Snowbird Freeride Comp Gets Them Amped

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I’m going to give it to you straight. The skiing out here really doesn’t suck as much as you think it should. I’m not saying this because someone gave me a lift ticket or free hotel stay (and I still wouldn’t sugarcoat our ski conditions; I want your trust). I’m saying this because I had a hard time believing the news myself.

We’ve had record-breaking warm temps all week, zero new snow, and heavy traffic at the resorts. Park City Mountain Resort had half-hour lines on a Friday! In my mind, conditions were hardpack on the groomed and hacked-off bumps everywhere else, crispy/crunchies in the trees. When friends skied Canyons Resort last weekend and announced things were “surprisingly good with creamy, buttery groomers and…light, loose snow in north-facing bowls” I had to ski it for myself to believe it.

After three days of aborted attempts (I dashed to don my ski garb first thing in the morning only to find myself sitting behind my computer making excuses for why I wasn’t heading out), I finally rallied. I used the Subaru Freeskiing comp at Snowbird as my motivator.

Photo courtesy Mountain Sports Int’l

Utah’s Mountain Sports International (MSI) is producing the premiere big mountain comp for the 18th season in both North and South America. This is the first stop on the four-event tour. The next SFS event will be March 4 in Telluride, Colo. The champions in both snowboarding and skiing will be crowned at the finals in Big Sky, Mont., March 25.

I stopped into the Cliff, grabbed my media credential and scooted up the Peruvian Lift. The winds kicked up as I hovered over Anderson’s and it grew increasingly wild. I got off and traversed skiers left past the trees, following the wind blown. Untracked and foamy. Sweet, I thought. It was a mixture of flour and pine cones.

I stopped at the comp arena to snap a couple of photos and was nearly blown into the bystanders by the 60 mph winds. It was raging at 120 mph at the top of Silver Fox where the ladies of skiing and boarding lined up for their run. They braved the line (though many biffed) to emerge with the top 13 women that will move into the finals tomorrow (Sunday). The wind put the kibosh on the mens’ runs so off I went to scout the Gad 2 terrain. It was really the only lift left. The Tram, Peruvian, Little Cloud, Mineral; all done for the day thanks to the wind.

Photo courtesy Mountain Sports Int’l

I followed the snow into the trees to skier’s left of Gadzooks and, voile, it was winter again. The snow was soft and caressing. Not deep but any standards but pliable. Everything I sought northfacing felt the same. A smile crept into my day as the trees protected me and the snow from the whipping wind. I forgot everything but my turns. That’s what skiing does to me. The bumps were smallish and soft too until the shots off Gad Gully. Those moguls were huge and firm. I rode up again for more. Soon it was time to head down. There were some patches of hardpack as I worked my way from Gad 2 to the Tram dock but nothing as rough as I had imagined. I wanted more but threats of stronger winds the next day kept me from making plans. Besides, I needed to pack for Jackson. My Wyoming adventure was near.

Organizers decided to postpone the Saturday SFS finals because of more forecasted wind (that never materialized) and will run them today (Sunday) instead. Tomorrow’s forecast calls for sunny, clear skies and low wind. Competitors will be up above North Baldy to drop in at 10 a.m. You can tune in to watch the event live at


LCC local Grant Howard won over the judges and crowd finishing first in men’s ski. In men’s snowboarding semis/finals, it was Snowbird local Harrison Fitch, 19, and Jonathan Penfield who took the show. Fitch did a never-before-in-competition front side rodeo-7 that blew the crowd away.

Since women ski and snowboard competed on Friday, their finals were based on a combined score of the two days. The top three women maintained the points to podium. Ashley Bembenek from Crested Butte, skied a fast, solid line to maintain her first place semi results for the win but it was Freeride Series veteran Crystal Wright who had the “winning run of the day,” with a huge, bold straightline air at the bottom that earned a major Sickbird nomination. 


Women’s Snowboard

1. Audrey Hébert, 112.50

2. Erika Vikander, 110.17

3. Robyn Borneman, 109.33


Women’s Ski

1. Ashley Bembenek, 131.33

2. Kele Thorsen, 129.00

3. Alaina Huestis, 127.67


Men’s Snowboard

1. Jonathan Penfield, 67.33

2. Harrison Fitch, 66.33

3. Cooper Kahlenberg, 62.00


Men’s Ski

1. Grant Howard, 75.00

2. Lars Chickering-Ayers, 74.00

3. Andrew Pollard, 72.67



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