Young rider takes second behind multiple champ Dakides in Vans big air |

Young rider takes second behind multiple champ Dakides in Vans big air

by Dan Thomas

Big-air champ Tara Dakides shares the North American Championships of Snowboarding podium with young Ali “Blaze” Berntsen today, and shared the spotlight with Mother Nature on Wednesday.

Nature made the biggest early impression at the final events of the Vans Triple Crown of Snowboarding on Wednesday, dropping more than two feet of snow on the Sierra-at-Tahoe venue. That pushed the final men’s big air runs and the awards for the women’s big air competition – where Dakides will receive her $7,500 check for first place Wednesday, Berntsen her $3,000 for second, and Truckee’s Kim Bohnsack $2,200 for third – to today.

But Dakides, the two-time defending big air gold medalist at the ESPN Winter X Games, and Berntsen, in her first year as a touring pro, stole the show on the giant gap jump on Sierra’s Aspen trail. Dakides, of Laguna Niguel, Calif., blasted across the 60-foot gap with a mute grab backflip on her first run, which earned a 30.60 score from the six-judge panel. It stood up through a more conservative series of second runs in the best-of-two competition, although Berntsen came close. The New York City native and Stowe (Vt.) rider had by far the best second run, stomping a frontside 360 across the gap.

“I was really happy to land,” said Berntsen, who came back from a bail-out on her first run to finish with a 28.80 on the second. “It’s so important. My last few contests, I haven’t been sticking my tricks.”

But she did on Wednesday. As a late-afternoon storm started sending flurries onto the course and obscuring visibility, landing became tougher. But Berntsen and Bohnsack – who threw a switch frontside 360 off the jump – managed to stick their second runs while other riders struggled. Bohnsack was the only other rider to finish with a score in the 20s, as the judges awarded her a 25.7.

While Berntsen couldn’t match Dakides’ aggressive first run, she found herself in rare company. Berntsen took second in a January snowboard Grand Prix event in Breckenridge, Colo., and has been building confidence since.

“Ever since then, I’ve just gotten fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, and hopefully, this one, I’ll do well,” she said while waiting for the official results. Berntsen could add as much as $6,000 more to her pockets this week with a first-place finish in Saturday’s final Triple Crown slopestyle at Sierra.

Wednesday’s big air event was the final makeup of the week. Weather forced officials to postpone the second big air and boardercross of the season, Jan. 1-5, at Mount Seymour, British Columbia, to this week at Sierra. The men wrap the makeup period today, with big air starting at 10 a.m. Josh Chapman, of Whistler, British Columbia, and Lukas Huffman sit in a first-place tie with 31.70 scores from the first round. Mike Wilson is third, and Louie Fountain, Brandon Ruff, Chris Wimbles, Mike Page, Jesse Fulton, Alex Auchu and James Beach round out the top 10. The big air finals proceed in order through an expanded top 20 that includes riders who missed the cut, but were close in score.

The Triple Crown events for today also include the time-trial qualifiers for the second snowboard cross of the week, on the Sleighride-Broadway course. Qualifiers start at 9:30 a.m.

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