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Vans event shows potential of snowboarding

Column by Sam Bauman

The Olympics have come and gone, happily, since few were happy with the idiotic coverage furnished by CBS. But then came a sort of replay of the Olympics at Kirkwood Ski Resort with the Vans World Championships of Snowboarding last week.

I have no idea how Vans is going to look on ESPN2 on March 24, but if the TV cameras caught the excitement and sheer fun of the four events, it’s got to make CBS look like kids with a string and two tin cans. With the exception of the Olympics, Vans’ event has to have been the most fun snowsports event of the year.

Who won or lost isn’t important, although halfpipe winners Michelle Taggart and Todd Richardson took firsts to beat Olympic medal winners, but the excellent mixture of events has to be a model for any such future snowboard or ski festivals.

There were four venues at Kirkwood: giant slalom, big air, halfpipe and bordercross. The big air, awesome leaps from a tabletop, were real grabbers as the riders twisted, turned and made double front flips while soaring out into nothingness.

The boardercross, a combination of motorcross without motorcycles and slalom with six riders starting at once, was sheer fantasy. The course started high on the mountain with a granite-hard ice first turn. Then it got tough. Since the run started with sharp turns, the riders stayed bunched until they got to some tabletops and hits.

Then they entered the halfpipe with GS gates high on the walls. And finally the boarders emerged onto the big air bump with more GS gates. This had to be the longest and most challenging bordercross of the year.

The GS was fast and was the closest thing to a ski race as riders cut gates and let their boards run full out.

The last event, the halfpipe, showed snowboarding skills rarely seen in even extreme events. Amplitude, that is, height off the walls, was astounding. You had to be standing in the photographers’ lane to visually catch the effort involved and the skill demanded.

And something you rarely see at a snowsports event in America: spectators lining both sides of the 300-foot-plus halfpipe from top to bottom and packed bleachers at the finish.

Something else you don’t see at ski events: Boarders seem to feel like a family. At the top of the ‘pipe, waiting riders groaned when a boarder fell or missed a trick, cheered a great run. Competitors or not, they were part of the fraternity.

It seems to me that snowboarding is doing some great things for snowsports. It’s adding a new kind of excitement, a new kind of freedom to the outdoors. If you’ve looked at as many photos as I have of skiers going through gates with almost imperceptible differences in technique, you begin to think maybe ski racing has become a little stultified under FIS rules.

And I think it’s time for skiers to forget complaining about sharing trails with boarders. We can all get along, we all enjoy the snow and the outdoors and snowboarders are coming of age.

So let’s cheer the shredders, wish them well and enjoy their antics. After all, they didn’t tear up their rooms in the Olympic Village.

HEY, SKI LAKE TAHOE …

Here’s a thought after seeing the Vans extravaganza. How about the six resorts that comprise the Ski Lake Tahoe group staging something like “The Tahoe Big Six Challenge,” offering three snowboard events and three skiing races at the six resorts in one week. That would really put Tahoe snowsports on the map!

UPCOMING EVENTS

At Squaw Valley: The Stoli vodka Ski Classic for chefs and bartenders Monday March 9 for men and women and snowboarders. Sounds like great fun for all. Registration details, (888)396-SNOW.

Squaw’s Ski Patrol will offer its fourth annual Steep ‘n’ Deep Avalanche Awareness Clinic Thursday (March 12) in the Plaza Bar. It’s free and will include film clips from the Hatchett brothers and Tom Day. Speakers will include many with extensive backcountry experiences.

Then March 10-14 the All Mouton Extremes competition returns to Squaw with skiers and boarders going “up against the mountain.” More than 100 top freeriders will compete on challenging terrain. This is a pro/am event open to the public with fees of $225 for either skiing or boarding and $290 for both. Helmets are required. Details, (408) 659-1553.

Heavenly, meanwhile, has come up with its own version of the bartenders’ race under the name of the fourth annual Great Bar and Restaurant Race following on the heels of the Stoli event. This will be held March 11 on the World Cup run in dual slalom format.

K2 will have its demo van on hand with the latest skis for testing.

This is a benefit for the South Lake Tahoe Humane Society and “money well spent. The race is for anyone involved with restaurants or bars,” said Monica Bandows of the marketing department. “There is over $10,000 in prizes from skis to watches and rooms at Harrah’s and Fantasy Inn by bib lottery.”

The fee is $50, which includes lift ticket ($30 without ticket). The race is at 10 a.m., party at 4 p.m. Many goodies come with entry. Call Heavenly Race Dept. at 588-7000, ext. 6208 for details, call (530) 542-2006 for preregistration. You must sign a waiver before racing.

The “Huckfest” continues at Heavenly this Sunday (March 8) and every other Sunday through April 12 with locals soaring 20 to 30 feet in the air. Action is better “than Herman Meir’s crash in the Olympic downhill,” says Bandows. Entry is $5 per event, no lift ticket needed if hiking up the hill. Call the race department for details.

At Kirkwood, Eva Twardokens is offering her tech workshop for women Sunday and Monday (March 8-9) for intermediate and advanced skiers. The format is small groups of eight or under, each of which will spend an hour with Eva. Details, (209) 258-7245.

At Northstar-at-Tahoe there will be a seniors clinic March 10-12 for those 60 or older of intermediate ability who wish to improve the skills. Fee is $159 ($105 for those 70 and above) and instructors will be of the more “mature” instructors. Details (530) 562-2471,

Northstar is now offering guided snowcat tours of the backside of North Lookout Mountain daily, weather permitting. These tours are for advanced (9+) skiers and riders only. The cost is $10 per run and lift ticket and reservations are required. Times are 9:30 and 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. This is not an easy run and only very advanced skier/boarders should attempt it. Details, (530) 562-2482.

For those not yet at level 9, Northstar offers free group lessons for skiers and boarders at 10 and 2 daily. No reservations, just show up on Mount Pluto for skiers, at Ground Zero near the halfpipes for boarders.

Incidentally, Northstar reports that it grooms 75 percent of its 63 runs daily before opening. At noon one to three runs also get groomed.

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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