J.F. Houle takes slopestyle field to school
Summit County correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
COPPER MOUNTAIN, Colo. ” With Jon Olsson opting out of this year’s U.S. Freeskiing Open, it was clear there would be a new slopestyle champion even before the games began.
J.F. Houle of Canada filled the void Friday by winning the prestigious competition with a firstrun score of 86.75.
“The guys in the finals were way different than usual,” an ecsatic Houle said after learning of his victory. “It left the door open for a lot of us.”
Many of Friday’s competitors complained about the snowy conditions, which made it hard for skiers to gain adequate speed leading into the jumps, but Houle did not.
“The guys from Swix helped me a lot with some good wax and I kept confident,” Houle said. “[The conditions] were the same for everyone ” you just need to deal with it and see how it goes.”
Unlike last year, when competitors waited nervously long after the event’s conclusion to find out their results, Friday’s competion was judged at a much faster pace (similar to the Winter X Games). A TV screen at the base of the Catalyst Terrain Park flashed podium standings in between every few runs, keeping competitors and funs fully updated.
“It was entertaining for sure,” the 21-year-old Houle said when asked about the new format for announcing standings.
Houle was joined on the podium by Russ Henshaw of Australia (83.75 points) and Phillipe Casabon of Candada (83.75).
Henshaw, who won with a switch 900 double mute, an unnatural 720 mute, a 720 mute and a series of 270s off the rails, was throwing down in his first major Amercian competition.
He was one of the tallest skiers in the field at nearly 6 feet, 2 inches.
“I’m too tall,” Henshaw joked. “It just looks better if you’re shorter, I reckon.”
Casabon appeared ecstatic and humble like Henshaw and Houle.
“[Finishing second] was the most unexpected thing I could have imagnied.” said Casabon, who lives in Quebec, Canada. “The U.S. Open is right after the X Games, so you’ve got a lot of pros [in the field], plus a lot of other really good kids from everywhere.”
Casabon was competing in his second U.S. Open.
“I was in it two years ago and it went super bad,” he said. “So this is great redemtion.”
One of the youngest skiers to compete in Friday’s finals was Evergreen’s Walter Wood. “I wasn’t even expecting to make it past the semis,” said the 15-year-old member of the Keystone Freeride Team. “But I made it into the finals against all my idols in skiing. … I beat Sammy Carlson? somehow and I competed against J.F. Houle and Jacob Wester. These guys are like the best skiers in the world. It’s just nuts.” The up-and-comer had one of the loudest cheering sections on the hill and if all goes well, that support group will only grow.
“Getting to the finals will help me to get me noticed,” Wood said. “Hopefully I’ll be invited to the X Games next year. … I’ve been working hard and everything’s coming together now.”
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Like most high school sports programs across the nation right now, Garfield County athletics directors are seeing fewer applicants for open coaching positions. Five years ago vacant positions were filled within just a couple of days. Now, it’s as though no one wants them.