Telluride freeskiing competition raises the bar |

Telluride freeskiing competition raises the bar

Reilly Capps
Telluride Daily Planet/AP
Aspen, CO Colorado
**FOR USE IN WEEKEND EDITIONS OF Feb. 14-15**Chason Russell skis down during the first day of competition at the 2009 Subaru Telluride Freeskiing World Tour Qualifer in this photograph taken on Saturday, Feb. 7, 2009, in Telluride, Colo. World-class extreme skiers from around the country took part in the event. (AP Photo/Telluride Daily Planet, Erin Raley)
AP | Telluride Daily Planet

TELLURIDE, Colo. (AP) ” The bar has been raised past 13,200 feet.

At 13,300 feet, Palmyra is one of the tallest peaks ever to host a freeskiing competition. A helicopter is the best way up, and one from Helitrax brought many of the skiers there on a recent Saturday. But the wind was strong, and so many competitors had to climb.

Telluriders Chason Russell and Maddie Crowell both climbed and, despite taxed legs, nearly won. Mark Welgos of Aspen and Claudia Bouvier of Vail actually did.

The fourth annual Subaru Telluride Freeskiing World Tour Qualifier is extreme skiing that was so extreme even fans had to be Stage-3 extreme athletes.

Football brags about Pittsburgh Steelers fans, so devout they’re willing to wave towels over their heads. Basketball brags about Duke and the Cameron Crazies, who jump up and down in their seats.

But fans in no other sport are willing to go to the lengths ” or heights ” fans went to Feb. 7.

They took four lifts to the top of Revelation and crawled over a wind-scoured Gold Hill with rocks as jagged as the broken bottles on top of third-world walls. Skis strapped to their backs acted as sails, nearly achieving liftoff. The fact that so many people stayed upright is surprising.

Then fans had to downclimb into the Gold Hill 8 chute and execute jump turns until it became too narrow for turns, and you just sidestepped down.

It was hard to beat the bleachers, though: snow pits dug into the ground, fans sitting on upside-down skis and snowboards, most of them sipping beers they’d trekked in to dull the cold, staring into Palmyra while the sun occasionally peered through the couloir.

It was worth it. They saw a heck of a show.

During the competition, so much rode on Chason Russell’s Palmyra run, since he was sixth after the first day on Genevieve and the top five skiers qualified for the World Tour. So Russell had to at least hang on to his spot.

It was arctic on top of Palmyra, so Russell hiked up and down the ridge to keep warm. When they called his name, he was fast out of the gate, picked a line through the exposed rib cage of Palmyra (which looked as skeletal as a cow dying in a prairie ditch), and through rocks like a billy goat.

“He’s using his local knowledge,” said the announcer, Dak Williams.

Williams probably didn’t know how local Russell is. His father built the Observatory in Alta Lakes, directly behind Palmyra, and where Russell has spent much of his life. So Palmyra is his front yard. You knew where the sprinklers were in your front yard, Russell knows the rocks in his. He traversed over to some rocks that most skiers bypassed and launched himself off. His tails scraped the rocks on the landing, and he looked off-balance briefly, pulling it out to finish in a blaze of yellow.

Maddie Crowell came out of nowhere for sixth place among the women. She was born on Hastings Mesa and bred from skier stock ” it’s in the genes. Normally, she races downhill. This year, she branched out.

“The freeskiing vibe is so much better,” she said. “Way more relaxed at the bottom. Everybody was congratulating each other.”

She brought her much-abused Volkl Auras during the event’s first day on Friday and achieved a Sully Sullenberger move off the Genevieve spine: a decent amount of lift and a smooth splashdown landing. The next day she used her local knowledge to slice through a couloir the other women shunned.

The light was flatter than old beer.

“You didn’t know how big the cliffs were that you were supposed to drop,” Crowell said, so she focused on skiing aggressive and with good technique.

If she had finished one point higher, she would have qualified for the World Tour.

The flat light hurt one of the Telluride’s other great skiers, Travis Wolfe. He came in fourth last year, and entered Saturday in 18th place. Wind shut down the helicopter just before he boarded, so he had to hike, getting to the top a minute before his run, and he, like many, didn’t plan his route ahead of time, so he skied to the top of a 50 foot drop and looked over the edge before backing out.

“I didn’t have enough speed,” he said. Wolfe fell getting around the big rock and finished lower than he hoped.

“I’ll be ready to go next year,” he said. “It really is a perfect big mountain venue.”

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