Former Aspen local blows edge, makes history at Extremes |

Former Aspen local blows edge, makes history at Extremes

Devon O'NeilSummit County correspondent
Former Aspen local Aaron Estrada navigates through a rock field while skiing Headwall Saturday at the U.S. Extreme Freeskiing Championships at Crested Butte. (Summit Daily/Kristin Anderson)

CRESTED BUTTE – Aaron Estrada hit the rock so hard when he landed, he blew out the edge of his ski. Sometime later, he would remove the bindings and throw away the skis – they were of no use anymore – then fly home to California without them.But the thing about Estrada’s blown-out edge Saturday is that despite the impact, he never fell. No part of his body even touched the ground. He continued his second and final run down Headwall by boosting a large air over a village of rocks, then he carved his trademark high-speed GS turns the rest of the way through a field of moguls.When he reached the finish, believing his run at becoming the first three-time winner in U.S. Extreme Freeskiing Championships history had died with his edge, Estrada threw his helmet, his goggles, his gloves, his poles. Then he crouched down low and stared at the ground.”On a venue like this, you can’t really make mistakes,” Estrada, 29, said. “It’s so short and there’s not a whole lot to it.”If the judges had been nearly as tough on Estrada as he was on himself, he wouldn’t have won for the first time in six years at this 16th annual event, a comeback that was even more sensational given the circumstances. Not only did he nearly lose his hand in an accident sustained at the 2003 Extremes, Estrada broke the same hand last week jumping off a cliff in Aspen, his former hometown; he skied with a purple cast throughout this week.

However, Estrada had something on his side few of his rivals could match. He is “off-the-couch awesome,” in the words of Jonathan Love, a friend from Aspen, which is another way of proclaiming him a natural. Even Griffin Post, the defending champion and the 2007 runner-up to Estrada, said Estrada deserved to win despite the second-run bobble because nobody touched his skiing during the rest of the week.There are plenty of distinguished names who have won the Extremes over the years, but to Estrada, his place in history did not mean as much as the $6,500 winner’s check.”I talked about it a little bit and people have talked to me about it a little bit,” he said of the three victories, “but it was more just to throw down and keep my sponsors happy and keep the money coming in so I can afford to go to the next event.”Estrada’s four-run cumulative score of 102.8 points was comfortably ahead of Post’s 96.2 and third-place finisher Tyson Bolduc’s 95.8.Bolduc, however, was plenty pleased with his podium result, considering this was his first appearance at the Extremes – and considering he’d broken a ski in half the day before and nearly had to withdraw from the contest. The 24-year-old Vail native grew up ski racing with Lindsey Kildow before turning to big-mountain competitions. He worked three jobs last summer so he’d be able to focus solely on skiing this season.

It paid off; nobody impressed the Crested Butte crowd more than Bolduc, an unknown coming into the week. He shot from sixth to third on Saturday thanks to a 360-degree spin over a 40-foot air that drew the largest ovation of the contest. It was one of those moves people seem to remember for years – especially because he landed on one ski – and it helped deliver the coveted “Sick Bird” award later Saturday night.Asked what possessed him to try such a move over a hillside of granite, Bolduc said, “Desire. I’m in striking distance to the front, so I had to do something.”Acting on that same logic, Laura Ogden won her second women’s crown in four appearances at the Extremes (all of them podiums) by billy goating a pair of lines to overtake Gunnison’s Hannah Whitney, who entered the day with the lead but settled for second in the end. Ogden, a part-time Crested Butte local – she paints houses in the summer then spends her winters in Whistler, traveling on the world freeskiing tour, where she is the defending overall champion – ended up with a three-run total of 80 points, 8.2 better than Whitney. Carrie Jo Cernoff, another CB local, took third for the second straight year (71.6).”On this particular venue,” Ogden, who took home $6,500, said of Headwall, which hadn’t hosted a final in five years, “there’s not a ton of options, so I think what sets people apart is being able to go through those rocks and those lines with the aggression and the fluidity.”Pete Bowers, the 1996 Extremes champion and a three-time top-10 finisher at the now-defunct World Extreme Skiing Championships, won the masters (40-plus) division the first year he was eligible. The caterer from California finished with 82.4 points, nearly 10 better than Carbondale’s Love, and comfortably ahead of Leo VanDerBosch, a 5-foot-3, 47-year-old builder from Telluride who threw one of the largest airs of the day on his way to third place.

“I hope my prize includes a pair of skis because we’ve all destroyed them here,” Bowers said.Tyler Ceccanti of Washington state won the junior boys division with ease, with Vail’s Ian Lockhart in sixth and Aspenites Brandon Clabaugh and Ian Lowell in seventh and 12th, respectively. Crested Butte 15-year-old Francesca Pavillard-Cain defended her title in the junior girls division, followed by Colby Adams of Breckenridge in second.Former Team Summit racers Cliff Bennett and Tanner Flanagan finished fifth and 19th, respectively, in the men’s division, and Aspen bartender/ski coach John Nicoletta took 13th with smooth skiing all week. Ashley Carruth of Carbondale was eighth in the women’s division.

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