Davenport wins ‘Flying Circus’

Tim Mutrie
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Hanging snowfields that dot cliff faces are often called “pillows” by extreme skiers and snowboarders. It’s the pillows that make seemingly implausible descents possible, by jumping from pillow-to-pillow-to-pillow.

But after sticking three consecutive pillow drops over sheer, rocky faces in the Triple Jump section of the Burnside Cliffs at the Snowmass Ski Area on Saturday, Day 2 of the 2004 Powerade Colorado Freeride Series Championships, Ted Davenport of Dillon was cautious about the use of the term pillow ” that might imply a soft, hospitable landing zone.

And that’s hardly what Davenport, 23, younger brother of renowned Aspen freeskier Chris, found when he dropped 30 some feet to open his run.

“The landing off the first air was full bullet-proof,” said Davenport, “a real set-up pillow. So I just kind of absorbed it with my body ” gooossscccchhhh!”

A mark under Davenport’s right eye, where his knees greeted his face upon landing, was further testament to this. As the second-to-last skier to make his run on Saturday, based on his second-best scoring run from Day 1 on Friday in the Hanging Valley Wall area of Snowmass, many of the slopes that baked in the sun all morning had gone into the shade. Additionally, at least a dozen competitors had already utilized the Triple Jump pillow landings on their runs. “All the slush suddenly gets super hard,” he said.

No matter, though.

Davenport’s fast and fluid line through Triple Jump ” “He totally greased it,” said fellow competitor Tim O’Connell of Snowmass Village ” was the third-best scoring run of the day, at 41.8. Combined with a 39.0 from Day 1, the score earned Davenport his first Freeride Series Championship title in the stacked men’s skiing division, edging Ward’s Cliff Bennett (80.8 to 80.6), who had the highest scoring run on Saturday.

Like a high-flying game of high stakes poker, all the top competitors threw down big and bold lines in an area where risks and rewards can be measured in bodily injury.

Bennett, 22, impressed his rivals with a daring descent of Carrot Chute ” a steep and narrow slit of snow in the Leap ‘N’ Land section of the Burnside Cliffs. After dropping two cliffs onto pillows on an exposed rib, Bennett launched into the mid-section of Carrott Chute and pointed his ski tips down the fall line, then took to the air again ” this time in a do-or-get-seriously-hurt-move ” over the rock-spiked, cliffed-out hourglass of the chute. By the time his skis touched the snow again, he was screaming straight downhill over moguls and traverse tracks in the runout zone of Rock Island, in an avalanche path so tight that he couldn’t even hope to turn to dump any speed until the very bottom.

“It was fast,” said Bennett.

“Going fast and trying to keep it under control, and just being on that line of being in control and out of control, blowing it and not blowing it, that’s what it’s all about.”

Aspen TV personality and restaurateur Vince Lahey, 35, the defending champion and leader after Day 1, hucked the biggest cliff of the day as the last contestant. Like Bennett, Lahey opted for the Leap ‘N’ Land area, dropping two moderate cliffs before positioning himself on a goat-like traverse over, say, a 50-footer.

Once in position, he spied over the edge until he saw his bull’s-eye.

“I’d gone down earlier in the morning and all I did in inspection was soften the landing by shoveling it and shoveling it and softening it up,” said Lahey. “And once I was able to see it from the top, I realized I’d need more pop off [the take-off] than I originally thought. So I backed up, got the running start and popped for everything I could to get out to where I’d softened it up.”

Looking like a ski jumper, body straightened out by the takeoff lurch, the red-suited Lahey soared over tree tops ” literally ” before landing among tightly spaced tree trunks.

“It worked,” Lahey said. “It totally worked.”

Lahey scored a 35.8, taking third place with a two-day total of 78.2.

Aspen freeskier Kiffor Berg, who skied Triple Jump like Davenport, finished fourth.

Jesse Hall of Gunnison, a skier known for pushing limits (and big cliffs), made his gold-medal bid with a never-been-done-before gap jump over the mouth of Carrot Chute. While Hall barely missed the pillow he was aiming for to stick the line, and skidded down the rock wall, he stayed on his feet, ski tips down the fall line, and charged the rest of the line. At the bottom, he threw a front-flip for good measure.

“Pretty nutball what he did,” said Bennett.

“He’s just notorious for throwing down the sick, never-heard-of line,” added Davenport, “and he did exactly that today. That’s why Jesse’s the man at these comps, ’cause he just throws it down. I have a lot of respect for that ’cause it’s not an uncalculated risk: He’s committed to it, he knows what he wants to do and he sends it. That’s cool.”

Hall, 21, split his lip open during his run, though he wasn’t exactly sure when it happened. At the awards party after, with six fresh stitches in his lip, he was drinking water, not free beer.

“I’m a little out of it,” he said.

“I didn’t have enough speed to make it to the part of the pillow I wanted; I kind of landed a little bit lower down on it, barely gaping it. So I had to point my tips downhill … I just had to take what was coming to me and go with it. It wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do, but it worked out.”

Hall finished in eighth place, one spot behind Aspen’s Brian Anzini, who drew praise for spinning a helicopter off the first cliff in Triple Jump. Aspen’s Billy Poole, who finished in a tie for 14th, also wowed onlookers with a strong line down Triple Jump capped off with a Lincoln Loop (off-axis flip) off the final jump with good speed.

Snowmass Village resident and Woody Creek Tavern waitress Jane Somerville, the only women’s skier to venture into Triple Jump, ran away with the women’s skiing division title with a score of 66.8. Runner-up Lauren Alkire of Frisco finished with a combined score of 61.4

“It was soft for me,” said the 107-pound Somerville, “all pillowy. It hadn’t hardened up yet, plus we got to go before the men.”

After Day 1 in the Wall, about half the field was cut, with 33 men’s skiers advancing to the final day, 12 women’s skiers, seven men’s snowboarders and five women’s boarders. Minturn’s Christopher Albers took the men’s boarding title, and Fraser’s Shawna Henderson winning the women’s single-plank division.