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Freeski Tour '99

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Canadian Girls Rip in Utah
Ashton and Peifer Win
Saturday, January 29, 2000

Maybe it's because their northwest mountains were the only ones that got dumped on during the early part of the winter, or maybe it's because they told each other the Canadians had to take it this year, but the Canadian women came to Snowbird, Utah and ruled. Jennifer Ashton and Lee Anne Patterson, from Whistler, BC, and Aleisha Cline from Sun Peaks, BC, won the US Freeskiing Nationals in Friday's finals on North Baldy.

Women's Podium
It's not the first time that a freeskiing championship began with a border crossing, and it won't be the last. The skiers who gathered here at Snowbird follow the snow wherever and whenever they can, and turns are the common language. US and Canadian freeskiing contests spread the love around. Gordy Peifer, local Utah skier who took the Canadian Freeskiing Championships three years ago, won the men's division here in his backyard Wasatch Range.

The Women: Jennifer Ashton Worked It
The top-3 women held on to their positions from the semi-finals all the way to the podium. Though they did not road trip to Utah together, during their travels they hoped the Canadians would take it. With Ashton's $1,000 prize money came five stitches in her lower lip when she landed flat off a jump during the finals, but she was elated to have taken this contest after coming in second in the Whistler event.

"Basically I just picked my line and skied it and it worked for me I guess," said Ashton. "I went off an air and it was a flat landing and I cut my lip, but I still kept on skiing and tried to stay fluid. I have five stitches in my lip, well, four now because one I think came out. But hopefully it's not too fat."

" the next four or five years, I think it's going to be a massive explosion of women just skiing really strong...."— Lee Anne Patterson

Ashton says she's been enjoying the winter in Whistler, where they've been getting the lion's share of snow so far this year, along with a lot of sunny days — unusual for early Northwest winters. She gains inspiration from friends back home.

"I get psyched to ski with many friends of mine from Whistler," Ashton said. "Brent Carlson, a friend of mine who died last week that I'm pretty upset about, he's the one who actually coached me off my first cliff and he was so stoked for me when I landed it. He was like, 'Come on Jenn, you can do it!' Yeah, he's definitely a big one, and there's so many others in Whistler, just friends of mine that I ski with all the time. I couldn't even get into names because I'd miss people and there's so many wicked guys there, and girls, too, who really helped me out."

Though the women's field is still smaller than the men's, and the prize money is less ($1,000 for the top woman versus $5,000 for the top man, but 21 women competed in the semi-finals versus 57 men so the guys have tougher competition), women are pushing themselves harder than ever in skiing. According to 2nd-place Lee Anne Patterson, women are getting better and better.

"I think it's changing because if you look just in the last year, there's definitely more numbers of women and the quality of the women who are coming out to events is definitely getting higher and higher," Patterson said. "So it's just a time thing and it's a social generation thing. Finally women are doing sports; girls are doing sports all through school and not getting out of it when they hit teenage years. So, in the next four or five years, I think it's going to be a massive explosion of women just skiing really strong, or just doing any sport really strong."

Glen McConkey, 57, finished 9th out of 12 female skiers. "The hardest part is knowing where you are on the mountain," explained Glen. "I looked for the cliff sign right up there, then I knew exactly where I was and I came down the main couloir."

Her son Shane McConkey had the best run on the final day, pulling him all the way from 20th to 8th place in the final results. Was she nervous watching?

"Yes, I get sick, actually," Glen said. "But anything that a person can do that makes them stand out as an individual is really great. It's all about being comfortable up there. You can tell when Shane was up there, he made a wedge stop to check himself then went for it off that cliff, and he knows what he can do. Just like you or I know what we can do when we're on a certain run, he knows too, just at a much higher level."

The Men: Gordy Peifer Broke the Tie
Gordy Peifer wouldn't let a Canadian take a men's event. After being tied with Whistler's Hugo Harrison in the semi-finals, Gordy pulled ahead in his final run to win the US Nationals in his home here in the Wasatch Mountains. Harrison was 2nd by a narrow .6 of a point, and Aspen's Chris Davenport was 3rd only .8 of point behind Harrison.

While many of the competitors stayed in Little Cottonwood Canyon for this event, Peifer drives to Snowbird on the canyon road from his house where he and his wife live in Salt Lake City.

"I've got to drive up the canyon every day so I just use that time to get in my zone, get psyched about the day ahead, just reflect on skiing. I try to get pumped up and you've got to use music for that. Like yesterday, I was all fired up so I had Metallica's first album in there just cranking while I was putting my boots on, just getting pumped up so that was cool."

One of the biggest challenges for the men, besides the thin snowpack and exposed rocks everywhere, was waiting at the top due to a course hold from clouds that moved in during their afternoon run.

"I was worried about maybe having some rocks grab my skis, but they didn't and I made it down without a fall...." — Gordy Peifer

"Today's run, we were on ice up there for about three hours waiting to go, but it worked out good," Peifer said. "I scouted my line; I skied it the way I wanted to — didn't fall. I was skiing on rocks on quite a bit of the stuff. I was worried about maybe having some rocks grab my skis, but they didn't and I made it down without a fall so, hopefully, maybe, I'll be up there in the score," Peifer said before the contest was over and his hope became reality.

Although it was a long, cold wait before half the men were able to ski North Baldy, Peifer said the guys made the best of it. "It's pretty cool, I mean there's great camaraderie in the sport, there really is," Peifer explained. "There's no head games. Everyone is just friends and everyone wants each other to ski well, and really that's that bottom line. If people ski well and have a good run and ski up to their ability, then I'm sure they're happy. You know, it's not this mental game — it's a great vibe and we had fun up top today."

Competition was fierce among the men, as shown by Davenport, '97 World Extreme Skiing Champion, who said he skied one of his best runs all season but got third place. "I was feeling a little bit tired and hungry and I wasn't quite sure if I was going to be able to ski the line that I had picked. But as soon as I got into the starting gate, it was my turn to go — the adrenaline juices started flowing. I started getting really psyched right out of the start and pretty much nailed, 100%, the line that I wanted to do. It was difficult; it was a pretty technical line with a lot of drops, a lot of small, small airs and one big air — about 40 feet up higher that I stuck pretty good for me."

The 40-foot air that Davenport stuck was the same air on which Guerlain Chicherit double ejected, putting him in last place. But at the Gravity Games, Chicherit, the '99 World Extreme Skiing Champion, skied a near-perfect, practically flawless run that is going down in modern history as one of the best runs at a freeskiing competition so far. Chicherit did not finish the Gravity Games after biting through his lip on one of the landings during that run, but everybody saw what he did, and they're saying it was epic.

Sverre Lilliequist from Chamonix, France, received the "Sick Bird" award for his embodiment of the passion of this sport. Sverre's line today was a series of fast, non-stop airs to the Burks line (which Will Burks won with last year) and he straight lined it — though he wasn't the only sick bird who straight-lined the Burks line, Will did it again, too. Other nominees included Spencer Wheatly, Shane McConkey, Chris Davenport, Guerlain Chicherit, Brian Swinson, Ben Wheatly and Charlotte Moats.

Michelle Quigley, hucking stories for

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