Bennett, Gmitro Take Taos: Falls by leaders open door for Bennett

Bennett, Gmitro Take Taos: Falls by leaders open door for Bennett

Cliff Bennett took a conservative second run that kept him standing up to take victory in the finals at the 2009 Salomon Extreme Freeriding Championships in Taos on Satuday. Bennet was the beneficiary of falls by the leaders that opened the door to the top spot on the podium for him. Michelle Gmitro, on the other hand, took charge of the competition by laying down an aggressive final run to surprise a talent-packed field and take victory. Robert Rotman aced the snowboard field, with Chysanthe Demas and Michael Gargner topping the JR division.

Saturday’s event provided plenty of action as the remnants of a Friday storm left Taos’ West Basin venue in exceptional conditions. The moisture-packed storm, which forced a weather delay on Friday, was exceptionally windy, resulting in a creamy snowpack that athletes took full advantage of.

Due to the weather delay on Friday, even organizers gambled on giving athletes two runs with an aggressive cut to the field for the second run on Saturday. The gamble paid off in all divisions but men’s ski, as the winds picked up during the day, closing Taos’ Chair 2 and severely limiting the cut for the final men’s run.

“We were able to give almost everyone, the juniors and the women a pretty generous cut for the second run,” said Chief of Race Tom Winter. “But once the weather rolled back in, we really had to make a brutal cut for the men. It’s too bad, but that’s how it goes in big mountain skiing. Mother Nature saved us with the snow, but killed us with the wind.”

As it ended up, only six male skiers were given a second run due to the deteriorating conditions, but they managed to put on a show. Highlights include Abbot Smith’s amazingly creative and high stakes line, which featured two massive airs. His aggressive, fluid skiing put him in second place, giving the Telluride athlete a second trophy from Taos. Last year Abbot walked away with the coveted Parillo Loco (sick bird) prize for the most impressive feat. That trophy is now joined by another, and the Telluride athlete was all smiles on the podium as he wrapped up a very successful second visit to Taos.

Other memorable impressions include the catlike agility and aggression of Alaskan athlete Garrett Altmann. Altmann sat in first prior to his second run, fell on his final run of the day, but his amazing recovery allowed him to steal a spot on the podium, and he finished in third.

Bennett, for his part skied well. But it was the failings of the competition that allowed him to win in Taos. With Altmann’s fall and another tumble by the amazing French athlete Julian Lopez, the Colorado athlete was able to sneak onto the top of the podium for the win.

The women’s field here was the strongest seen in the history of the event, and the ladies did not disappoint. The tandem of Lorraine Huber and Karine Falck-Pedersen, both riding for Kastle, skied elegant, fluid lines. But their decision to opt for a slightly less technical approach failed to find favor with the judges. Falck-Pedersen finishing in 5th, with Huber taking 3rd. Gmitro, the unheralded skier out of Arapahoe Basin opted for a highly technical line, requiring precise skiing on her final run. With an aggressive air at the bottom, she was able to move from back in the pack after the first run to finish in the money on the second, taking the event and surprising even herself. McKenna Peterson finished second, with a line that combined elements of fluidity and technical skiing.

For the JR divisions, Michael Gardner took the top honors for the men, with Chysanthe Demas taking the women’s field. The young athletes here showed that they are rapidly learning from their elders. One particular highlight was local skier Richard Pyatt’s first run, where he stomped a huge cliff after flashing a technical chute in the middle of the venue. Pyatt ended up in second, and he will certainly be an athlete to watch in the future as he continues to develop his skills.

For the riders, it was fast and fluid taking the day. Rotman led the way, winning both runs ahead of Bradley Thompson and Jack Wilson.

For full results and to review video of the action, please visit skitaos.org

The Salomon Extreme Freeriding Championships is of the qualifying events for the Freeride World Tour Qualifing (FWTQ) circuit, which includes a global array of events in locations from Italy (Winter Mystic Xperience Monterosa), France (Freeride de Chamonix-Mont-Blanc) and Slovakia (Jasna Adrenalin. By competing in this event, athletes can gain points and become eligible to compete in the Freeride World Tour’s four showcase events: The Nissan Russian Adventure (Sochi, Russia), Nissan Tram Face (Squaw Valley, USA), Nissan Freeride de Tignes (Tignes, France) and Nissan Xtreme (Verbier, Switzerland).

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