Nobody told the juniors they’re just an opening act |

Nobody told the juniors they’re just an opening act

summit daily news
Summit County, CO Colorado
Summit Daily/Devon O'Neil

CRESTED BUTTE ” If you thought the juniors would be boring; if you thought they’d be throwing puny little airs off of puny little hiccups in the snow, a sideshow of sorts, like an early evening act that had no business opening up for Motley Crue, well, you stopped thinking that pretty quickly.

The 16th annual U.S. Extreme Freeskiing Championships kicked off on Crested Butte’s Big Chute run Wednesday, and the only thing small about the juniors’ qualifying round was the kids who haven’t gone through puberty yet. There were only a couple of those, too, which meant there really wasn’t anything little about the mother event’s blast-off round.

If anything, some of the kids were actually disappointed that they only had one significant huckable feature to leap off of ” Big Chute Rock ” and that the rock only delivered about 15-18 vertical feet of air, if you hit it with a lot of speed.

Hitting it with a lot of speed, by the way, was not a problem with this group. From the 18-year-olds who comprised the division’s upper limit, to the 14-year-olds who filled its lower ranks, the kids must have hidden their fear somewhere in the woods that lined either side of the chute.

Tyler Ceccanti of Washington state went home with the day’s top qualifying score, a 62-point cumulative total that resulted from two nearly identical, 31-point runs. The 17-year-old took a fast, aggressive and, above all else, smooth approach two years after he crashed in qualifying and failed to advance to the main event.

The key, said Ceccanti, who is already sponsored by K2 skis and Smith optics, was “just making sure I got all the features on the hill. Not forgetting anything, keeping it tight, and definitely not stopping. Making it look like I’m skiing the groomed.”

He did that on a 40-degree pitch with airtime a must. His performance was just enough to better that of Morrison’s Matt Potter, who tallied 61 points. Zach Coffey of Gunnison landed in third (57.8), which is exactly where he finished last year’s juniors competition. All of the junior men are competing against a slightly lesser field than there’s been in the past, since three-time defending champ Dane Tudor did not enter the competition.

Among the young ladies, Denver’s Katherine Crew, who skis out of Vail, emerged on top with 52 points. Defending champ and Crested Butte local Francesca Pavillard-Cain, who won last year’s competition at age 14 and is even more talented on freeheel skis, tied Becca Lefanowicz of Lafayette for second (48.00).

According to Pavillard-Cain, the qualifying round is important … but not really.

“I don’t really pick a hard line on the first day because I don’t want to psyche myself out or do something stupid,” she said after declining a large air off Big Chute Rock. “I really push myself the next two days.”

One to watch over the next two days should be Colby Adams of Breckenridge, a 17-year-old Summit High School junior who took fourth Wednesday thanks to the highest single-run score awarded to any girl (29 points).

Adams, who is in line to graduate a year early from high school “so I can ski every day, all day,” wiped out on her second run after a launch went awry. But it didn’t affect her standing too much and she promised the massive airs will continue.

“Bring it on,” she said.

A number of other young studs represented Colorado’s mountains well, including an impressive pair from Aspen, Brandon Clabaugh (tied for fourth, 57.2) and Ian Lowell (seventh, 54.8).

Clabough, a 14-year-old whose skis measure 106 millimeters underfoot, defied what looked like certain carnage on his second run, after soaring off Big Chute Rock larger than all but a few of his elder peers.

“The bigger you go the softer the landing, it seems like right now,” he said after making his big-mountain competition debut. “I tried to go past everyone else’s landing.”

Ian Lockhart of Vail took a similar, don’t-hold-back approach on his first run, and it helped put him in sixth place ” three spots ahead of another Vail skier, Justin Connolley.

“I just try to separate myself from the rest,” Lockhart said of his monster air, “and that’s one way to do it.”

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