First, the youthful skiers, ages 12-18, hiked.
From the top of Telluride’s Chair 12 (Prospect Express), they hiked up the ridge toward Black Iron Bowl.
For the first day of competition, they hiked up to the steep black-diamond Genevieve run.
For Sunday’s finals, they hiked farther up the ridge before navigating across treacherous terrain to double-diamond Review.
Then, one by one, they dropped into the breathtakingly steep, tricky and rugged terrain.
Below, a panel of four veteran freeride judges evaluated and scored their runs down to the festive finish area, complete with bumping tunes by an announcer/DJ and the relieved cheers from a choir of parents and friends.
Welcome to the Telluride Nationals of the Rocky Mountain Freeride Series — the first national junior freeride competition in Telluride. A competition, yes, but much, much more.
Skiers and snowboarders from across the United States participated in the Telluride Nationals, hosted by the Telluride Ski & Snowboard Club (TSSC) and Telski, and sanctioned by the International Freeskiers and Snowboarders Association (IFSA).
The participants were judged on the difficulty and creativity of their lines, the fluidity of their skiing, and overall execution on the extreme terrain.
Without fail, each finisher was warmly greeted with hugs and high-fives from their respective teammates.
Even those who crashed and didn’t receive a score were swarmed by well wishers.
“Everyone is super supportive,” said 16-year-old Lucy Hall of the Telluride Ski & Snowboard Club. “I started off with Four Corners Freeride over in Durango, and I got my skills and basics there. Then, this year I switched over to Telluride. Being able to ski this terrain every weekend has been super rad.”
A junior at Animas High School in Durango, Hall came to Telluride every weekend to train with the big mountain TSSC team.
“I’m new to this team, and they still take me in like family,” Hall said. “Now, we’re best friends. It’s super fun.”
Hall, the daughter of Deb and Kevin Hall, posted one of the top scores in the opening qualifying round in the 15-18 age division. She went on to finish fourth in Sunday’s finals. TSSC teammate Chloe Hehir finished third in the female 15-18 finals, earning a spot on the awards podium.
“You killed that chute!” a teammate shouted to Hehir in the finish area after her wild run in the Saturday prelims.
“I was saying just keep it together,” Hehir said. “It was really scary, but fun.”
The high school sophomore, who qualified for the season-ending freeride national championships in British Columbia last season, said she tries to channel her nerves at the start into energy on the run.
“I visualize it,” she said of her routine in the start area. She’s the daughter of Dan and Sue Hehir
Teammate Hall said she combats the nervous anticipation at the start by mentally studying her line, including the rocky jump features.
“I go over my run in my head multiple times so I feel pretty confident,” she said.
Then, she turns on her favorite ski tunes — reggae — and drops in.
First and foremost, she said, participating in big mountain skiing in Durango and now Telluride “has helped my skiing so much. It’s definitely helped a lot.”
The judges obviously agreed.
CARMOLA WINS SECOND-PLACE MEDAL
The judges also acknowledged the extreme skiing of Telluride’s Anthony “Toe” Carmola, who earned a podium position in the male 15-18 category. Carmola finished second in the division with his captivating run in Sunday’s finals. Tanner Moller of Team Summit won the division. Maddie Herman of the Telluride club placed 15th in the female 15-18 division.
She said the big mountain program has improved her skiing and her focus.
“Mostly, when I drop in, I don’t hear anything. I’m just very focused on what I’m doing,” the 16-year-old Telluride native said, crediting her coaches with the ability to channel her nervous energy into her skiing.
The big mountain program has improved her overall skiing, Herman said, “especially with all the features, like cliffs and stuff. It really helps my form. I love working with everybody because I get to learn from all my teammates. It’s super fun.”
Herman, the daughter of Abby and Tom Herman, said the Telluride ski group has a special bond.
“Our team is so close, and we’re all so supportive of each other. It’s amazing to grow together and ski together. I love being part of this team,” Herman said.
The high school junior added a note of philosophical advice: “Have fun while you’re skiing. With everything, really, have fun. And embrace everything.”
In the female 12-14 division, Campbell Carter of TSSC placed second.
Addison Featherman of the Crested Butte Mountain Sports Team won the category.
Hanna Lamm of the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club finished third.
Asher Vorwaller of Altabird Freeride won the male 12-14 division. Sheldon Sims of Aspen Valley was second. Owen Carlson, also of Altabird, placed third.
Telluride was led by Samuel Herman in seventh. Briar Schultz was 10th.
Hayden McJunkin of the Sugar Bowl Ski Team won the female 15-18 division.
Alli Macuga of Park City Ski and Snowboard Team was second. Telluride’s Hehir and Hall placed third and fourth, respectively.
In the lone snowboard competition, male 15-18, Tommy Brown of Team Summit won.
John Olk of Winter park was second with teammate Jack Lanky third.
Skiers and snowboards at the Telluride Nationals also represented Steamboat Springs, Winter Park, Taos, Squaw Valley, Northwest Freeride, Team Breckenridge, Team Summit.
The experienced judging team was led by head judge Darrell Haggard of Summit County. He was joined on the panel by Abbott Smith of Telluride, Ben Blackwood of Crested Butte and Doug Evans of Loveland.
At the pre-event briefing by Haggard, the participants were directed to “be in control at all times.”
“Ski strong and confident. Ski stuff that is fun,” Haggard said, adding that jumps, including 360s, are allowed. But there are no inverted aerials in big mountain competition.
In addition, Haggard encouraged the freeriders to “be respectful” — before, during and after the competition.
MORE THAN COMPETITION
Eric Sortland, the coach of the Four Corners Freeride Team, explained that the big mountain program is about more than competition.
“Definitely, we’re focused on making everyone solid skiers,” Sortland said. “And in our program we’re trying to make it a little wider of a focus, incorporating avalanche awareness, learning about the snow, weather. They can use their skills to compete or if they want they can go into something else. It gives them options in skiing if they want to go guide, be on the ski patrol or be ski instructors.”
Jessica Jones, a Telluride native and graduate of the TSSC freestyle and big mountain programs, also offered her personal testimonial.
The 26-year-old, who now works with the front desk team at the Hotel Telluride, said she learned how to ski extreme terrain safely.
“I grew up in Telluride. I was in freestyle since I was 8 or 9,” she said. “I did big mountain for two years. Eric Dalton was my coach. He’s an awesome person. I did learn a lot from him.”
And her skiing improved dramatically, she said.
“Doing the (freestyle and big mountain) programs is something that really does help someone come out of their shell and learn how to ski better on the mountain we have,” Jones said.