I was excited when I heard that Killington was going to host the 2006 Sprint U.S. Freestyle Championships. Donna Weinbrecht had mentioned that she was going to be there and Johnny “O”, the Director of the Killington Race Program had also told me about this event. It sounded like it was going to be a great event, so I marked it on my calendar.

I was staying at the The Inn at Rutland, just 10 miles from Killington on Main St. in Rutland, Vermont. This B&B was voted the “Best B&B in Rutland” six years in a row. Staying at this stately Victorian mansion gave me a taste of what is was like to be well-to-do in the 1800’s in New England. There are only eight rooms at this Inn and each room has a theme. My room, the Bennington Room, was furnished with antiques and had a queen-sized four-poster bed, TV, sitting area, porch and private bath.

In the morning I was treated to a sumptuous breakfast served in their stately dining room. We had a three-course gourmet breakfast each morning that started with fresh fruit, OJ, hot cereal, homemade breads and fantastic main courses, like creme brulee French toast topped off with cups of hot coffee and friendly conversation. Daily room rates in the off-season begin at $100 with in-season rates range from $150 to $220 per night (double occupancy). When you feel like getting away to a really elegant Vermont B&B and pampering yourself, call: (800) 808-0575.

The Events
I headed up to Killington for a little skiing and a lot of Freestyle. It was a great day. The sun was shining and it was warm on this beautiful spring day. After warming up on Superstar, I headed over to Bear Mountain to check out the Freestyle venues. They were holding the events on Outer Limits and there was a real party atmosphere at Bear Mountain. They set up a BBQ and bar on the porch and there were hundreds of fans eager to watch some of the top Freestyle competitors in the USA battle it out in bumps and jumps and a rock band played after the competition.

I made a run down Wildfire and decided that I should check out the aerials venue on Outer Limits. Riding up the Outer Limits chair, the slope looked like it was in great shape. I was right, the moguls were medium-size and the snow was “ego snow”. Even I looked good coming down Outer Limits. I was forced to take several more runs before shooting photos of the aerialists

The Aerials
All the fans that showed up were treated to some spectacular tricks off the kickers that were built on lower Outer Limits. Skiers flew threw the air doing flips, 1080’s, doubles, triples, quad triples and more.

The U.S. Ski Team took all the aerial honors for both the men and women. Jeret “Speedy” Peterson told the crowd that there was a hurricane warning in effect. He made his forecast come true during aerials competition when he completed his signature trick, the “hurricane” (three flips and five twists) and won his 2nd U.S. aerial competition. Jeret who hails from Boise, ID placed 1st with a score of 250.86, Ryan St. Onge, from Steamboat Springs, CO, came in 2nd with 211.73, and Eric Bergoust, from Missoula, MT, was 3rd with a 201.53.

A bunch of really young kids were also competing. There were Freestyle Teams from all over America doing their stuff. Some of the youngest didn’t even go inverted but all of them had more guts than I have! It was interesting to see how these youngsters start off with the easiest of jumps and the more experienced work their way to the most difficult. I met some future Olympians that weekend, I’m sure of it. I was impressed when one of the young competitors went off the jump backwards!

Peterson wanted to prove to himself that he had what it takes after dragging a hand at the Olympics and finishing seventh. His “hurricane” carries the hardest degree of difficulty of any trick in an aerialist’s arsenal. It seems that the judges in Torino were giving really high marks for clean jumps and discounting difficulty. Because of this, two out of three on the Olympic podium down-graded their jumps. Dmitri Dashinski from Belarus should have won the Gold at the Olympics with the degree of difficulty but they gave it to Xiaopeng Han from China who decided to down-grade his jump. Even 3rd place winner Vladimir Lebedev from Russia down-graded his trick to garner a place on the Olympic podium.

“Speedy’s” clean “hurricane” landing propelled him nearly 40 points ahead of teammates. He said he didn’t come to nationals with intentions to throw the “hurricane”. According to him, he performed the jump better in Torino, but got the gold Saturday because of his clean landing.

