“We know how to ski when it’s thin and steep”
A couple of local women took two of the top three spots at the Subaru Freeride Series event at Snowbird February 4-8. Crested Butte Mountain Resort and ROMP Skis athlete Ashley Bembenek won the women’s ski title with Kele Thorsen placing second just two points back.
Bembenek started her big mountain skiing competition career with a bang in 2012, winning the first event she entered. Following that, she had a mix of results over the years with a tough season last year, crashing in all but one of the events in which she competed.
Heading into the first comp of the season this year, Bembenek admits she was a bit nervous with training limited here in Crested Butte.
“I just skied as much as I could, t-boning lots of moguls to get ready,” says Bembenek. “I was getting a little nervous but I was really grateful when ski patrol opened things up a week before the comp.”
The athletes were met with tricky conditions on the first day of the competition on the Silver Fox venue with thin coverage and big winds. While Bembenek feels the coverage played to the strengths of Crested Butte skiers, the wind definitely had an effect.
“It was low tide, which I think favored Crested Butte skiers,” says Bembenek. “The snow wasn’t bad, just thin. We know how to ski when it’s thin and steep. But it was incredibly windy on the first day and I had to change my line.”
Bembenek opted to omit her biggest air from her intended line but nevertheless laid down the top run of the day to have the lead heading into the finals on Sunday, February 8.
But Bembenek had been there before, taking a lead into the final day only to see the win slip away. As a result, she played her cards differently this time around and, in the end, she played it perfectly.
The finals venue was set up on North Baldy and offers limitless opportunities for skiers. Initially, Bembenek set her sights on an area on North Baldy called the Amphitheatre. On normal snow years, the Amphitheatre is the line of choice, but due to the thin conditions, the Amphitheatre provided lots of chances to get hung up on scrub oak, stumps and various other hazards.
While still considering the Amphitheatre, Bembenek watched several men falter and stall as they picked their way through, so she made a last-minute adjustment once again.
“I watched the men and decided to get my binoculars out and find a different line,” says Bembenek. “I opted to go hit a cleaner cliff and avoid skiing through the bushes. I was more concerned with staying on my feet.”
Bembenek made the most of her line choice and posted the third-best score of the day, which combined with her top score from day one and sealed the Snowbird title.
Thorsen put down the second best score of the finals day to catapult her way from fourth place up to second place overall, joining Bembenek on the podium.
The next stops of the big mountain skiing competition circuit are Freeride World Tour qualifier events here in Crested Butte and in Taos, N.M. the last weekend in February.
While Bembenek says she would like to make it to the big show, the Freeride World Tour, her focus right now is on honing her craft.
“Mostly I just want to have fun and find the right competition strategy,” says Bembenek. “Strike a balance between skiing really hard and skiing smart.”