Caleb Mullen takes second, Alex Else takes Sick Bird
Crested Butte Mountain Resort Cat driver Caleb Mullen posted the top result for local skiers, finishing in second place at the 18th Annual Subaru US Extreme Freeskiing Championships. Crested Butte homegrown-turned-Utah-resident Phillipa Hunt matched Mullen’s effort with a second-place finish among the women.
Utah residents Cliff Bennett and Michelle Manning came away from Crested Butte with the men’s and women’s titles.
It was a tremendous effort from Mullen, who was forced to battle against 88 skiers in the qualifier day on the Headwall.
Ryan Sutton posted the top local result on the qualifier day, finishing second, while Mullen pushed through finishing in 32nd place to qualify for the official first day of the competition.
“I didn’t need to do anything spectacular and it worked out for sure,” says Mullen.
All scores were wiped clean and 21 pre-qualified men joined the 41 skiers who made it from the Headwall to ski the official start of the championships, held in the Slot Rocks/Staircase/Dead End Chutes area.
Sutton had another stellar day, boosting a 15-foot air at the top of Dead End Chutes and then skiing in an area no one ventured into all day in the cliffs below to remain the top local finisher, in fifth place.
Dylan Crossman, hailing from Alta, Utah, flashed Body Bag without hesitation, straight-lining down a rocky gully to end up in first.
Meanwhile, Mullen maintained his steady pace. Despite skiing 60th out of 62 total skiers in the men’s class, Mullen somehow found a line between Dead End Chutes and Body Bag that had yet to be skied.
With a solid mix of line choice and fluidity, Mullen finished the first day of competition in seventh place out of the 33 skiers, to push through to the finals on Saturday in the Big Hourglass area.
“That’s pretty prime positioning,” says Mullen, “within striking distance of first place but without all of the pressure of first. Anything is possible in the super final. I felt good about it.”
It was a bluebird day and a packed house at the bottom of the venue with hundreds of fans carving out stadium-style seating and firing up the grills for a day of off-the-Richter skiing.
While fans relaxed in the sun, competitors were treated to a mixed bag of conditions in the Big Hourglass from powder, to bottomless sugar to bare rock, making for tricky skiing. All of which was sitting above a variety of mandatory air options at the bottom, ranging from 20 to 80 feet.
Oftentimes, as skiers worked their way across the fall line, plumes of slough rocketed down the 40 to 60-degree slope, cascading off the cliffs below.
“It was a little sketchy for sure,” says Mullen.
Several skiers fell victim to the variable conditions, including four of the top five men who fell on their first run, leaving the door open for the middle of the pack.
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Mullen had two lines in mind at the top of his first run, opting for a tight tree-lined pillow drop sequence before dropping a 30-foot air at the bottom.
“I was torn between two lines but in the end I went for the one that fit my skiing style better,” says Mullen.
Once the carnage of the first run was done, nine men made it to the Super Final for a second run down Hourglass, with local Alex Else in first place and Mullen in fourth.
Mullen stuck with his first line, making adjustments along the way.
“It’s one of those areas where you get lost if you plan too much,” says Mullen. “I just wanted to ski the same line but faster. The pillows that were there before were all gone.”
Mullen turned up the heat on his second run, exiting again with a 30-foot air and holding on to cross the finish line to take second place for a $3,000 payday.
Bennett followed a similar strategy, staying within striking distance until the final day, when he unleashed back-to-back blistering runs down a pillow line dubbed Bed, Bath and Beyond.
“I usually just try to get myself into the middle of the pack and work it in the finals and super finals,” says Bennett.
Bennett laid down the fastest time in his first run, greasing the pitch in 58 seconds, and came into the Super Final in sixth place.
Bennett then tweaked his line for his second run, adding speed and a double drop into a 30-foot air into the lower apron of Big Hourglass to finish the course with three high-speed turns in a record time of 48 seconds to take the 2009 title.
“I knew it was a high scoring line and I always enjoyed skiing that pillow line,” says Bennett. “The second run I wanted to throw in a little variation. Once I was in the air I thought I better get my stomping feet on and put the landing gear down.”
Else flashed the gut of the Bermuda Triangle on his Super Final run but was taken out by a tree while boosting a huge double drop at the bottom.
Else was pushed out of the money but came away with the coveted Sick Bird Award.
For the local women, five emerged from the qualifier day on the Headwall to get a shot along with 18 other women in the Staircase area.
Hunt led the local charge in the Staircase area to take second place heading into the finals.
The women struggled with the variable conditions as well, as six of the 11 finalists fell on their first run. Judges tallied the scores and gave three women the green light for the Super Final and another shot at the Big Hourglass.
Hunt entered the Super Final in second place but could not put together a strong enough score to move up, while Manning managed to move from third to first place for a $3,500 paycheck.
After hitting the “biggest air I’ve ever taken in a comp” on her first run, Manning reeled it in for a solid second run for the title.
“I was going to go bigger but I decided to play it safe and I’m glad I did,” says Manning.
Hunt took home $2,000 for her second-place finish.
And, in the Masters division, Crested Butte skier Ashley Woody finished with the women’s title, while Scott Kennett of Telluride took the men’s title, with Crested Butte skiers Aaron Lypps and Marc Schellhorn close behind in second and third place, respectively.