This week marks the 9th Annual U.S. Freeskiing Open at Vail, Colorado, an event that showcases over 300 athletes-competing for a record-setting $60,000 event purse.
The competition runs from January 18th-21st and showcases men and women competing in the Superpipe and Slopestyle. The weekend culminates early Saturday evening at the base of Golden Peak with the men's Big Air event--expect to see plenty of cab 1080s and all manners of off-axis air. The Crossmax skiercross competition won't be part of this year's event.
Last year, Tanner Hall's signature pipe run landed him a first place nod in the Superpipe, outscoring 16-year-old Sean Field's high-speed, high-amplitude second place finish. T.J. Schiller cemented his place as breakthrough athlete of the year by winning the Big Air. And Charles Gagnier set the stage for his epic X Games win with a first-place finish in Slopestyle. On the women's side, up-and-comer Grete Eliassen came out of nowhere in the slopestyle, and the familiar trio of Sarah Burke, Kristi Leskinen, and Jennifer Hudak duked it out in the Superpipe, finishing in that order.
This year, look out for back-to-back X Games gold medalist Simon Dumont to astonish the 600-deep crowd, and Vail locals Claudia Bouvier and John Spriggs to cash in on their home-park advantage. The Olenick trifecta--Michael, Megan, and Peter--make it a family affair this year. And don't count out exciting performances from X Games podium regulars Jon Olsson and Candide Thovex.Not participating due to injuries this year are Hall and C.R. Johnson, who recently emerged from a 10-day coma resulting from a freak skiing accident during a film shoot at Utah's Brighton ski area, and is recovering at his home in Truckee, California.
Because the competition is open to all athletes without prequalifications, the medals are up for grabs and the nature of an "Open" ensures that new talent will continually emerge. This particular proving ground has served as a career-launching event for Hall and Michael Olenick.
Ski-film gurus Warren Miller Entertainment plan to film, capturing footage for their 2006 feature film and Skiing Magazine will host their First-Annual Slayin' It Awards at Samana bar on Friday night, naming the eleven best skiers in the North America.
Check out continuing live coverage here on skiingmag.com, and check out photos, video, and competition results at usfreeskiingopen.com.