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U.S. Freeskiing Open starts today

Ryan Slabaugh

“We put those features on the course because we figure a half-dozen guys will hit them,” Jaquet said Wednesday night. “Keep that in mind.”

See, Easley knows what it’s like to fall, and knows warnings act like parental-advisory stickers. They make the consumer want it even more, especially when $50,000 is up for grabs this week.

In the last three years, Easley’s broken bones twice in X-Games qualifiers, preventing him from competing at one of the country’s biggest freeskiing events. With a field of 140 competitors set to compete today at the slopestyle qualifiers, Easley’s a bit worried about someone getting in over his or her head.



“Pro athletes can barely hit those rails. That’s the stuff we film on,” he said. “There’s 140 kids trying to show how good they are, and they’re going to kill themselves on them.”

So it’s going to be big. There’s no doubt.



The athletes who gathered at a crowded Chateau at Vail Wednesday night, were not its usual clientele. The dress code seemed limited to unkempt hair, stocking hats, baggy pants and hooded sweatshirts, with Easley and others fitting the bill.

Athletes from all over the world will be competing this week in events that are exploding in popularity. In 1996, Jaquet founded the event and speaks of it today like most speak of black-and-white television.

“When we began,” Jaquet said, “we had a two-hit slopestyle course and a big-air competition with one hit, which was the last jump on the slopestyle. And we had a skiercross course with trees as obstacles.”



Now, the event will feature four days of competition to be shown on TBS March 12. A Jumbotron television will allow spectators to follow the slopestyle course in its entirety. Athletes have been turned away from the packed field. Throw in an MTV crew filming the event and a bikini snowshoe race Friday night, and it’s understandable why Jaquet speaks like a father when speaking of the event.

“I always hoped it would get this big,” Jaquet said. “Even three years ago, when we didn’t have a halfpipe, we thought that some day we might grow into something larger and more important. Each year we get bigger, so we’re on track. When we first started, only a few riders from Colorado were here.”

Richie Paradise, a freeskier from Bedford, N.H., came to Vail in hopes of riding with his idols and making a name for himself. Paradise will compete in the halfpipe Sunday, the slopestyle today and Friday and hopes to qualify for the Big Air competition Saturday night.

“I love to jump,” Paradise said. “I love the weightless feeling. Being in the air is the way to go.”

The slopestyle qualification today will narrow the field down to 40 athletes, who will compete Friday in the semifinals. Twelve competitors will make the finals, where two runs will determine the winner. The snowfall Tuesday forced a cancellation of practice runs, meaning the two hours before the competition begins at 10:30 a.m. will be the only chance for inspections.

Tanner Hall, who won the X-Games slopestyle competition last week in Aspen, is the defending champion.

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.

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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