Whistler skiers rule freeski championships 

Locals capture four of six medals

There wasn’t a lot of new snow to cushion the landings, but that didn’t stop athletes participating in the 2001 Canadian Freeskiing Championships from dropping cliffs and chutes, and hitting other terrain features at full speed.

In the qualifier on the day one, the Whistler skiers established themselves as a force to be reckoned with, as locals Pierre-Yves LeBlanc and Hugo Harrison placed first and second in the men’s competition, and Jenn Ashton placed first in the women’s.

Competitors in big mountain freeskiing competitions are judged on line choice, aggressiveness (attack), form (technique), fluidity and control.

LeBlanc aired right out of the starting gate, then cut across Ruby Bowl to a huge double drop, which he handled with ease. Two-time International Freeskiers Association tour champion Hugo Harrison took a slightly different line that was faster, and had slightly less air to finish just 1.6 points back of LeBlanc. French skier Nathanael Fresnois of La Rosiere, was less dramatic but more stylish than any of the competitors to finish in third.

Ashton took a line that few men dared to go near, with a few smaller cliffs, but no room for error. She took everything in stride, and wound up with a 4.2 point lead going into the finals. Aleisha Cline, a Whistler skier who has lived in Sun Peaks for the past few years before moving to Squamish this season, finished the day in third, behind Ingrid Blackstrom of Crystal Mountain, Washington.

The finals on day two took place one ridge over in Diamond Bowl, which is filled with cliffs, chutes, glades, and other extreme terrain features. The conditions were slightly worse – one day harder – but the skiers did anything but play it safe.

LeBlanc took the hard way down, taking a difficult line with jumps and steeps at a high speed. His final score after two days was a 78.6.

Harrison stuck a few cliffs of his own, but picked a slightly slower route with chutes and glades to finish second once again with a final score of 74.6 – well in range of winning his third freeski title in as many years.

"I’m going to try for that for sure," said the 24 year old. There are two fewer events on the circuit this year, which means he’ll be able to spend more of his time in the backcountry, practicing and filming for local production.

When he won his first title back in 2000, he had never been in a helicopters, and tuned skis part-time to finance his ski habit.

Now he is fully sponsored by Rossignol, Oakley, Scott and Leedom, and is regarded as one of the smoothest big mountain skiers in the world. He hopes that a good start on the freeski tour this year will help him stay on top of his game.

"If anything, everybody was skiing a little easier this year because of the conditions. Everyone was nice and fluid, and took nice air with good landings. It wasn’t as aggressive as in the past," says Harrison.

His second place finish was almost better than finishing first for him because his run on the second day was a bit of a surprise. "Actually, I didn’t have time to do test run. I was kind of stressed out about that, and didn’t know where I was landing off this cliff. It turned out okay, though, and I’m glad I took the chance."

Kevin Hjertaas, who hails from Sunshine Village, Alberta, moved from seventh on his first day to third with a strong run.

Fourth went to Mike Stevenson, another Whistler skier. Locals Robin Courcelles, Jon Johnston, and Leif Zapf-Gilje were seventh, 11 th , and 15 th respectively.

In the women’s finals, Jenn Ashton did it again, capturing the Canadian title for the second straight year. She picked a line that was so technical that none of the guys followed her lead, and hit everything perfectly. Her score of 64.2 was over eight points better than the next finisher,.

Ingrid Blackstrom took second place, while Aleisha Cline hung on to third place.

The next stop on the calendar is the U.S. Nationals in Snowbird, Utah, from Jan. 31 to Feb. 3. LeBlanc, Harrison, Ashton and Cline will be there.

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