If only the weather had stayed like this all day… photos: Ole Kleim
All week the weather here in Laax had seemed too good to be true for this year’s ninth annual European Freeski Open. And during today’s finals, it turns out that it was too good to be true: a fat cloud rolled in just as the men’s competition was getting underway, forcing several course holds and adding an unexpected twist to what was otherwise a weather-blessed contest.
Announcer Martin Misof had the crowd screaming to keep the clouds away—to no avail.
The women’s final squeaked by right as the weather was closing in, with seven top slopestyle competitors bringing out their best for the sizable crowd that had gathered in the Curnius snowpark to watch. As expected, 14-year-old Estonian wunderkind Kelly Sildaru continued her assault on freeskiing podiums with a first-place run that included a switch 270 on, switch right 540 tail, left 900 tail, switch left 900 mute, a beauty of a rightside cork 720 reverse mute, and a 540 tail and front 450 off the final rail to close things out. And after having already won the contest with her second run, Sildaru went back up and stomped it even cleaner on her third try, adding a pretzel 270 out on the first rail and bumping her score up to a very impressive 95.16.
Veteran American competitor Keri Herman came in second with a run that included a switch right 720, switch right cork 540, left 720 and right cork 720, all grabbed safety (okay, one was high safety), while Swedish ripper Emma Dahlström rounded out the podium in third place with the day’s cleanest 270 on, 270 off, a right 540 safety, switch left 900 mute, left cork 720 japan, and maybe the first quarterpipe handplant in a slopestyle podium run.
Keri Herman coasts to second place.
“We were missing a few of the top girls, but the level was still insane and everyone was pushing it and learning new tricks,” said Dahlström. I was really happy to see everyone doing so well. There were a lot of us trying new stuff out there today.”
“I’m super stoked that Keri is back on the podium,” she added. “She did an awesome job today, keeping it together with good style.”
Then came the men’s final, and suffice to say that things did not go as expected. For one, the clouds rolled in with a determined effort to put a stop to the contest. After two and a half runs in debilitating visibility, a prolonged course hold threatened to limit the comp to the first two runs—potentially throwing out a pair of podium runs that had already been landed in the third run. But finally a hole in the clouds opened enough to run the final five skiers and wrap up the contest without further disruption.
In another surprise, none of the three favored Swiss skiers in the final made it to the podium, even despite triples from Andri Ragettli and Fabian Bösch that weren’t enough to overcome other small mistakes or imperfect executions in their runs.
Land this trick or we’ll wave the flag.
James Woods skied to third place with an explosive run that included a switch 450 on to switch, switch tail butter 540, left double cork 1080 safety to japan, a capped right double cork 1260 blunt and a switch right double cork 1080 octograb.
“This season’s been fantastic for me,” said Woods. “I’ve had amazing results, I’ve been all over the world. But there’s that little thing inside of you that says, coming in fourth sucks—even though it doesn’t really. So it’s nice to break that routine a little bit.”
“Just to get into the finals these days is an achievement you can take to the grave with you,” he added. “It’s incredible to be at this level with everyone skiing so phenomenally.”
Felix Usterud on his way to second place.
Felix Usterud, the top finisher in the semi-finals, captured second place with a left double cork 120 mute to japan, switch right double cork 1080 safety and a switch left double cork 1260 mute.
And as the fog descended, it was Gus Kenworthy who mounted the top of the podium with a 450 on, pretzel 270 off, switch nose butter 540, left double cork 1080 blunt, right double cork 1260 mute, a switch left double cork 1080 blunt, and a massive switch cork 720 on the quarterpipe that sealed the deal.
“I didn’t have that high of expectations for myself today,” said Kenworthy. “I’ve already had a really good contest year, and this was my last event of the year. I just wanted to have fun and put down a run that I was stoked on. To be able to land a run that ended up on top of the podium feels really good.”
That’s a wrap on the 2016 European Freeski Open LAAX – we’ll see you next year!
See the full results here.