Felix Usterud keeps his momentum for a semi-final victory, while Kelly Sildaru dominates the women’s field despite a challenge from a French up-and-comer.
It was another sunny day in Laax, and another action-packed day of competition on the European Freeski Open slopestyle course as both men’s and women’s semifinals went down in pristine conditions on Crap Sogn Gion.
First up were the men: sixteen who had battled their way out of yesterday’s qualifiers and sixteen pre-qualified athletes. Today the wheat would would be separated from the chaff one more time, as these 32 hopefuls would be winnowed down to ten finalists. A few different nations were looking strong coming into the semis: the Canadians with 5 riders, the Swiss with seven, and Norway with a whopping eight skiers still in the mix.
Aside from a few nervous crashes during the first run, the level of competition was very high. Two Swiss riders, Andri Ragettli and Fabian Bösch, unpacked their forward triple cork 1440s on the final jump, the first triples to be seen at this year’s EFO, while top qualifier Felix Usterud stomped his doubles clean and added a huge cork 900 on the quarterpipe at the bottom to maintain his pole position. Antti Ollila impressed with his effortless style, including a switch hand drag 360 on the roller feature that had the style-conscious Laax crowd groaning in delight.
Meanwhile, the Swiss showed that their pool of talent runs even deeper than we thought; in addition their current pack of up-and-comers turned big names (Bösch, Ragettli, Schuler) there were two new Swiss riders in the field, Nando Lehmann and Vincent Schmid, who put up strong performances despite missing the cut for finals.
On the final run of the men’s competition, Kai Mahler squeezed into the tenth finals spot by a hair, edging out Canadian Teal Harle by a hair. But after a vigorous and arguably warranted protest by Canadian coach Rex Thomas, who suggested that there were extra points given for being Swiss, Mahler’s score was adjusted to match Harle’s, and both are currently slated to ski in the finals.
The big story line in the women’s competition—besides the apparently indomitable talent of Kelly Sildaru, who skied to an effortless-looking semis win with polished rail skills, forward and switch 900s and a beauty of an unnatural cork 720 reverse mute—was French youngster Tess Ledeux, who surprised the crowd with a very strong run including a rodeo 7 safety and a cork 720 tail as her countrymen watching on roared their approval. Ledeux secured third place, right behind Emma Dahlström.
The 2016 European Freeski Open LAAX concludes tomorrow with men’s and women’s slopestyle finals — check back here for the full scoop! For full semi-final results, click here.