Firm, but fair, conditions
by Than Acuff
Last weekend, 134 skiers and snowboarders ages 12 to 18 from across the nation dropped in on Crested Butte Mountain Resort (CBMR) to compete in the IFSA Junior National Freeskiing Championships Friday through Sunday, March 10-12.
After two days of qualifier runs, the field was cut down to 71 skiers and riders, with a handful of local young guns in the mix. By the time Sunday’s competition concluded, six local kids finished on the podium, with two standing on top.
With such a large field, the qualifiers were stretched over two days with all runs taking place on the Headwall. Competitors made the most of the venue, with several opting for the highest scoring run down Angle Gully, while a number of young guns lined up airs off of the famed Box Rock.
Those who made the cut then headed to the top of Staircase on Sunday for their finals run with everything from Slot Rocks to Dead End Cliffs available to show their skiing and riding prowess. And from the bottom of the pack to the top of the leader board, there’s no question these young athletes are pushing the freeskiing and freeriding sport to another level, blurring the lines between the adult and junior categories.
“Those little rippers were throwing down big boy and big girl lines for sure,” says judge Susan Mol. “We asked them to keep it safe and they were very calculated in their skiing and that comes from getting coached as young kids.”
While in years past a majority of junior athletes would opt to ski main Staircase from top to bottom, picking their way down to hit a couple of small airs, the athletes on Sunday charged down everything seemingly unafraid of the firm conditions while descending the most technical lines in Body Bag, Slot Rocks and Dead End Cliffs.
The day opened with the 12-14 female skiers. Crested Butte Mountain Sports Team (CBMST) athletes Avery Bernholtz and Ella Haverkampf would end up battling for the top spot as each put down smooth and fluid runs. Bernholtz closed the day posting the highest scoring run of the day in her class to take the win, while Haverkampf was close behind in second place.
The 12-14 skier boys then took over with seven local skiers making it into the finals and two of them in first and second place. Brooks Hudson would hold on to his first-place position with the highest scoring run for the second day in a row. CBMST skier Carson Hildebrandt’s consistency and fluidity paid off with a third-place finish overall. Meanwhile, their cohorts took the next four spots for a total of six locals finishing in the top 10.
Dagan Schwartz was the lone snowboarder, both male and female, to represent the valley in the 12-14 age class. Schwartz has been dominating his peers all season long and continued to do so, riding away with the 12-14 male snowboard title.
The local contingency was absent from the finals in the 15-to-18-year-old female ski division but four CBMST skiers made it into the finals of the 15-to-18-year-old boys division. Dane De Frates and Dylan Alagna, both from the CBMST telemark team, entered the finals too far back for a legitimate shot at the podium. Nevertheless, they set the comp on its ear, as De Frates was the first and one of only two skiers to head into Slot Rocks. De Frates mixed in two sizeable airs while skiing 9-0 from top to bottom, finishing with a 360 at the bottom of the venue to move from 13th place to sixth place.
Alagna posted a similarly strong result. After charging down the top of Staircase, he turned to finish his run in Body Bag, scoring enough points to move from 12th place to seventh.
John Clay Patterson was the lone local skier with a shot at the title, coming into the finals day in fourth place. Patterson opened his run with an air at the top of Staircase; a third of the way down he opted for additional air time before turning into Body Bag and flashing through the rocks and trees for the highest scoring run of the day. His competitions were solid enough on their runs to hold onto the top two spots but Patterson’s effort was strong enough to push him into third place overall.
Based off of the results this past weekend and from the season as a whole, it appears 10 local athletes, nine from the CBMST team, are qualified for the IFSA North American Junior Championships April 5-9 at Kirkwood Ski Resort.
A handful of other local athletes have two more chances to make the cut, with an event in Breckenridge this weekend and one last National event at Grand Targhee on March 25.
“I’m happy that we may get 10—that would be awesome. Last year we had five go,” says CBMST coach Will Dujardin.