by Paul Maraschiello
For someone suffering from mogul mania, the time I spent at Breckenridge, was the best possible 10 days anyone could ever spend at any ski area in the world EVER! Now this is a very strong statement. I know, but the statement stands. My evidence to back it up consists of three parts: 1) excellent weather, 2) great snow conditions, and 3) world-class freestyle competitions (plural).
The weather was fantastic, with sunshine and warm temperatures (but not too warm), well-groomed snow and three freestyle competitions that included the last World Cup before the Olympics, followed by the Bumps and Jumps pro mogul competitions and the Budwiser Pro Mogul race the next weekend. What a time to be in Breckenridge!
After skiing a few runs, I worked myself over to the Peak 9 area and spent the afternoon watching world-class Acro-ski and inverted Aerialists do their thing. It was very interesting to see these athletes practice their gymnastic skills on skis.
The World Cup festivities were to be kicked off with the Acro-ski event. I am embarrassed to say that I did not know what Acro-ski was. I was relieved to find out that it was what we called Ballet Skiing, in the "old days". I loaded my camera and slung it around my neck and hit the slopes on another beautiful sunny day.
Watching these athletes perform their acrobatic stunts to music on skis is truly a beautiful thing to watch. Acro-ski is not an Olympic event, but it's very pretty to watch. It's a lot like figure skating on skis, except that the performers do flips using their poles . . . very impressive. Some of these athletes also wear very beautiful costumes that add to the enjoyment of the show. The actual competition was scheduled for the early evening under the lights, so I got all my shots in the bright sunlight. These athletes went through their routines and I was able to get some really great shots.
The first event I watched was the aerials. In this event, skiers come down a man-made ramp with an upturned end (kicker) that shoots them 60 feet above the heads of the spectators, where they flip and turn in the air. I watched skier after skier practice aerial maneuvers high above my head. I shot some of their maneuvers from the landing area, but I was too far away to get a really good shot, so I rode up the chair lift and skied to the top of the staging area for a better vantage point for my photographs.
When I arrive at the staging area, I was delighted at the shots that were possible and the close proximity I had to these top freestyle athletes from all over the world. This was just a day for practice jumps, so there was a very relaxed atmosphere at the jump. Russian aerialist, Alex Mikhailov had his shirt off and was working on his tan in between jumps . . . just a day at the beach for this "Ruski" flyer.
Others were standing around in small groups chatting or preparing to climb up to the starting area for the jumps. I watched aerialist after aerialist do death-defying jumps high up in the air. I shot a roll of film at the practice, knowing that they had predicted snow for the day of the competition and the likelihood of a good shot on the actual day of competition was nil. After I got all the shots I needed, I moved over to the Acro-ski area.
That night the competition was held under the stars. Beautiful, graceful performances were executed by athletes from over a dozen countries. The Women's competition was a clean sweep for the Russian team with Elena Batlova winning the gold, Natalia Razumovskaya placing second and Oksana Kushenko finishing third. The USA won two medals in the men's event with American, Steve Roxberg being edged out of first place by Konrad Helpert of Switzerland, with Ian Edmondson of the USA winning the bronze medal.
The next day started out as another wonderfully sunny day with warm temperatures. It began to cloud over by the time the mogul competition started, but the light was still good. I watched one super bump skier after another charge down the mogul course. Knees pumping like pistons as they absorbed mogul after mogul, running straight down the fall line of Mach I. I found out just how steep it was when I tried to ski down along the sidelines to get top a good vantage point for photographs. I had all I could do to ski and sideslip down the hill to get to where I wanted to be and I'm a pretty good skier.
When the action started, I had the pleasure to see all the top athletes that would be competing in the Olympic mogul competition do their stuff for the last time before Nagano. This was a real thrill.
After the qualification runs were over, I skied to the chair. Using my press credentials, I cut the line and called out for a single. A guy raised his hand just as Donna Weinbrecht skied up behind me. I turned to her and introduced myself as a journalist and asked if she would ride up in the chairlift with me. She agreed, on the stipulation that I would not interview her. I said OK, and hopped into the chair next to one of the best freestyle athletes in the world. I told her who I was and mentioned that I had been "Crazy Ernie's" roommate, my last year at Killington. Of course, she knew "Crazy Ernie." She made an instructional how-to-ski-the-moguls video for Killington with my x-roommate, Bob Aldighieri, John Lamb and some of my other fiends from many years ago. She said she wanted to "keep focused," so we talked about our mutual friends and the old days at Killington.
