There are few other resorts better suited to host the world's best big mountain skiers than Jackson Hole Mountain Resort at Teton Village. Towering over the valley at 10,450 feet, Rendezvous Mountain is the pinnacle of Jackson's famous heart pounding, thigh burning, knee aching, steeper than steep terrain.
Jess McMillan (Jackson Hole's own Big Mountain skiing phenomenon and 2007 World Champ) has said Jackson Hole is the epitome of freeskiing in the lower 48 states. She, as well as many others, agree that having the International Freeskiers Association World Tour stop in Jackson is a great way for The Hole to showcase its terrain.
Jackson has had a fantastic snow year and, although fresh powder wasn't on the menu this weekend, big lines, sweet air, bumping freestyle and even some wicked wipeouts were. Friday morning (Jan. 28) started out gray and cold on the valley floor. However, as you ascended the mountain and literally rose above the clouds, the sun was alive and well, shining brilliantly on the morning's events.
The first day's comp was held in Casper Bowl with most of the skiers picking lines in Shot 10 (Greybull) and Shot 14 (Moccasin). Casper Bowl, which opened tentatively to the public in 1997, is accessible by a 20-minute hike up from behind the Bridger Gondola. It is a 180-degree cirque boasting 1,200 vertical feet full of gnarly chutes and plenty of cliff drops which aprons out into a large boulder laden field full of natural terrain jumps and room for big downhill turns and tricks. It was prime territory to sort out the best of the best.
The women were out of the gate first with strong showings by several of the girls. Rebecca Selig, from Timber Ridge, Mich., dominated the women's group and went on to win Saturday. Allie Donovan, from Squaw Valley, Calif., was happy with the course and her run. "I stayed on my feet and stuck to the line that I wanted to ski," she said. Although the snow was a bit heavy in spots and fairly skied out towards the bottom of the course, McMillan (who was judging) noted that, "They had seen some impressive skiing and was looking forward to seeing what the contender's would throw down for Saturday."
Cody Erwin, from Lake Louise, stole the show, according to my 8-year-old son, Noah.His line was tight and his air time was out of control. He ended up placing 6th overall and winning the Young Gun award. Utah's Johnny Collinson, who was expected to go big and dominate the competition, dropped one of the sickest lines over the headwall of rocks which plummeted down into Greybull. He lost his skis when he impacted with the not-so-soft landing and was disqualified, but his line was one of the most memorable of the day.
It seemed that there were quite a few falls in the first ten out of the start but as the day wore on, word spread to ski cleaner, easier lines because of the manky snow that was progressively warming up with the blasting rays of sunshine. The conditions deteriorated in the afternoon but the skiing definitely did not.
The athletes stepped up their game Saturday and gave a phenomenal show for all in attendance. The comp moved over to Tower Three (named for its proximity to the tram tower three), and was the perfect place for the finals. North facing, the conditions were still soft and sugary and held up a little better than in Casper. The top area between Paint Brush and Tower Three which is permanently closed to the public was opened to the finalists.
The sick rocks and steeps allowed top contenders such as Crystal Wright (Jackson Hole), Caleb Brown (Fernie, B.C.) and Kristi Knaub (Big Sky, Mont.) show that they could handle the aggressive and exposed lines. However, the top spot went to Jesse Bryan from Snowbird, Utah.
"Today I picked a line that I could ski nice and clean but fairly fast, and it worked out just how I pictured it," Bryan said. "You come into these competitions knowing that there are so many good skiers, and getting first place and the Sickbird Award is just awesome. I'm absolutely ecstatic."
Several felt that Jackson Hole should receive the Sickbird award and call it good but, Johnny deserved it. However, Jackson should be proud of its own superior performance on the latest stop of the IFSA World Tour.