Boldest boarders reap rewards |

Boldest boarders reap rewards

Tim Mutrie

This was not a made-for-TV event, certainly not a wax race or “something for everybody.”In fact, almost nobody showed up to watch and 32 competitors “did not start,” several owing to injuries sustained in training or qualifying runs. So it wasn’t surprising when a pair of New Englanders, sharpened on the slopes of Sugarloaf, Maine, and Stratton Mountain, Vt., won all of their qualifying heats in the same fashion they dominated the final: all alone up front, straight-lining over the jumps to the finish.U.S. Snowboard team rider Seth Wescott, 26, of Farmington, Maine, and Lindsey Jacobellis, 17, of Bondville, Vt., who will ride in all four disciplines this weekend, captured the men’s and women’s boardercross U.S. National Champship titles at the U.S. Snowboard Grand Prix Finals at Buttermilk, day one of the four-day event.The tricky course was the buzz.”The X Games course was weak this year, and a lot of courses on the FIS tour are pretty weak as far as difficulty level. It’s more of a wax race. This is, who’s got the nuts to go for it on a course that’s this hairy?” said Wescott, the top American boardercross rider who has been beaming since the announcement that it will be included in the 2006 Olympics.Stretching three-quarters of a mile and riddled with 32 jumps, nearly twice as long as the X Games course, the Grand Prix course was built by Pat Malendoski and Ryan Neptune of the Boise, Idaho-based, Planet Snow Designs. Yesterday, it was hard and fast.Neptune finished second to Wescott in the four-man final, and Jayson Hale of Sierraville, Calif., was third (as well as junior U.S. National Champ).Jacobellis, the women’s champ, also won the X Games boardercross in late January, when she entered all three events and finished third in slopestyle. She also plans to enter all the other Grand Prix events: slalom on Friday, parallel giant slalom on Saturday and the halfpipe on Sunday.She credited her older brother Ben for helping her solve the difficult course.”We can ride pretty much every condition, because if you can ride solid ice and all that, you can ride this,” she said. “But this was definitely the most technical course I’ve ridden in a long time, probably two to three years.””I’m lucky, though, I’ve got my brother to follow. None of the other girls have brothers they can chase. He’s like, ‘Come on, just follow right behind me and you’ll be fine.'”(Ben Jacobellis finished eighth, last in the men’s consolation final.)Finishing 2-3 for the women was Zoe Gillings of Great Britain and Alison Clark of Canada. Erin Simmons, a former local now living in Steamboat, finished fourth, overtaken on the final jump by Gillings and Clark.Wescott capped off each of his winning runs with a trick off the last jump, including at least two slow-floating 360s as if to scan for nearby pursuers. Usually, though, no one was in sight.The course rewarded a fast, straight line, and Wescott had it dialed in.”It’s about letting the board run,” said Wescott, “and that’s what’s fun about boardercross. When you’ve got a course that’s over a minute and a half, it allows for many more chances and for real battles to ensue. It’s a lot more fun than if it’s just a 40-second sprint where the heaviest guy with the best wax wins.”Jason “Earz” Smith of Basalt, a former Aspen Valley Snowboard Club rider, was the only man to post a faster qualifying time than Wescott yesterday morning.He had found the line, too, and marched through two qualifying heats in charge.Smith was clocked at 1 minute, 43.0 seconds in his qualifying run, while Wescott finished in 1:44.45, and only six of the 32 men’s qualifiers finished sub-1:50. On the women’s side, Jacobellis led the 16-woman field with a 2:07.14.Smith, however, was victimized in his four-man semifinal heat when his board snagged under the starting gate. He asked for a rerun immediately, but race officials denied the request. The public address announcer said Smith had “been warned” about the problematic gate.”I had a good pull, but I pulled too fast and my board actually went under the gate, but the gate wasn’t set up right,” Smith said.”They’ve given people reruns in the past for it. There’s no set rule, but people here just decided not to give me a rerun. I qualified first and was feeling good all day, and I called for a rerun right as it happened, and they said no. But, whatever. Life’s not fair.”Smith won a moral victory, however, in the consolation final. After a near-miss with Nate Holland in a section of banked turns near the bottom of the course, Smith regained the line on the second-to-last jump, and straight-lined it for the final jump. He nosed ahead of Holland in the reach for the finish, for the win and fifth place.”It was a challenging course, but it wasn’t as hectic as everyone was saying,” Smith said. “This being an open contest, there’s a lot of people here who aren’t necessarily qualified for this type of course. But you see everyone that’s in the finals, they’ve been boardercross racing for years.”Of the injured, only two racers required further treatment off the hill, according to Jeff Hanle, communications director for the Aspen Skiing Co. He didn’t believe either racer was seriously injured, and he noted that none of the wrecks happened during the head-to-head heat racing but during the training and qualifying runs.”It’s pretty standard for an event like this,” he said. “I think the competitors figured out the course and what they needed to do to get down it without digging in.”