Sam Lee Freeski USA 2011
This year I went over to America on the 10th of January and stayed until March 1st travelling most of the time with fellow big mountain skier Zak Hogg.
Training at Breckenridge
We started out with two weeks in Breckenridge Colorado, sleeping on couch pillows, in a house with eight of the Kiwi Park boys.
I wanted to ski a bit of park to improve my spins and flips which are starting to become a feature of Big Mountain and to some degree achieved this. We also spent a couple of days at the Woodward indoor training facility at Copper Mountain and that really is a big help with flips.
We had a lot of fresh powder so ended up doing a bit more freeski stamina training than planned. Apart from Breck we also skied Arapahoe Basin which was a bit more alpine with some more natural features and steeper terrain.
Jackson Hole Freeski World Qualifier
One of the advantages of being in Breck was that we were closer to Jackson Hole the venue for one of the FWT comps we were doing. When I say closer, it was still a 9 hour drive away from Denver, so probably 11 or 12 hours of travel all up from Breck.
We set off on our way to Jackson Hole Wyoming on the 24th of Jan going from Breck to Denver on the famous Gray Hound bus service where we picked up our rental car, a Ford Focus we named Freddy.
We drove the whole 9 hours in one go with a couple stops along the way for food and fresh air arriving in Jackson Hole at about 1am. We decided to save money that night and sleep in the car.
It was very cold. I only had a thin summer sleeping bag so I had to pile on the layers pretty heavy.
We spent two days skiing at Jackson Hole before the comp. Our minds were blown. Jackson is probably the coolest most bad ass mountain I have skied in my life to date. It is absolutely chocked full of cliffs, lines, chutes, terrain nuggets and the odd pillow here and there. On top of all that the ski field is steep and really long, and lastly there is no one there. Even on weekends lines are only slightly bigger than midweek, not enough to bother you though.
The competition day was blue bird and uber hot. I had to hike to the top in my Tee shirt because my down SOS jacket is made for mega cold; it was like wearing an oven.
Sadly the day didn’t end up so well for either Zak or me.
Zak crashed in his run out after skiing a sick line that would have qualified for sure.
Me? Well I didn’t even get quarter of the way into my run before getting lost and skiing into the closed zone of doom. I ended up skiing down a tongue up to the edge of very big cliff with ultra-death rock lying below, I also released a mini slough on the way in. After realising I was in the wrong place and deciding there was no way down I proceeded to hike back up the way I came. All I can say is I now understand why they close stuff!
So with lessons learnt we spent the next 3 days riding the RAD-GNAR of Jackson Hole.
Jackson was great but expensive. We dropped the famous Cobets Couloir the hard way, straight over the cliff. That was a cool experience.
Kirkwood Lake Tahoe
So then it was back to Breck for 3 days before heading off to Kirkwood, Lake Tahoe California for the Rahlves Banzai race. The Banzai is like a mix between skier cross and a Chinese downhill. It’s basically a skier cross course set down rugged, choppy, uneven off piste runs. The first part of our course was an icy mogul field. It was loose.
I got into Kirkwood the night before the comp and what do you know the airline lost my ski bag! That sucked a bit. So what did I do? I skied the BANZAI in jeans, borrowed 150cm poles and a friend of a friends race skis. It was all quite lucky really, because I ran into a guy who I met in NZ last season who was also in Kirkwood for the Banzai, and his buddy had tweaked his knee in practice so he said I could use his skis as he wasn’t competing anymore because he didn’t want to make his knee any worse.
I qualified 19th out of a field of about 60 to get through to the finals day of 32. 8 heats of four with the top two progressing. That’s as far as I got. I had a bad pull out of the gate and started last, I spent a few seconds in 3rd but couldn’t hold it so finished in 4th. Probably the scariest race I’ve done!
Then it was back into training before the Kirkwood FWT starting 24th of Feb. The week before the event we had the most snow I have ever seen in one place in such a short time. It snowed 4 metres in 6 days. It was unreal.
Whether I would end up competing was a bit touch and go for a while as I hurt my calf quite badly about 5 days before the comp. So I spent that time trying to fix my leg. Luckily it was pretty much perfect the day of the qualifiers so didn’t bother me at all.
The day one venue was a bit boring and short but I found a line. I skied my line almost how I wanted, I got all my features and landed everything, but I felt like I could have been a lot cleaner and faster. A lot of that was probably to do with not skiing properly for 4 days before hand.
I went into the Kirkwood comp with the intention of trying to finish about mid-way up the cut in the qualifier. I really needed to get a clean finish on the first day because I never finished Kirkwood in 2010 nor did I get through Jackson Hole this year, so I needed to ski a line that I was 99% sure I could nail. This would give me a gauge and a feel for the level of skiing needed to qualify in an American event. I finished 15th out of a field of 60 men and the cut turned out to be 14. Zak finished a few places below me with a clean run also.
The judges said that it was the deepest cut they had ever done, and it was entirely due to the fact that the Freeski and Freeride World Tours were merging for the 2 finals days. That meant they had something like 65 pre qual athletes in total coming in from both tours.
I would say I did pretty well considering usually the cut would be around 25 to 30 in a regular comp.
The good news is that I now have a really good feel for how much harder I need to ski if I want to qualify in the same comp next year.
I would have been more in my element on the finals venue as it was much longer and had a lot more technically challenging options to choose from so I think there would have been potential for me to do quite well there.
I learnt a lot out of this trip and gained more valuable comp experience. I feel my skiing has improved a lot also. So all in all I have made a significant advance in my skiing and mental game.
Bring on the New Zealand winter!
I plan to do the NZ Open, Chill Series and the Xport extremes. In between I will be back working as a ski instructor and hopefully doing some coaching at Cardrona resort.