Highlands air bag, sun dogs take shape
One crisp winter morning, before the sun broke over Thunderbowl, the luminous halos otherwise known as “sun dogs” arrived in threes.
In the still shady corner where the AVSC freestyle venue has taken root, the flattened air bag was awakened from its dormant status.
If there’s more than 6 inches of snow predicted, the coaches and athletes of Team AVSC Freeride will fold the bag up overnight. A team effort is also required the next day; at least six pairs of hands are needed to bring the air bag back to life.
The dusting of snow that fell Sunday morning was velvety, but an impediment to gaining enough speed in the transition between the in-run and the jump. So out came the rakes and shovels, with the athletes working side-by-side with coach Greg Ruppel.
“It gives us something to do while the bag is blowing up,” said Jack Cohan, slopestyle athlete. Just as important is the organic connection the hands-on grooming offers skier and mountain.
Conor Burrows, 14, learned his first back flip here in the Aspen Highlands venue that AVSC has been developing with Skico over the past two years.
Burrows competes in slopestyle and pipe events. Fresh from filming a commercial for the hoodie company Night Train, Brooks Gorsuch, like other freeriders, finds his skills transfer well to the terrain park and big mountain venues.
The air bag has been in use here in the Highlands venue since Thanksgiving, which has “helped us with reps because it’s a low risk environment,” said Gage Carr, a sophomore at Aspen High School. Carr, primarily a pipe skier, is working on a trick called the double flair, which he explained is “technically a double back flip” with a 180-degree spin.
Freeskiing, an Olympic sport for the first time ever in next month’s Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, continues to evolve on what seems like a daily basis.
AVSC produced some of the first wave of contenders, including national team members Torin Yater-Wallace and Alex Ferreira.
Meanwhile, the next generation keeps their goals in plain view.
“The athletes are excited to see their sport showcased on the world stage,” said Ruppel. He added that while the freeride program numbers haven’t necessarily ballooned this year, Olympic inclusion “has made the advancement pipeline more clear.”
The same weekend as the Winter Olympics opening ceremonies, Aspen/Snowmass and the International Freeskiers and Snowboarders Association will host a sanctioned event at Highlands.
The IFSA Junior Regional Freeride Competition will take place Feb. 8 and is open to those 10-18 years-old, who will compete in three age class divisions.
More information is available at http://www.aspensnowmass.com/JRfreeride.
Aspen native and U.S. Cross Country Team member Simi Hamilton closed 2013 with a stunning win at Lenzerheide, Switzerland. This was Hamilton’s first time ever in a sprint final, something he used to his full advantage Tuesday.
In that race, Hamilton, a 2010 Olympian, held off hard-charging Canadian Alex Harvey as well as Norway’s Martin Johnsrud Sundby. This is the first Tour de Ski stage win ever by an American man.
“This is incredible,” Hamilton said. “It’s been really great to be here and competing in Switzerland. The track was perfect. I have not realized yet that I won today.”
Later Tuesday morning, Hamilton tweeted a photo of his No. 1 bib, noting, “I think I might hold on to this one.”
AVSC alpine skier Galena Wardle might feel the same way after last weekend’s double wins at Copper Mountain. Wardle’s margin of victory in both the Dec. 29 and 30 slalom races was about three seconds.
Joining Wardle on the slalom podium on Dec. 30 was Hanna Mass, of Aspen, who took third.
Anna Patterson finished 11th in the first slalom and Pascale Augspurger was 14th in both of the weekend races. Overall, the U16 team that’s under the direction of Pat Callahan and Tiitu Romar finished strong.
“I was very pleased with all the kids’ results,” said Greg Needell, AVSC alpine director.
This weekend, Friday through Sunday, AVSC and Aspen Highlands will host the Surefoot series, with more than 180 of the region’s FIS-level alpine skiers.
Two giant slaloms and two super-G races are on tap.
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This past Saturday, Alice McKennis Duran was a forerunner in the women’s downhill at the U.S. Alpine Championships at Highlands, her run serving as a victory lap for a career that included two Olympic appearances and a World Cup win.