I reminded her of the day she and I had skied together at Killington. I had been skiing with John Lamb and another Killington ski instructor when a group of kids caught up with us on Cascade. These kids were all hot and I was skiing well above my normal ability thanks to John Lamb. When I finished the best run I had ever had on Lower Cascade, I turned just in time to see Donna descend through the bumps. I could not believe my eyes. This gal was really GOOD! I asked John who she was and he explained that she was the girl who had just won the Bear Mountain Mogul Challenge. At that moment, looking up at Donna ski the bumps with her friends, with the bright sunshine gleaming off her golden hair on a beautiful spring day at Killington, I came to the conclusion that skiing is better than sex. After all, I can SKI all day long!
Donna and I talked about the old days, I could see her relax as she reminisced about skiing the bumps with her gang. "In the old days, I pushed the sport," she shared. "Now the sport is pushing me," this beautiful blond freestyle skier told me. It was a real pleasure to see the wistful look in her eyes as she remembered a more mellow time when there were no pressures. I could see that I had kindled memories of the days when the size of the tips at the Pasta Pot, where she waited tables with my old friend Tex, was her biggest concern. It was those days at Killington, skiing every day that perfected the skills that have earned her more than 50 national and international victories. I was looking forward to seeing the world-class champion kick a little butt in the bumps.
After lunch, I was back on Mach I, cameras in hand, watching the members of every Olympic Freestyle Team compete for the last time before their pilgrimage to Nagano for the Winter Olympics. I was not disappointed, the bump skiing was stupendous. I was getting a preview of the Olympic games and I did not even need to leave the USA.
The women went first. Each gal flew through the bumps one at a time, racing the clock, coming straight down the fall line, doing two mandatory jumps before stopping in front of the judges stand. I saw Jenny Eidolf and Sara Kjellin, both from Sweden, come in 1st and 2nd and watched Donna Weinbrecht edged out of 3nd place by Kelly Ringstad of Canada. I knew then,
that these world-class athletes were all closely matched and any of them could win at the Olympics, even the "old woman" of the sport Donna Weinbrecht.
Next came the men's event. These are some of the best bump skiers in the world and they were primed for this event. Each competitor came charging down this steep slope doing air off each jump as they raced the clock and tried to make a series of perfect turns toped with two excellent aerial maneuvers. It did not take long to see that "air" was going to make the big difference this day. "Big Air" was a real crowd pleaser and made the difference in the final marks a skier received from the judges. I soon came to the conclusion that a "helicopter" combined with a tight, fast run through the bumps was the winning combination. I did not know how right I was until Jonny Moseley started his run. He hit the course smoking, this kid was fast and he was hot! His second jump brought loud cheers from all the onlookers. He hit the second jump and did something I had never seen before. He did a helicopter with an iron cross and he grabbed his skis while in midair. The crowd screamed and I knew that this mogul specialist had earned high marks for his performance. Landsburgh from Sweden and Rochon from Canada followed, but their performances were far below Moseley's. Then came Evan Dybvig. This kid was hot too. He flew through the bumps with the third fastest time of the day and he did some very fine air too. The day finished with Moseley in 1st place and Dybvig in 2nd.
After the race, I was in the winners circle interviewing the competitors. I interviewed Moseley and asked him about Japan. He told me that he planned to do the same jump in the Olympics and it proved to be enough to give him a gold medal and pleased the fans in Nagano as much as it did in Breckenridge. I had a chance to talk to Evan Dybvig and asked him what was next? He said he hoped that his performance that day was good enough to earn him a slot on the Olympic Freestyle Team. I was surprised that the list of competitors was not already set. He went to Japan but did not qualify for the finals. It's too bad. He's a tremendous athlete with tons of talent. Watch for him in the future, I predict he will have an excellent career.
I interviewed Donna and asked her if she had anything to say to all the fans in Vermont and those all over America. She asked all of them to root for her and reminded them that all the races were held a day earlier because of the different time zone in Japan. I kept the interview short. I didn't want to bother Donna. She was very busy giving interviews and making presentations. She is a BIG star, after all.
The next day the aerials were held. It snowed and I was really glad that I had gotten a lot of really great photos during practice a few days before. Top international aerialists shot into the air all day. Watching these flyers do their thing is a real thrill. They start down a steep ramp and curves up at the end and launches them high into the air where they do triple back flips while also turning in the air.
