Big mountain skiers line up to compete in Crested Butte |

Big mountain skiers line up to compete in Crested Butte

Special to the DailySeveral Summit County skiers are in Crested Butte this week competing in the 14th annual SAAB U.S. Extreme Freeskiing Championships. Competitors are judged on how they ski rugged backcountry-style terrain.

CRESTED BUTTE – Skiers of only the bravest ilk have gathered in Crested Butte this week for the 14th annual SAAB U.S. Extreme Freeskiing Championships.More than 170 competitors – including a number of Summit County locals – will test their skills on some of the steepest lift-served runs in North America. Skiers will charge down backcountry-style steeps with pitches from 39 to 45 degrees.The qualifying round is today on the “Headwall” face, with the semifinals Friday and finals on Saturday, both in different parts of the Phoenix/Spellbound bowl. Friday, the qualifying field will be cut in half and combined with pre-qualified skiers.Skiers will be judged on several categories, including line, control, fluidity, technique and aggressiveness. But many skiers believe the path they pick is what determines who advances to the next day.

“The most important thing about your run is your line,” said Sam Simonds, a Breckenridge resident competing in Crested Butte this weekend. “There’s a certain line you’ll have to ski to qualify.”Qualifiers were allowed to ski the Headwall on Wednesday to prepare for today’s round. Although there usually is a route the judges reward skiers for choosing, all of the terrain is for experts only.”The line is dangerous no matter what,” Silverthorne resident and former Breckenridge ski racer Tristan Queen said Wednesday after practicing on the Headwall. “There’s always potential for disaster.” Queen grew up racing for Breckenridge, before attending the Univ. of Colorado. This is his first year skiing in big mountain competitions, and he said he believes most competitors will go bigger than they ever have before.

“You don’t know what’s going to happen until you get out there,” Queen said. “You have to get out there and see what you’re made of.”Any skier can qualify to enter, based solely on ability, with the competitor categories split into three divisions: Juniors (14-17), Adults (18-39) and Masters (40 and up).More than $45,000 in cash and prizes is on stake, with $6,500 and Club Med vacations going to the top finishers in both the men’s and women’s adult divisions.Other Summit County competitors include George Cassaletta, Gary Fondl, Darrell Haggard, Noah Labow, John Mason, Michael Raftery, Peter Richmond, Shaun Spacht, Josh Stein, Bruce Stott and Paul Zaleski.

Several of Summit skiers competed in Taos, N.M., last weekend in the New Mexico Extreme Freeride Championships. Fondl skied well, finishing fourth, while Haggard took 12th and Cassaletta skied in 20th.According to Fondl, Haggard had the run of the week.”Darrell stepped it up on the final day with the sickest line of the comp, a 40-foot air to a small pillow of snow and then right off another 40-foot air, stomping both landings,” Fondl said. Andy Frame can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 236, or at

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