Skier X Seeding

January, 23, 2009
Jan 23
07:13
PM ET
By Brian Kamenetzky
Joshua Duplechian
As the afternoon progressed on Buttermilk Mountain, the weather continued to swing moods like a teenage girl. The fog and snow that plagued the SnowboarderX time trials dissipated as the women took to the course, but just as the run seemed to get worked in, all the nastiness came back. From there, things changed moment to moment with times suffering as a result. When it was done, I asked Casey Puckett, who qualified 13th in the 24 skier field, about the conditions. All he could do was roll his eyes. Fortunately, today's events didn't eliminate anyone from the field, but simply set the heats for the rest of the comp.

The scattershot times will make for great matchups come Sunday, especially in the Men's Final, with a lot of quality skiers matched up against each other. Advancing won't be easy.

More notes:
1. Last week, I emailed Canadian Stanley Hayer before the comp to get his thoughts on a dark horse candidate. His response: "Brian Bennett is on a roll right now, look out for him if he can keep his head on his shoulders." Apparently, Bennett is screwed on tight, because he qualified second. Hayer, last year's silver medalist, came in fourth.

2. 22-year-old X Games greenhorn Brady Leman, who hasn't finished higher than 11th on the World Cup circuit, was a surprise as the top qualifier, earning first gate pick for the rest of the comp. Leman was hauling, too, besting Bennett by over a second.

3. No shockers on the women's side, as Ophelie David, gold winner last year at X and overlordess of the international circuit, was over a second faster than Magdalena Jonsson.

4. Given the length of the course, the tough conditions, and the abundance of practice time, tomorrow's day off will be a welcome break for all the athletes.

5. Chris Del Bosco (12th) didn't seem surprised by the slow times turned in by some favorites. "It's been like that all year on the World Cup. Some really good guys have been qualifying slower. If it's slow when we're racing heats, everyone has to deal with the same conditions, so it'll be good racing either way."

Not everyone seemed as confident as Del Bosco about what'll happen if the course is slow on Sunday. Hopefully things clear up and nobody has to find out.

6. Mono Skier X qualifying was pushed back to Saturday afternoon.

Results: Men

1) Brady Leman, 95.52

2) Brian Bennett, 93.53

3) Tomas Kraus, 93.84

4) Stanley Hayer, 93.87

5) Lars Lewen, 93.91

6) Daron Rahlves, 94.23

Results: Women

1) Ophelie David, 106.05

2) Magdalena Jonsson, 107.26

3) Julia Murray, 107.48

4) Karin Huttary, 109.36

5) Ashleigh McIvor, 110.98

6) Jenny Owens, 111.88

Oh Ophelia

January, 23, 2009
Jan 23
05:34
PM ET
By Brian Kamenetzky
Given how she tends to dust whatever field she's in, most don't get a chance to violate the sticker's sense of proximital appropriateness. Today was no different, as David bested the field to log the top seeding time for Sunday's Skier X Women's Final.

Seeding Notes: Snowboarder X

January, 23, 2009
Jan 23
02:51
PM ET
By Brian Kamenetzky
Weather was the major storyline in this morning seeding session on the X Course for Men's and Women's SnowboarderX. Overnight, a few inches of wet, heavy snow blanketed the run, and snow continued intermittently throughout making for slower conditions and times. The bigger- or at least more visually impressive- factor though, was fog, all pea-soupy and British. More than a few riders commented that lack of visibility made it tough to negotiate the course's many features. Yet another reason for top athletes to develop sonar. It works for bats.

BKam

Other notes:

A. Each rider was given two runs down the course, a change from last year, and something I got wrong in last night's wrap. Curse you media guide! Either way, conditions made it tough for riders to improve on their opening runs, and very few did.

B. It was a great day for the US. Whatever wax tech Andy Buckley did with his magic potions and pixie dusts worked, because the top four men's qualifiers were all his guys: Nate Holland, Graham Watanabe, Seth Wescott, and Nick Baumgartner. Lindsay Jacobellis was the top qualifier among the women.

C. Shaun Palmer took a nasty fall through the rollers on his second run, banging his head on the snow and bouncing around pretty good. Fortunately, he was soon up and walking around, and seemed more concerned about his board than his health. He qualified eighth off his first run.

