February 11, 2015

Rob Vandervoort SFS Snowbird Blog

Rob Vandervoort stomps his line in the amphitheatre on North Baldy. Photo: Jay Dash

Howitzers, samurai swords, and sick birds! The Subaru Freeride Series dropped into the 2015 freeride season hot, returning to Snowbird. This season the SFS is reverting back to a three day format with qualifiers followed by semi-finals and finals. The overall ski winners receive a Howitzer bombshell and snowboard winners receive a Katana Samurai Sword. And of course, cash. The skier and snowboarder with the coolest air each receive the coveted ‘Sick Bird’ award.

Words by Rob Vandervoort

Rob Vandervoort stomps his line in the amphitheatre on North Baldy. Photo: Jay Dash

Rob Vandervoort stomps his line in the amphitheatre on North Baldy. Photo: Jay Dash

So far, Snowbird has not shown its typical immunity to high pressure this season. The venues were firm and more exposed than normal. This lead to very fast riding and forced people to approach lines creatively. Conditions certainly didn’t hinder the athletes’ crazy antics.

Qualifiers were held on West Baldy in a brutal tempest of howling wind that carried snow uphill straight into the skiers’ faces. It was an akward day for layering because it was unseasonably warm at the base, and incredibly windy and nasty on top. Despite the weather the snow was skiing great and the athletes, bent on qualifying, hammered it.

Although they all rode solidly, competition was deep and Crested Butte’s three snowboarders (Alex Whiting, Tyler Patterson, and Zaine Salerno) failed to make the cut. The day’s top qualifiers were Liza Sarychev (Women Ski), Tyler Pratt (Men Ski), Lynn Neil (Women Snowboard), and Keith Davis (Men Snowboard).

The next day ‘Hurricane Silverfox’ showed up for Semi-Finals and stayed all day. Contrary to the forecast the wind was worse than the day before. However, Silverfox was enjoying a constant dosing of wind buff and skiing like butter. The ladies shredded the venue like a banker on Wall Street shreds evidence, fast and efficient.

Competitors hiking out Baldy to the venue. Photo: Rob Vandervoort

Competitors hiking out Baldy to the venue. Photo: Rob Vandervoort

Crested Butte had three Women Skiers compete.  Ashely Bembenek and Kele Thorsen qualified in 1st and 4th respectively. Alex Riedman skied really well but missed the Finals by less than 1 point. The top Women Snowboard qualifier was veteran Tiffany Noel out of Mammoth. By the time the last of the Ski Women had dropped it was 1:00 and the wind was getting worse. Due to the 120 MPH wind gusts, the Men’s Semi-Finals was postponed and the top half of the resort shut down.

In response to the poor forecast for Saturday, the competition was postponed twenty four hours and set to continue on Sunday. Unfortunatly the Saturday forecast was incorrect and a nice day was lost. Sunday’s forecast of calm and sunny proved to be the only correct forecast of the week. It felt like spring at the bottom of North Baldy, the Finals venue.

After 8:00 AM inspections Men Skiers were first to drop. Mark Mikos dropped 4th and sped down the top half stomping cliff after cliff until the flat landing of Burke’s Bush got the better of him. Scot Chrisman had a screaming fast top half as well, but he too got a little loose and went down about two thirds the way down his run on a high speed 360. With a flatspin 360 halfway down, Connery Lundin took the Sick Bird award.  Alta’s own Grant Howard, barely of age for the competition, took the day’s top honors.

Sometime mid-afternoon I stood atop the venue, comforted by a clear blue sky and a chest full of nerves, waiting for my turn. While waiting I heard the news that we all suspected. Men would not have enough time for a second run, meaning our Semi-Final’s run would actually be our Final’s run.

Although I couldn’t see the bottom half of his run, I watched Jonathan Penfield of Pemberton, BC send a lofty backside 360 off the top bush air and stomp it dead nuts. I knew he would be in first place. A few guys later I followed suit. I had a great line and rode it decently, but not cleanly enough to podium (6th). Two guys after myself a youthful Harrison Fitch stomped the stuffing out of an unprecedented rodeo 7 in the Ampitheater, earning himself the Sick Bird award, but failing to dethrone Penfield.

How bony was North Baldy? Photo: Rob Vandervoort

How bony was North Baldy? Photo: Rob Vandervoort

With Mary Boddington on the Freeride World Tour this year Crested Butte didn’t have any Women Snowboarder competitors at this event. Audrey Hebert took first place with two days of solid snowboarding and a stylie air out of the Ampitheter.

The highlight of the entire event was how the CB ski girls represented. Kele Thorsen dropped fourth to last and punctuated her solid run with a big cliff to stomp, giving her the top run of the day and first place for the time being. She held onto first for two more skiers until Ashley Bembenek dropped. Bembenek nailed her run and her two day combined score just barely edged out Thorsen, putting Bembenek in first and Thorsen in second.

The season’s first competition was a tough one, with low snow conditions, tricky forecasting, difficult weather, and technical difficulties. However, freeriders are tough people, and we pulled it off. Despite the obstacles, staff and media worked hard, athletes rode hard, smiles abounded, and it was a great weekend. The next stop on the Subaru Freeride Series is scheduled for March 4-8 in Telluride.

About the Author

2. Will Dujardin
Will Dujardin is our content editor at West Elk Project. He competes in big mountain competitions and coaches the Crested Butte Mountain Sports Team. Skiing is his life and he likes to mix it with other fun things like DH mountain biking and traveling.