scott Hanichen Squaw Valley 25

18 Tom Runcie Mad River Glen 21

19 Mike Vaughan Alpine Meadows 17

20 Nick DeVore Aspen 17

21 Dylan Crossman Alta/Mad River Glen 12

22 Mark Welgos Aspen 12

23 Nick Greener Snowbird 10

24 Travis Wolfe Telluride 8

25 Brayden Brassey Park City 8