D. Tara Dakides, who hasn't competed in SnowboarderX since '99, had a rough return, qualifying in 12th and final position, with a time well off the pack.

E. For Watanabe, who at 5'6", 150 lbs. is particularly affected by slow conditions, the solid qualifying time was welcome. He's hoping the extra features on this year's course (read: less gliding time) will give him an advantage. "It suits my riding style. Being really active and hopefully having more stamina than the guy next to me. Certainly those opportunities to gain momentum are better, rather than just gliding and watching people zip by you."


Results: Women

1) Jacobellis, 110:38

2) Sandra Frei, 111.17

3) Zoe Gillings, 111.84

4) Mellie Francon, 113.48

5) Maelle Ricker, 114.11


Results: Men

1) Holland, 101.26

2) Watanabe, 101.70

3) Wescott, 101.82

4) Baumgartner, 102.08

5) Stian Sivertzen, 102.21

Wescott Friday

January, 23, 2009
Jan 23
11:50
AM ET
By Brian Kamenetzky
Josh Dick
Thursday I posted the first part of my conversation with SnowboarderX podium fave Seth Wescott, divided in two (I have a daily quota, people). Below is Part Deux, filled with some friendly smack talk.

How much do Friday's time trials matter in terms of the eventual result? Lane pick can be a pretty big deal, right?
Lane pick is huge. It always is. This one's a pretty fair start, so lane pick will matter less here than typically, but it still matters because a good lane helps you get to the line you want without extra movements. If you can just pin it straight the whole way in to where you want to be, you're going to be the fastest one. So that's definitely important.

Other than that, you never really get any feedback through the practice days other than knowing your lines and the right places to be of how fast it really is. With the seeding, you get to see if you're riding faster than your teammates, or that you made a mistake in one spot or another that needs to be fixed before Saturday. It's the first test, the first thing that won't lie to you.

I asked Nate [Holland] earlier if there was someone who he could live with ruining his quest for the fourpeat without getting mad. The only name he came up with was his brother Pat. Are you prepared to get Nate ticked off?
Yeah. It was funny, because he definitely clicked into a different mode when he got here yesterday, but truth be told he hasn't been riding that well this year. He's been qualifying back a little further in the pack and going out in early rounds. It'll be interesting to see how this week works for him.

Is it hard to turn it on and turn it off? I know he's confident here.
I think it is. But it depends. I think he's maybe a little out of shape compared to where he's been other years, and that shows a bit in his riding that's happened so far this year. So we'll see. It's harder to ride this course when you're out of shape because there's more work to do and we're at a higher altitude than we've been all year. We'll see how ready he is once we hit the time trial.

Are you feeding him extra cheeseburgers?
No. We get along great- we're roommates- it's fine. We're all here to do the same thing. It gets tense at times because of that when people are up or down, but that's just part of the whole process of being part of a team and living together.

Who else should people be looking for?
I think Palm (Shaun Palmer) is going to ride well. He's super motivated, and had a week off, which was huge. We traveled 28,000 miles I think in the last two weeks with plane flights, and he got to be at home resting. That's going to help him. And Marcus Schairer, clearly. He's been on fire all year. He and I have been one, two, one, two, one, two in all the World Cup time trials. He was behind me when I won that World Cup in Arosa, he won Worlds last week. He's motivated, and getting second here last year, I think he's probably fired up to ride well, too.

Thursday is Dead, Long Live Friday

January, 22, 2009
Jan 22
10:01
PM ET
By Brian Kamenetzky
Brian KamenetzkyShaun Palmer still has tricks up his sleeve.
Finally, the practice days are over, and Friday the competition begins! Things will get kicked into high gear Saturday and Sunday but tomorrow marks seeding day for SnowboarderX and SkierX (men and women folk alike), and Mono SkierX as well. The rules are pretty simple:

A) SkierX (12:30 pm- 2 pm): The men and women each get two runs to establish seeding. The men will be ranked 1-24 (because there are 24 of 'em), the women 1-12 (because there are 12 of 'em). Nobody gets eliminated, but the faster skiers get the benefit of an easier path to the Final and better lane position.

B) SnowboarderX (9:30 am- 11 am): See above, except everyone gets one run. And they're on snowboards, not skis.

