Local athletes defend home hill at freeride comp

While others spend weekend on international comp scene

by Than Acuff

Conditions could not have been much better for a freeride competition when Crested Butte Mountain Resort hosted the IFSA Junior Freeride Nationals three-star event Friday through Sunday, March 8-10.

Fresh snow blanketed the Sock-It-To-Me/Cesspool area for the young athletes and they made the most of it, mixing in smooth skiing through the steep terrain with a heavy dose of controlled airtime, some bigger than others.

“We are seeing impressive skiing and riding every year,” says judge Ben Blackwood. “That’s largely a result of better coaching, more freeride programs, and more competitions. It’s helping the sport progress, and that’s showing up in these competitions.”

Crested Butte Mountain Sports Team (CBMST) head freeride coach Will Dujardin shared some thoughts with his athletes prior to the competition to get them set up for providing a show.

“We talked a lot about making a statement and putting some good runs down,” says Dujardin, “trying to encourage speed and fluidity. I did tell them to go for it more than normal because it was a one-run event.”

While a strong contingent from out of town earned several of the top spots in the 12-14 age classes, Tor Hudson had the top local result, taking second place among the skiers with Rowan Featherman a little over one point behind in fifth place.

The 15-18 year old girls took over the venue on Saturday, March 9 and while the Crested Butte Mountain Sports Team (CBMST) had only two girls in the category, that’s all they needed as Avery Bernholtz skied away with the win, with Ella Haverkampf on her heels in second place, with both picking to ski Little Hourglass.

“We had the best results we could have asked for,” says Dujardin. “I feel they skied it the best and the fastest. No air but it really paid off with how well they skied and it worked out just fine.”

Then, on Sunday, March 10 the 15-18 year old boys took over the venue and did not disappoint, with only a handful of the total 50 skiers looking like they didn’t belong. It started off with a bang as the first three athletes set the tone and ramped up from there, with a number of incredible descents.

CBMST skiers Kye Matlock and Holden Bradford laid down smooth runs mixing in a series of smaller airs while staying in the fall line and railing turns. Local independent athlete Brooks Hudson’s start position came in the middle of the pack and he set the bar to a new level, charging through the top portion of the venue before dropping into Little Hourglass, scrubbing his skis on the skiers’ right side and then crossing to a sizeable air off the left flank of Little Hourglass and charging through the finish line.

“He had a really sick run,” says Dujardin.

Gus Bullock showed composure and control through his run, Seve Petersen sent the biggest air of the competition but a snow snake got him just prior to the finish line, causing a crash. Owen Berv’s effort proved effortless and smooth, as did Marko Alling, Nate Ball and Luke Shull.

When the snow settled on the venue and the numbers were crunched, Hudson’s run stood the test of time as he ended up on top with Berv finishing on the podium in second place.

“It was really cool he got second,” says Dujardin. “That was a huge result for him.”

Alling cracked the top 10 to finish in eighth, Bullock placed 12th, Matlock and Bradford finished 18th and 19th, respectively, with Shull placing 28th and Hall finishing in 30th place.

While Petersen’s airtime was impressive, harkening back to the good old days of the infamous Brant Moles Little Hourglass air, the crash dropped him down to a 40th-place finish.

“These kids are taking the sport to another level, and it’s just awesome to witness. There’s a lot to be excited about for years to come,” says Blackwood. “The top athletes in each division really separated themselves from the rest of the field, but the group just a step below also had some strong runs and ended up with very tight scores.”

Meanwhile, three CBMST athletes—snowboarder Dagan Schwartz and skiers JC Patterson and Carson Hildebrandt—were across the pond and competed in the Freeride Junior World Championships on Tuesday, March 12 in Kappl, Austria. The venue is spectacular and at least three times the size of what they typically see on the National tour.

Schwartz had the top result among the local contingent as he stepped onto the podium with a third-place finish. Patterson finished the day in 11th place and Hildebrandt placed 16th on the world stage. You can see video of their runs on westelkproject.com.

“I’m really glad they got to ski a good run in some good pow and they did a great job of mixing control and airs into their runs,” says Dujardin.

The team now has their sights set on the North American (NORAMS) Championships in Kicking Horse, Canada April 9-14, with a couple of regional events at Breckenridge and Vail prior to that. Right now, several of the CBMST athletes are in a solid spot in the overall standings to qualify for the NORAMS with a couple more on the bubble and looking to punch their ticket. A solid result at the NORAMS will earn a spot at the World Championships next year.

“The season’s been great overall,” says Dujardin. “I can’t wait to see what they do at NORAMS. I’ve got my fingers crossed. We’ve got four, five, maybe six that could make it to Worlds next year.”

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