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Daredevils get high at Gold Peak

Andrew Harley
Preston Utley/Vail DailyTJ Schiller shows guts and gets glory as the champion of the 2005 U.S. Freeskiing Open big air competition on Saturday at Golden Peak.
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VAIL – It’s hugs, a few pats on backs, a friendly punch or two, maybe a loving tackle, but mostly hugs that the boys on U.S. Freeskiing Tour share with each other at the end of a day. Hugging is a healthy practice. Anyway, why shouldn’t a couple of guys, who just risked their lives to awe a crowd of folks with some sick tricks, embrace at the bottom?TJ Schiller won the 2005 U.S. Freeskiing Open big air competition on Saturday night, and a large fireworks display exploded to finalize the event. Schiller gave a friendly hug and a hair tussling to second-place finisher Derek Spong after all was said and switch-1080-ed.

“I enjoyed myself a lot,” said Schiller, as he clutched his novelty-sized $10,000 check. “Spong is my teammate now.”The nature of competition in ski racing concerns speed and it feels more serious to be in the presence of ski racers. When asked, Schiller described the nature of freeskiing as a friendly environment centered upon style. So, like the fireworks after the big air show, freeskiing is more of a high-stakes exhibition than a cutthroat competition.The grand finale of the big air competition saw Schiller and 14-year-old phenom Spong pull the same flawless trick, a switch 1080.

“I’m psyched out of my mind right now,” said Schiller, who took the crown in slopestyle at the 2004 U.S. Freeskiing Open and was runner-up in the 2004 big air. “When I came back to slopestyle this year, my shoulder kind of freaked me out a little bit. So, tonight was just kind of like (freaking) genius. It ended up really well against this crazy 14-year-old kid who I’m really psyched on right now.”The finals of the big air competition were a series of best-of-three duels between the top eight freestylers – Jon Olssen, Charles Gagnier, Henrik Windstedt, Jacob Wester, Laurent Favre, Tanner Hall, Spong and Schiller.Incidentally, Hall and a number of other members of Team Oakley spokespeople were arrested at The Club in Vail on Friday night for under-age drinking, according to event organizers. Team Oakley’s coach reportedly bailed the under-agers out of jail, and they all made it to Saturday’s competitions.



The best-of-three duels saw Wester, Favre, Spong and Schiller beat Gagnier, Windstedt, Olsson and Hall, respectively.Favre began his head-to-head against Schiller with a 720 and the biggest air of competition, but Schiller’s clean switch 1080 took the first point. Favre did nothing for his second attempt, no grab, twist or switch fanciness. He just went big and crashed. So, Schiller had no problem landing an easy 540 for the ticket to the finals.Seattle-native Spong took the first heat with a switch 900, but Wester responded with a switch 1080 in the second heat. Spong defeated Wester with an enormous 1080.

“It means a lot to me to compete with these guys,” said Spong, who listens to AC-DC when he rocks out. “I’ve looked up to a lot of these guys.”The hardcore band Crossfade played a four-song set with intermittent volleys of freeskiing acrobatics before Spong and Schiller’s faceoff. The South Carolina rockers featured their hit song, “Cold,” during which a group of five or six drunken young men could be seen violently tossing each other to the icy hardpack at the base of Golden Peak. The violent vibrations ceased after the band stopped playing, and the freeskiers drew the crowd’s attention back to their airborne craziness.Favre, blessed by altitude, took third with larger versions of Wester’s tricks.



Schiller took the first heat against Spong, as Spong suffered landing problems.Spong came back with a huge 1080 with a grab, and he landed it cleanly. Schiller answered with the same trick, and the judges only know why Schiller and Spong didn’t tie.”I’m gonna go kick casual, maybe fill up my (2005 U.S. Freeskiing Open) goblet with some beer … maybe some water,” said Schiller.Vail, Colorado


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