Course-design collaboration makes U.S. Open debut
COPPER MOUNTAIN Picture Mario Lemieux riding along with the Zamboni driver, pointing at tiny ruts in the ice for the driver to fix. Or Cal Ripken running alongside the grounds crew member who rakes his infield dirt, making sure every last pebble is scooped up and tossed to the side.Tough to imagine, but in the U.S. Freeskiing Open this week at Copper, the relative equivalent is taking place on the vaunted Catalyst Terrain Park slopestyle course, which features four monstrous jumps and a number of rail combinations.Hoping to improve upon the event from its nine previous editions, Open organizers this year called upon a select few athletes to help them tailor the slopestyle course so it would serve the skiers better and make for a more inviting and exciting competition.Event manager Dak Williams offered free airfare and lodging to the Team Salomon manager for any Salomon skier who would agree to come to Copper and provide his input on-site in advance of the event. None took Williams up on his offer, but the input arrived nonetheless; electronically and over the phone, requests from the likes of CR Johnson and Peter Olenick dictating the “general layout” of the course.”How many jumps you’d like to see, how many sections of rails you’d like to see, what types of rails you’d like to see, just so you can challenge yourself,” Williams explained.
In one instance, the skiers requested a rail longer than any Copper had in its arsenal. So park supervisor Adam Tietz constructed one to fit the order.Having athletes’ input taken into consideration at a freeskiing event is nothing novel; however, the Open had never done it prior to this year – and Williams promises to involve the skiers “even more so” in the future.Although time and scheduling will always be an issue, this plan is welcomed by the athletes. They, too, say they enjoy a course that has been influenced by their peers (or themselves) more than one that was constructed solely by park designers. In fact, they want it to become the norm at all freeskiing events.”Athletes usually know what they wanna be on, so when the terrain’s built to what you want to be skiing on, it usually allows people to go a lot bigger and do the tricks they’re capable of,” said Sammy Carlson, 18, last year’s U.S. Open slopestyle runner-up and one of the fastest-rising freeskiers in the industry.”I’d say if there was actual complete athlete input and they listen completely, it’s a huge advantage,” said Simon Dumont, 20, who first competed in the Open at age 14.While you might think park designers would be unwilling to yield control of the baby they brought into the world, that’s rarely the case, especially at Copper.
“Input’s always welcome because the park is all about progression,” Tietz said Wednesday afternoon before prepping the slopestyle course for Thursday’s qualifying heats. “And sometimes you have a hard time seeing outside your box so when you see somebody else’s box, you can get some more ideas.”I’m excited just to have a big contest and have such big names involved with the build.”One of those names is Jon Olsson, the 24-year-old Swedish freeskiing icon who has been earning prestigious podiums since what seems like the mid-’90s. Olsson was not actually involved with constructing the course for this week’s event, but he’s what you’d call a course junkie – and a perfectionist. That combination of characteristics had him shoveling away tiny uneven points in the takeoffs that lead into the massive kickers and rails, first on Tuesday afternoon then again at 7 a.m. Wednesday morning, even though he doesn’t compete until Friday.Olsson dotes on a course like Tiger Woods dotes on his golf swing, taking two weeks to build a single jump for his Jon Olsson Invitational in Sweden – including five days devoted solely to handdigging the takeoff. He has been used as a consultant at a number of events in Europe, helping perfect other courses prior to the competitions, and he wants to start doing so for American events, as well.”The jumps are a lot better than Vail,” he said of Copper’s venue, “but they could be even better if the course was built two weeks ago and they had time to fine tune it.”
Olsson, who calls himself “the most critical person on earth,” later added that he believes the Copper slopestyle venue is the best one he’s ever skied on – “but I’m just looking at what it could be. It could be the best ever and ever and ever.”Time is an issue; the earlier resorts close their terrain park to the public, the more the locals get irked. But in advance of next year’s Open, don’t be surprised to see Williams, the event manager, get what he wished for: skiers on-site, offering their input.Once again, Tietz would welcome that.”You can’t always please everybody,” he said. “There’s the outliers, there’s the one kid who wants it specially built for him and the next guy wants the opposite thing. So you can’t always make everybody smile, but we try to please the group.”Devon O’Neil can be contacted at (970) 668-4633, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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