SNOWBIRD, UTAH A medial meniscus tear in my right knee has left me skiing at around 90 per cent, about 10 per cent short of what it takes to ski in an IFSA world tour event among the finest powder shredding, bomb dropping hucksters.
In light of my injury, judging seemed like a positive alternative to competing, one that would help grow the sport. As a former competitor I desired consistency on the judging panel.
With these thoughts in mind I assumed my position at the judges table at Snowbird last week. To my left sat one of my personal ski heroes, Jeremy Nobis one of the most influential big mountain skiers to date. To my right was Robin Courcelles, a Whistler local known for charging his way down the mountain and up the ranks of the competition standings. Beside him was Bill Erickson, a local Utah legend.
Rounding out our panel was head judge Michel Beaudry a man who has constantly led a bold track down the mountain for those who are fast enough to follow. He assembled a panel of judges to help create a fair, consistent and confident contest. Earning the respect of the competitors ultimately legitimizes the sport of freeskiing.
As judges we prepared for the contest by discussing difficulty of line scores, the most crucial category. Skiers cannot score two points higher than their line in any of the other categories. That protects against skiers taking an easy line and still scoring high marks for control, fluidity, technique and aggressiveness.
With a birds eye view of the final day venue we held our binoculars tightly, closely monitoring the moves made by Jamie Burge of Truckee, California, our leader after the first round. She overcame a broken pole and a lost glove to cross the finish line first among the nine women in the finals with a two-day score of 57.4. Aleisha Cline of Sun Peaks finished second with a 52.8 and Kristy Exner of Red Mountain skied to a strong third with 50.4. Linda Peterson, the defending tour champion and a Snowbird local, jumped from eighth to fourth with a total of 47.8 points. Whistlers Jen Ashton, who started the season with a win at home in the Canadian Freeskiing Nationals, said she wasnt focused, but managed to finish seventh.
With 18 inches of fresh snow, the run on North Baldy was the perfect venue to go big. Moss Patterson from Whitewater B.C. set the tone and wowed the crowd, flipping 50 feet to a fifth place finish and a two-day total of 68.
Kai Zackrisson from Chamonix, France, finished fourth with a 71. Fernies Ryan Oakden ripped an impressive run, although the birds eye view and a pair of binoculars caught a few minor control issues and dropped him into third with 73.4. Determined to repeat, Whistler local and 2000 world tour champion Hugo Harrison skied strong and smart to earn second overall. Guerlain Chicherit of Tignes, France, however, clinched the day with his trademark "Superman" front flip at the top of the course and a smooth, fast run to the bottom.
The field of competitors was strong this year. The only question was where were the big name Americans? The Canadians made a huge impact with three Canadian men and two women in the top five. The U.S. Nationals seemed to be a Canadian invasion.
But when the contest was over, it didnt matter whether you were a worker, an observer, a judge, or a competitor, it was warm smiles and big hugs all around. It felt rewarding to be part of such a cool culture, a tight family of skiers a travelling circus of sorts.
It also felt very different to watch the contest. I wanted intensely to compete, but its funny how life seems to provide what we need, not what we want. I learned to view it in a broader perspective taking time to step back, to be on the outside looking in as opposed to being on the inside looking out.
Jeff Holden is the 1999 freeskiing tour champion, a Whistler resident, and is widely considered to be one of the best big mountain skiers in the world if other skiers go big, then Holden goes huge. He has been featured in photo shoots and ski movies, and on the cover of Powder magazine. This season he will be judging freeski competitions, at least until his knee is 100 per cent he tore the meniscus this fall while skating a vert ramp in Maui. His sponsors, Nordica, Oakley, Leki, Beori and the Whistler Freeride Team are still lucky to have him.