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Slip Sliding Away

Ryan Slabaugh

In the middle of competition, heavy snow and bitter cold set in for the longhaul.

“I took the easy way. The rails here are pretty tough,” said 20-year-old Benny Ryerson from Connecticut, speaking of the three giant rails at the top. He sat in the athlete’s tent, decorated with a mix of faded wall tapestries and Red Bull logos, while he waited to see if he qualified. “I tried a Bio-9 at the bottom jump, but I butt-kissed the snow. I haven’t found out yet if I’m in. If not, I wouldn’t be surprised. I didn’t do that well.”

Ryerson, unfortunately, is done with this year’s Open. Four athletes from each heat qualified for today’s action, starting at 9 a.m, and four others from each heat earned a ticket to a last-chance qualifier before the semifinals begin. The 100-plus competitors were judged on style and degree of difficulty, with the emphasis on style.

The course began with a stairstep rail, down to a swingset rail, and onto a pair of jumps. Smaller rails border the course as well, giving those who want to avoid risky maneuvers a good chance to earn points by being fluid and perfect.

Richie Paradise, who said Friday he was “just out to try his luck,” snagged a spot, while Ben Murphy, a 24-year-old from Australia, was just a stone’s throw away from getting in. Still, Murphy – more tapestry than Red Bull – admitted that even though he never messed up, that might not be enough. The 2001 Australian X-Games slopestyle champion admitted he’s missing the surf at home, where he used to compete as a junior pro.

“I really miss surfing,” he said. “It’s just a really chilled-out atmosphere. You only compete against Mother Nature.”

Many of the competitors prefer a little human touch, including those who enjoy sledding the rails and smooth takeoffs from jumps. Sweden’s Niklas Karlstrom – more Red Bull than tapestry –won heat two by a point and a half, but called the jumps “pretty small.” The teen-ager competes in the European circuit and is making his first appearance in Vail.

“I like a lot of stuff with a lot of choices on the line, with more jumps on the side,” Karlstrom said. “I’d rather not see more than one person taking the same line.”

Even Whistler-bum Charles Bedard, who crashed going for a switch-rodeo. Still, Bedard, who lives in Montreal but skis in British Columbia, wanted more.

“There were some easy rails and some really hard rails. The jumps could have been bigger,” Bedard said. “I didn’t want to mess up, but it’s part of the fun. I guess I’ll just go back to Whistler.”

Saturday

The weekend will start off with crossmax race, where five racers in each heat compete for two spots in the following round. The rounds continue until only five racers are left. The competition will begin at 10 a.m., with the finals starting at 2 p.m.

Afterwards, the Big Air competition will feature the best athletes from the slopestyle competition hoping to land the biggest and baddest trick. More than 10,000 spectators are expected to line the course. C.R. Johnson won last year’s competition with a Bio-1260.

Sunday

The U.S. Freeskiing Open will finish off with a halfpipe competition beginning at 10 a.m. The finals are scheduled for 2 p.m. Swedish competitor Jon Olsson is the defending champion.

All events are located on Golden Peak.

Qualified:

Place Name Score

Heat 1

1. Rory Bushfield 88

2. Simon Dumont 87.4

3. Matt Sterbenz 89.2

4. Tom Dolezol 87.2

Heat 2

1. Niklas Karlstrom 81.6

2. Chris Biollo 80.2

3. Shawn Sullivan 81.8

4. Pierre Espargiliere 76.4

Heat 3

1. Mark Abma 89.4

2. Kyle Gronley 78.4

3. Travis Redd 80.2

4. Mike Wilson 79.4

Heat 4

1. Jon Reedy 79

2. Jordan Overman 77.2

3. Chris DelBosco 88.4

4. Charles Gagnier 86

Heat 5

1. Iannick B. 86.2

2. John Symms 83

3. Brent Abrams 78

4. Rex Thomas 76.6

Last chance qualifiers

Nobuhiko Tamaki 86.8

Richie Paradise 85.4

Jean-Francois Houle 85

Ryan macPherson 83

Michael Olenick 76

Anaiah Kirk 75.2

Max Peters 69.6

Marc Shymko 67.2

Andy Mahre 79

Corey Vanular 77.8

Mike Shimke 77

Chris Brawley 75.8

Jon McMurray 82.6

Stefan Thomas 79.8

Willie Schneider 77.6

Phillipe Warren 77

Chris Benchetler 74.4

Travis Perkins 72.4

Arnaud Rougler 72.4

Keiji Saito 68.5

Ryan Slabaugh is a sports writer for the Vail Daily. Contact him at (970) 949-0555 ext. 608 or at rslabaugh@vaildaily.com.


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