Just watching them do their gyrations makes me dizzy, but the thought of doing it myself is beyond comprehension. Jumper after jumper turned and twisted in the air. Most of them making clean landings, with only very few falls. The final results put Kip Griffin of the USA in 1st place, Canadians David Belhumeur and Nicholas Fontaine placed 2nd and 3rd, with sunbather Alex Mikhailov coming in 4th. Dave won the event with a back , full, full, full (a full is a flip AND a complete twist) for his first jump and a back full double full, full for his second jump.
The women's event was won by Jacqui Cooper of Australia who completed a back-layout, tuck full for her first jump and a back, full, lay, full, full for her second jump. 2nd place honors went to beautiful Nikki Stone of the USA. She completed a back full double full for her first jump and a back, lay, tuck full for her second jump. The additional degree of difficulty of Cooper's second jump being the major difference between the two performances. Nikki Stone learned this lesson and won the Olympics by an almost flawless performance of the most difficult jump in the women's competition. 3rd place went to Colette Brand of Switzerland.
SPRINT BUMPS & JUMPS
Another great day at Breckenridge. Sunshine, warm weather and over 40 top professional mogul mashers were competing for cash prized. This event was a dual competition with two skiers battling each other for honors. The top prize was $6,000 with $3500 for second place, $2600 for third, $1,500 for forth, and so on down to$200 for 16th (last) place in the finals.
The Mano-A-Mano competition brought many former World Cup competitors out to earn a little extra cash in the bumps. I took a few shots at the start and then moved down the hill. The sidelines were bumped up and I thought the spectators deserved a medal for even trying to ski down the narrow sidelines, when I saw a competitor who had washed out in the preliminaries ski down the fall line with a big back pack on his back. I pointed my skis downhill and was able to link a few good turns before I reached my destination at the second jump. I took off my skis and staked out my turf. I was soon joined by a photographer named Kent from the Denver Post and a number of other onlookers, photographers and fans.
As the competition began, Curtis Tischer beat Mickey Price won the first race. Next, Bob Aldighieri defeated Chris Dropps and when the announcer said his name, it rang a bell. I had heard that name before, I knew it. Other heats went off and soon the quarter finals were over.
There was a guy standing next to me with a very fancy ski outfit. It was covered with patches from companies in the ski industry and he looked like a competitor, ether that or a "turkey" with excellent taste in ski wear. I noticed a number of Jackson Hole lift tickets hanging from his outfit. I had a feeling that he was a "hot" skier and bet that he might know my old roommate from Killington, "Crazy Ernie" Forst who had migrated to Jackson Hole and was reported to be the King of the Mountain on his new turf. "Crazy Ernie" had been on the pro freestyle circuit when he lived with me and was still a top skier. If this guy was in with the "in-crowd" at Jackson Hole, he would know Ernie.
After the end of the next race, I asked him if he knew Ernie. He said he did and I introduced myself and explained the connection. He told me that his name was Turbo Turner and he had also lived at Killington, moving there the year after I moved away. We chatted about mutual friends and Killington, and he pointed out that there were two former Killington people competing in the race. One was Chuck Martin whose name was a familiar one and the other was Bob Aldighieri. Then it hit me, I remembered where I had heard that name before. There was a young kid that tagged along after "Crazy Ernie". This kid's name was Bob Aldighieri, he was one of the skiers that made the mogul video with Ernie, John and Donna!
I watched the competition with renewed interest, as the years passed in my mind. I began to remember the many visits Bob had made to my house in Killington so many years ago. Now I had someone to cheer for. Bob had been a pal of my roommate and any friend of "Crazy Ernie's" was a friend of mine. In the next heat, Aldighieri defeated Curtis Tischier and was on his way to victory.
The Next race was between Ean Smith and Sean Smith with Sean emerging as the victor. Rex Wehman defeated Andres Jones and Mike Hilb beat Christian Marcoux. I was rooting for Marcoux. I had ridden up the chairlift with him and he was an interesting guy. He told me that ether he won or he crashed. He was into "big air" and he was ether going to win that day or crash and burn! This was just not his day.
I saw competitor after competitor do double jumps, Daffy/Twisters, Helicopters, Cossack jumps and others. They would blast through the bumps take air, come back down and carve perfect turn after perfect turn, knees, highlighted with bright patches, almost hitting their chests as they sped toward the next jump.
