Unleash the heats | VailDaily.com

Unleash the heats

Staff Reports

Editor’s note: Recent Aspen-to-Vail transplant Gwen Abbott is competing in the Skier X event at the Winter X Games at Buttermilk ski area Friday, Jan. 31. The following is her first-hand account of what it’s like to race skiercross and where the sport is headed.On a snowy morning, standing at the top of the course wearing nothing but a tight jacket and some padding, six people line up behind a steel gate, each one waiting for an indication that the gate will drop. Grips tighten onto the handles of the start gate, which can give a skier the edge or cost them the race. Everyone is trying to finish in the top three to advance to the next round. “Ten seconds” is called.Muscles tighten. All nerves are on edge as racers wonder if this is their final round – or will there be more? Down goes the gate. Each racer pulls out of the start, fiercely polling and pushing trying to get that infamous “hole shot,” that extra bit of push that will put them ahead of the pack.Skis crashing together, bodies bumping off one another, speeds doubling, technical difficulty increasing, bodies flying off jumps that make moguls look tame – jumps that push even the most veteran skiers to their limits.One minute later it’s over. Someone has won, someone has lost, and only the top three advance to the next round. On and on this goes until the field dwindles down to only six remaining athletes out of the hundred that entered. Those six head for the final round to claim fame and glory.Sound like something you’d want to try? No, probably not. Most people would have to be crazy to want to do something like this. Crazy is exactly what you have to be to survive in skiercross, a growing sport that combines alpine racer efficiency with freestyle excitement. The fields are comprised of world-class athletes from all around the globe, many of whom have a background in ski racing. Some have competed on the World Cup circuit, and others are just out there for fun.The design of the course is laid out much the same as a regular ski race, with a slight difference obstacles. The course is built using snowcats to pile up, form and shape the jumps. Jumps are usually called tabletops, named because they are high, wide, flat and smooth with a ramp of snow leading up to the manicured surface. This causes enough lift to send you up, over the top, in the air, and down on the backside of the ramp. Other obstacles include bank turns, named because a high berm is built around the turn. Still other jumps are rollers and double’s, named because they are literally single or multiple rolls in the snow. These can be cleared by simply rolling over one or jumping to clear two. The final jump is the gap jump. This is exactly as it sounds; competitors clearing a gap between the jumps.Skiercross was developed about six years ago as an answer to the rapidly growing trend of snowboarding. With increasing interest in snowboarding, skiercross was born as a way to attract more attention back toward the skiing world.Skis have been developed specifically for this sport as well. They combine the technology of a race ski with the look of a recreational ski. The skis allow for a much quicker reaction on the snow, whereas a recreational ski provides very little stability in these rough conditions, though some novice racers choose to use them.Since its inception, skiercross has grown in popularity so much that it’s earned a place in the Winter X Games, which are taking place at Buttermilk ski area Jan. 30-Feb. 2. It is also being considered as a potential Olympic sport. This past ski season it has been recognized by the United States Skiing Association (USSA), which has allowed the sport to become a World Cup event, and that means it has earned the right to be in the 2004 World Championships.To learn more about skiercross and what it’s about, visit http://www.globaleventmanagment.com

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