When Subaru invited me to Kirkwood Mountain to check out the 2012 Subaru Freeskiing World Tour Championships, I said, "Heck yes!" Over the years, I'd only kept up with the Tour via live streams and web coverage—never before had I had the opportunity to witness the action first hand. And to go to a Tour stop is one thing, but to see the Championships play out in Kirkwood's famed Forbidden Cirque, now that's something special.
By the time I arrived at Kirkwood on Friday afternoon, the event was well underway. Athletes had competed in a qualifying round on Thursday, and wrapped up Day one of the two-day final hours before I pulled into town. Speaking with some of the athletes, it was evident that Friday's showdown was an exciting one. Results from Day one were later announced, and thus the stage was set for a big Saturday.
And a big Saturday it was. Nine women and 27 men dropped into the skier's righthand side of the Cirque. The venue, peppered with cliffs, chutes, wind lips, trees and other natural features, provides skiers an ideal zone in which to compete. With so many features to work with, competitors were able to employ a great deal of creativity in their approach. Throughout the day, we were witness to run after run of outstanding skiing. Skiers attacked the Cirque aggressively, and rarely passed up the opportunity to get airborne.
Athletes en route to the top of the Cirque.
I was joined near the finish corral by a throng of spectators. As is customary at FWT events, viewers construct a handful of snow benches. In the trenches, the beers are aplenty, cow bells are ringin', fire crackers are crackin', and snowballs are flyin'. It's quite the scene. Family, friends, athletes and locals erupted in applause time and again as the competitors continued to raise the bar. Scores from Day one carried over to Day two, and competitors thus threw down in hopes of tallying the highest combined score on the weekend.
On the women's side, Nat Segal landed on the podium in 3rd. Angel Collinson locked down the 2nd place spot while Jackson Hole's Crystal Wright took top honors. On the men's side, Jake Sakson finished 3rd, Sean Collin 2nd and Josh Daiek 1st. Daiek and Wright also earned enough points with their wins to secure the overall 2012 Tour titles, and the Shane McConkey Cups. The top finishers on the day impressed all with their speed, fluidity and control in the air.
The 2012 Subaru Freeskiing World Tour overall winners—Josh Daiek, Crystal Wright.
The day would not go without interruption, however. With only 10 competitors left to compete in the men's field, the entire ski patrol staff was called away to a assist with a "mountain emergency." While we waited for nearly an hour with no word as to what the emergency was, we took the opportunity to engage in a massive snowball fight. Later on, we came to learn that the giant airbag situated at the base of Kirkwood (used for jump training) had blown in the wind straight into one of the chairlift towers, derailing the lift. As a result, ski patrol was forced to evacuate all those riding the chair. Fortunately, nobody was harmed.
After two hours elapsed, the show was on once again. But as quickly as it had started, Riley Bergseng took a nasty tumble over some rocks, injuring his leg, and had to be carted away by ski patrol. Having fallen on a steep face, with cliffs all around, Riley's rescue ensured forty-five additional minutes of snowball fighting. Props to the Kirkwood Ski Patrol for their impressive response, and best wishes to Riley for a full recovery.
After having waited for quite some time atop the course, the remaining competitors finally dropped in. Despite cold muscles and perhaps some frustration, those last few skied well, and arrived in the finish with smiles on their faces. A testament to their strength as competitors. And at 4:30, the final whistle blew.
Speaking with Crystal Wright following the event, she had this to say about her winning performance: "My run today was really fun, I was stoked on it. I was really nervous at the start, I knew I needed to step it up after yesterday. I was a little jet lagged for Day one, but today I felt fired up to come back and had good energy. To perform my best, I need to ski a strong, fast line because it gets me on my toes and it showcases my skills a bit more, and that's exactly what I wanted to do today. It worked out, and it's a dream come true."
When asked about winning the Shane McConkey Cup, Wright remarked, "Winning the cup, this being my first McConkey Cup, it's pretty amazing. I've always looked up to Shane. For me, this signifies all of our fallen hereos. Jim Jack… I wouldn't know all of these people if it wasn't for this sport, and this is very powerful for me. Again, it signifies all my fallen friends, but at the same time, it's all these great friendships I've forged. Before I started the season I said to myself it was my last season to compete. I told myself I'm going to go for it and try to win the Tour again—if I do, great, if I don't, great. So this was it, this was my last chance to win the overall, so it's a very special day."
Reflecting on his big day, Josh Daiek noted, "As for my run today, I was stoked to hit all the features I wanted to hit. Felt like I could have done some things smoother, but I'm mostly just happy to have had things work out and to place the way I did."
A big fan of Shane McConkey, Daiek was also overcome with emotion having earned the Shane McConkey Cup. "To take home the McConkey Cup, it means a lot to me. As a BASE jumper and as a skier, most of the things I do, it all came from Shane. Shane has been one of the biggest inspirations in my life. When I first started watching ski movies in high school, he inspired me to ski. I never would have done a BASE jump, I never would have ski BASE jumped if it wasn't for Shane. To win this Cup, it's indescribable. He's been my hero for ten years. I only got the chance to meet Shane twice, I wish I could have gotten to know him better."
When asked how he planned to celebrate his big win, Daiek humbly responded, "We'll celebrate a bit tonight, but this is just what we do, we're shreddin' with our buddies, just having a good time. Competitions are a bit funny, there's some pressure on everyone. I just enjoy skiing with my homies, and it's not always about who's the gnarliest, but it's just about being out here and having fun."
Following the awards ceremony, athletes and friends gathered at Red Cliffs Lodge for dinner and a celebration. Sierra Nevada, one of the event sponsors, provided plenty of fuel and the festivities raged well into the night. And with the rude sound of the alarm clock on Sunday morning, my FWT adventure had come to a close.
I extend big thanks to Subaru for bringing me out to Kirkwood. 'Twas great meeting many of the event staffers and Tour athletes, and it was exciting to see the FWT first hand. It's an event comprised of good people, and insanely talented skiers. I look forward to joining the party in 2013.
1. Josh Daiek
2. Sean Collin
3. Jake Sakson
1. Crystal Wright
2. Angel Collinson
3. Natalie Segal
MEN'S OVERALL TOUR CHAMPION: Josh Daiek
WOMEN'S OVERALL TOUR CHAMPION: Crystal Wright
The Sickbird Award: Jake Sakson
The North Face Young Gun Award: Dylan Siggers
For full results, click here.