The semifinals saw Bob Aldighieri defeated by Sean Smith and Andres Jonell blown away by Mike Hilb. In the consolation, Bob Aldighieri defeat Andres Jonell for third place and in the finals, Sean Smith emerge victorious in his battle with Mike Hilb and win the $6,000 purse. After the race, I was down in the winners circle taking pictures and interviewing the winners.
Sean Smith was delighted with his win and planned to be back the next weekend to compete in the Budwiser Pro Mogul Tour, along with Bob Aldighieri, Chuck Martin and many other top mogul skiers.
BUDWISER PRO MOGUL TOUR
Over 40 competitors qualified for the Budwiser Pro Mogul Tour. It was another glorious day at Breckenridge with bright sunshine and warm temperatures. The mogul course was fast and it promised to be an excellent day of bump bashing and big air. Some of the top US, Canadian and even European competitors were on hand to mash the moguls and do aerial maneuvers in the Colorado sunshine.
The day was too beautiful to spend watching the qualification rounds, I had to get on my boards and make a few runs down the mogul fields and groomed slopes on Peak 9 and 10. I hit Crystal, Centennial, Doublejack and Bronco and then took a leisurely run on Red Rover to pick up the Beaver Run Super Chair. I hit Gold King and then took Shock to the VIP tent which was located on the bottom of Shock and had a commanding view of Mach I where the battle in the moguls was to take place. I helped myself to lunch, while watching the field of competitors ski head-to-head. The view was excellent and I enjoyed the spectacle of top professional mogul skiers competing for big bucks.
At the end of the first round, I decided to get a better view and rode chair E to the top and proceeded to ski to the top of Mach I. When I got to the sidelines at the top of the run, I decided to ski to where the action was. Jump two is where the biggest air would happen and that is where I wanted to be. I pointed my skis down the hill and was surprised to find that the moguls on the sidelines were very icy. It had been warm during the day and cold at night and the heavily skied bumps had set-up like cement. These conditions were going to make for a very interesting competition. I got there, took off my skis and climbed up on the platform that Breckenridge had erected by the second jump.
The competition was intense. I saw more hot skiers battling in the bumps than I had ever seen in one afternoon. There were hot runs and blow outs, crashes and big air. The Red and Blue sides of the run seemed to be equal, the only difference would be the talent of the skiers and their ability to keep it together on a steep, fast, icy run.
I saw pair after pair of skiers duel in the bumps. Usually, I could call the winner. The first one to the bottom wins, in most cases. Then there is the "air". Sometimes, the fastest man down the hill got beat by the one who performed the best air of the two jumps.
Almost all of the skiers did doubles on their jumps. They did Daffies, Dual Exhausts, Back Scratchers, Iron Crosses, Helicopters, Spread Eagles, and more, sometimes doing doubles and combinations that always excite the crowd. The more difficult the jump, the more points for "air".
One thing seems to hold true, helicopters rule. If a skier could throw a good 360 and carve fast turns, he would win. You not only had to smoke the bumps, you had to do big "air". . . that day, I saw plenty of both.
Both skiers that I was rooting for, Aldighieri and Martin (former Killington boys, like me) were defeated in the quarter finals. When I found that I had no one to root for, I was joined on the platform be a Swede who was a friend of Andres Jonell. Jonell had beaten my boy Chuck Martin in the quarter finals and he was hot. Soon this enthusiasm for Jonell had spread to me and I cheered for him as he disposed of John Smart and emerged as the victor of this bump competition. I interviewed Jonell, who has spent years on the Swedish World Cup Team. He told me that he enjoying the "relaxed" atmosphere of pro racing and really liked the money. He said that he planned to stay in America and ski bump races as long as he could win prize money and have fun. I had a chance to talk to Chuck Martin, who told me that he really liked the conditions that day. "The moguls were icy," he said. "That gave the skiers from Killington a real edge." "We call that kind of ice Killington Powder," I said. We both laughed.
I renewed a few old friendships and made some new friends on the pro circuit that week. I invited a few of the top competitors to Killington for the bump races at Bear Mountain, where I celebrate my birthday every year. The race at Breckenridge kept reminding me of the Bear Mountain Mogul Challenge that happens at Killington in the early part of every April, where warm weather and plenty of snow is the rule. This year I hope to see some of my new friends ski at the area where I cut my teeth and developed my terminal case of mogul mania and became a real Ski Bum.