Estrada flourishing at scene of crime
CRESTED BUTTE – While a number of athletes in Friday’s competition were disqualified because they exceeded the time limit to make it down the cliff-strewn Staircase pitch, Aaron Estrada took about 18 seconds, or roughly one-fifth what a regular badass skier required. He launched – not dropped – off four rocks en route to the bottom, and basically made it look like he was skiing gates.The fact that that run, his first of two, was not even his best of the day in the judges’ eyes is the reason he leads the 16th annual U.S. Extreme Freeskiing Championships going into the final day.Estrada, 29, a former Aspen resident who now resides in Carnelian Bay, Calif., has won this competition twice before, which puts him in elite company. But his last victory here came in 2001, two years after his first. Since that win Estrada has had some scary things happen to him.
In the 2003 Extremes he was skiing the Slot Rocks area when he “got really hurt, bad, bad crash.” He ended up wrapped around some trees and was evacuated to Montrose to undergo emergency surgery on his wrist. “It was pretty limb-threatening at the time,” he said. “When I went in for surgery, they were like, ‘You might not have your hand when you get out.’
“Fortunately I’ve still got my fingers,” he said. “I just don’t have a wrist joint anymore. But it’s the nature of the game.”For that very reason he wears a protective cast on his right wrist whenever he goes skiing. He wore it last week on a return visit to Aspen Mountain, when he and some buddies checked out his old hucking grounds, the S-1 cliffs. He was jumping off one of the cliffs when the slope “ripped to the ground. And my (right) hand got bent back between some rocks and spiral fractured. There was like a 20-foot mandatory air after I broke my hand, so I popped my knuckles back into place and jumped the air and went straight to the bottom of the mountain.” All of which explains it was no small feat for Estrada to return to the Slot Rocks area on Friday afternoon and put together a run sensational enough that the judges scored it better than his first.Estrada leads the men’s adult division with 68.2 points, 3.2 better than Griffin Post, the defending champion, who said the pressure to repeat is overwhelming compared to the freedom of being a darkhorse.Still, Post lived up to expectations at least for one day, giving the spectators something to talk about after his 35-point run through Slot Rocks.
“Slot Rocks hasn’t really been skied all season and it definitely skis that way,” said Post, 23, a student at the University of Denver. “There’s a lot of snow in there but it’s loose, a lotta air in there but it’s tough; you gotta keep it going downhill and it’s pretty high consequences; a lot of trees at the bottom.”Dylan Crossman, the four-time defending champion of the U.S. Telemark Extremes who has proven all week that he is every bit as talented with his heels locked, stands in third place (62.8).With two more runs to go, Saturday on the hairy Headwall, “Anyone could have it. I’ve seen a ton of extraordinary skiing here today,” said Tanner Flanagan, the 2002 Summit High School grad who was the 22nd and last man to make it through to Saturday’s finals.Tyson Bolduc of Avon (sixth) and Aspen’s John Nicoletta (16th) are also alive.
On the women’s side, Hannah Whitney of Gunnison, for whom Crested Butte is her home mountain, substantiated her No. 1 qualifier status and will take 50.4 points into the final day. Laura Ogden, the 2004 champ and a former CB local, is second with 49.6.Carbondale’s Ashley Carruth was the last of nine skiers to make the cut, with 38.4 points.Another Carbondale skier, Jonathan Love, is second in the men’s masters division with 51.8 points, 1.8 fewer than 1996 Extremes champ Pete Bowers.The juniors final was completed Friday but results will not be announced until Saturday night’s awards banquet.