Cline, Hellman win skiercross
As snow blanketed the slopes of Vail Mountain Saturday morning, the world’s top skiercross professionals descended on Golden Peak for the 8th annual Nature Valley Freeskiing Open Crossmax Competition.
Tobias Hellman from Sweden and Aleisha Cline from Whistler, British Columbia, would take the top podium spots in the men’s and women’s races, overcoming poor visibility and sticky conditions on a day which saw nearly a half of a foot of snowfall.
“It was really tough out there,” said Ashleigh McIvor, who also hails from Whistler and finished fourth in the crossmax final. “It was super-sticky and very slow, especially on the top part of the course.”
As the skies cleared in the afternoon and visibility improved for the final heats of the day, competitors noticeably stepped things up. The starts were more hotly contested as skiers looked to get the all important “hole shot,” the crucial early lead in a skiercross race.
“It’s all about the hole shot,” said Reggie Crist, who finished third and regularly medals at the X Games skiercross. “There are some spots to pass but not many on this course.”
On this day, though, it was Hellman who would edge out fellow countryman, Lars Lewen, who finished second, and Crist to take first in the crossmax final. Hellman took the lead on a bold pass early and would never look back.
“My goal was to come out and just go as fast as I could,” said Hellman. “After finishing seventh at the X Games, I didn’t know what to expect today. This is my best win as a pro.”
The women’s race was also decided by a pass early on as Cline overtook Austria’s Karin Huttary, who finished second, with a bit of a slingshot maneuver on one of the top turns. From there, Cline would drop the hammer and finish first beating out rival Huttary, who took gold at the Winter X Games VIII last weekend in Aspen.
“I’m pretty happy about this one,” said Cline. “Last year I crashed. So to make it down in first this year was pretty cool.”
With no injuries and numerous photo finishes, as well as the potential for skiercross to be an Olympic sport in 2010, the future of crossmax is bright.
“That was a great race for the U.S. Freeskiing Open today, we had riders from all over the world here,” said Chris Ernst, a skier-cross announcer for ESPN’s X Games who was on hand to emcee the event. “There’s a lot of money coming in from companies like Atomic and Salomon to make skier-cross skis and have skier-cross teams, and it really showed here today.”
U.S. Freeskiing Open action continues today with the superpipe qualifier and finals on tap at the Golden Peak. The women’s final is at noon, followed by the men at 2 p.m.
David L’Heureux is a freelance writer based in Vail