Kate Reed from Montrose, CO, captured her first U.S. title, placing 1st in the aerials for the women with a 160.43. Jana Lindsey from Black Hawk, SD,, was 2nd with 149.89, and Emily Cook from Belmont, MA, placed 3rd scoring 142.55.

“Having a victory today is awesome,” said Reed. “I had a rough season, so this was a great way to end the year. . . It was an Olympic year, and that was always in the back of my mind, to the point where it started to affect my performance.”

Reed threw a back Full-Full (two flips, two twists) followed by a back Lay-Full (two flips, one twist) “I finally feel like my old self, with my old mindset,” Reed explained. “It was great to jump without that feeling of ‘I have to qualify for the Olympics.’ I’ve definitely broken down some barriers for myself in the last month and that will go a long way in the future.”

Kelly Hilliman showed up to cheer her teammates on, even though she was walking with a cane. She is recovering from a broken leg and it was really nice to see how happy all her friends were to see her walking around under her own power. It was good to see this spunky gal from my home town up and around.

Mogul, Moguls, and More Moguls
Sunday, it was Dual Moguls. Outer Limits was bumped up bigger than on Saturday and the moguls grew as the day went on. On the podium, Vermont native Hannah Kearney grabbed her second U.S. title of the weekend at Killington during the Nature Valley Freestyle Challenge dual moguls event. Sarah Ruckriegle, Breckenridge, CO was 2nd, McKenzy Golding, Reno, NV was 3rd, and Caterina Mader, Steamboat Springs, CO was 4th

Kearney, 20, won the individual U.S. moguls on Friday. She also won the nationals in Missoula, Mont., in 2003. This was her first dual moguls title. She attributed success to increased physical training last summer.

For the menSho Kashima (Zephyr Cove, NV) was 1st with David Babic (Washington, VT) 2nd and Bryon Wilson (S. Taylorsville, UT 3rd withDavid DiGravio (Farmington, ME) placing 4thin this thrilling event.

Kashima out-skied the U.S. Ski Team, including a finals race against David Babic to win his first U.S. title. “It always feels good to win, but it feels especially good today and end the year on such a positive note, after having such a tough and disappointing season,” said Kearney, the 2005 Worlds champ and three time World Cup winner. “I put down five runs today and two the day before yesterday that were the cleanest, most consistent of my season and I was really happy to have that.”

Kashima knows exactly what it’s like to go for broke against national team athletes at the U.S. Championships. He’s participated four times now, finally earning his first win. Kashima placed seventh in the individual moguls competition Friday.

“I know I was competing against the top athletes in the country,” said Kashima, “so I just tried to let it rip, ski as fast as I can, and take the bottom air as huge as possible.

It was interesting to see the U.S. Ski Team coaches watch the up-and-coming bumpers and aerialists do their thing. I’m sure some of the kids I saw this weekend will wind up on the U.S. Ski Team some day.

Kearney, 20, won the individual U.S. moguls title Friday for the second time in her career. She also won at nationals in Missoula, Mont., in 2003. However, this was the first dual moguls title of her career.

“I like dual moguls because it’s really competitive,” said Kearney. “Having someone skiing next to you, racing you, pushes you to limits you might not push for otherwiseÂ… I was really impressed with everyone’s skiing today. I felt like the other skiers were really gunning for me, but I just tried to ski my own race and it paid off.”

Olympic Bronze Medal winner Toby Dawson was there but he did not compete

Great weather, great skiing and a carnival atmosphere were the hallmarks of this weekend a Killington. YOU SHOULD HAVE BEEN THERE!

It’s rare that I spend that much time at Bear Mountain but I skied Outer Limits better and more often than I have ever skied it. After the event, I headed over to Killington Peak. As luck would have it, I was just behind a bunch of the U.S. Ski Team bumpers on the chair and had the pleasure of following them down Superstar. I was able to keep up with these guys for a little while on Superstar. They were just PLAYING, skiing down this expert bump run but I had all I could do just to ski it behind them. Looks like I’ll never make the U.S. Freestyle Team, even if they create a “Senior Division”.