extreme skiing, Colorado
Airborne at the U.S. Freeskiing Championships (Joseph Rehana)

Rockin’ in the Free(skiing) World

extreme skiing, Colorado

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Over 170 of the world’s best—and craziest—athletes tested their mettle at Crested Butte’s 2004 Saab U.S. Extreme Freeskiing Championships last month (February 25 through 28), each hoping to beat the competition with hair-raising runs down the mountain’s steep and technical Extreme Limits terrain.

extreme skiing, Colorado

extreme skiing, Colorado Airborne at the U.S. Freeskiing Championships

Skiers were required to execute lines down the normally closed area known as The Hourglass, a rocky section nestled against a triangle of heavily-wooded cliffs. The terrain, which had been used only once before in a 1997 competition, boasts 1,200 feet of vertical, a pitch range of 42 to 57 degrees, and a challenging array of cliff bands bisected by a narrow avalanche chute.

A panel of judges scored each competitor’s runs based on five factors: line choice, control, aggression, form, and fluidity. The men’s title was taken by Crested Butte’s Gary Hicks, 34, who finished with a score of 128.1 after clearing a huge gap on his first run (subsequently dubbed “Gary’s Gap”), and then doubling back to launch into the widest part of the gully. Hicks’ performance earned him wild cheers from the hundreds of spectators who watched Saturday’s final round under cloudy skies and intermittent snowstorms.

“[Gary] attacked, skiing really fluidly, in between the big air and the big moves,” said Kim Reichlem, Crested Butte’s ski ambassador. “Everyone is delighted for him because he’s never managed to win this competition, and now he’s achieved something we all knew he was capable of.”

Hicks collected $6,500 for his win, as well as prizes from the sponsors, including new pair of Salomon skis.

Laura Ogden, 25, from Tacoma, Washington, won the women’s competition with a score of 100.5—nearly five points ahead of closest rival Carrie Jo Chernoff, 30, a Crested Butte local. Ogden also hauled off an impressive award package, including $6,500 in prize money.

“I love Crested Butte,” Ogden said after the event. “It’s gnarly out there and it brings out the best.”

In addition to the great performances seen in the men’s and women’s divisions, a group of talented teens made waves in the junior class. Dane Tudor wowed judges with a phenomenal run down the middle of The Hourglass, and went on to win the boy’s category with a score of 74.1 points.

What’s it like to be an extreme skier?
In the following video clip, courtesy of Whistler Action Video (www.whistleractionvideo.com) and Salomon Sports, experience the thrill of freeskiing from the point of view of Jamey Parks, a Salomon-sponsored athlete from Snowbird, Utah, who wore a helmet cam as he blasted down the mountain on his way to placing sixth in the men’s division, with a score of 102.9 points.

Download the video:

Quicktime (4.90mb)

Windows Media (5.05mb)

Lead Photo: Joseph Rehana