C) Mono SkierX (2 pm-4 pm): The three medalists from last year (KJ van der Klooster- easily the most fun thing to say at Winter X Games, Tyler Walker- currently racing offsite, but if he gets here in time, he's in, and Chris Devlin-Young) are pre-qualified into the semis, as well as top notch rates on home loans. The rest of the field will compete for the remaining five semi-final spots time trial style.



Quote of the Day:
Shaun Palmer on whether or not it's tough to get motivated for his10th Winter X Games: "It's fun when you've got a good course and the weather's nice and you're having a blast and you're fast, but those mornings when it's flat light, icy and you've got to hang it to win and you're 40, it's a little different."

Bramble Rambles

January, 22, 2009
Jan 22
09:55
PM ET
By Brian Kamenetzky


I don't know if Vegas sets odds on this one, but if so Kevin Bramble is doing you a solid.

Oh, Jenny

January, 22, 2009
Jan 22
07:51
PM ET
By Brian Kamenetzky
Brian Kamenetzky
Last year, Australian skicrosser Jenny Owens arrived in Aspen without a coach or a tech (and still pushed into the finals of the Skier X Women's comp) and was footing the bill for many of the expenses associated with her race career. This year, things are looking up. "My whole program has been covered by my federation because of my results last year. It's not really costing me anything this year. It's helping."

Her lovely Aussie lilt only underlines the understatement of those last two words.

Beyond the financial backing, Owens also is working with a coach, and has some tech support in '09. Still, she might have more incentive to win than the average competitor. Since Australia isn't exactly the mecca for snow sports on this or any other planet, Owens has carried the extra burden of more and longer flights, more hotels, more rental cars, more meals out. And don't get me started on exchange rates.

"I just need to win a lot more races to pay off the debt I've built up over the last three years. A win here would be great, but wouldn't even scratch half of it—I'd still have to win a couple more X Games until I paid it all off."

Weather Or Not

January, 22, 2009
Jan 22
07:37
PM ET
By Brian Kamenetzky
weather.com
The skiers and snowboarders have had scads of time to take in every nuance of the X Course over the last couple days, and will have even more prep time ahead of Friday's qualifying runs. Unfortunately, there's one thing that could throw all their careful work out the window: Weather.

The news isn't good. According to the fine folks at NOAA (The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, where astronauts and heads of state go to get their weather information), Aspen is looking at some funky conditions over the next few days. Lots of potential for snow, lots of potential for warm daytime temperatures that could turn that snow into rain. It's already soft at the bottom of the course, and should the inclement weather arrive, it'll only gum up the works.

"You can't go out and train to ride it slower," Seth Wescott says. "You have to go full speed." So if you're hoping for a better show, break into whatever anti-precipitation dance was handed down to you by clan elders. Some colder daytime temps wouldn't hurt either, to chill the snow up a little. One of the techs told me that the snow temp after SkierX Men's practice was 0 degrees Celsius.

That's right at the freezing point, and obviously slush isn't built for speed.

To keep up with the latest conditions, check out www.weather.gov or www.noaa.gov.

Seth Wescott Q&A

January, 22, 2009
Jan 22
02:14
PM ET
By Brian Kamenetzky
Bkam
Thursday afternoon has arrived, and that's still all that's going along the X Course. A whole lotta practice.

I caught up with SnowboarderX titan Seth Wescott when his morning session was over and hit him up with a few Q's. served up in Part I and Part II form (nobody can accuse me of not trying to milk an interview). For reference, this would be Part I:

So you guys have had a fair amount of practice up there. Yeah. It's too much. I have to limit myself. I totally overdid it yesterday, and my legs are feeling it today, but the course is so fun, (course designer Corley Howard) did such a good job, I just didn't want to stop riding.

So what's the process? Do you guys work as a team and try to figure things out that way? We do, and that is a huge thing that's changed over the years. Originally, I was the only guy on the US team that was doing boardercross. Now we all get together every afternoon and analyze the lines. Everyone knows the fastest line. There's no keeping a secret from any of your teammates, so it means you have to be executing once the race comes. We're killing it as a team, and it's made us all bring our levels up. You're getting help from teammates, and everyone's riding strong and everyone's pushing each other.

So when the Canadian dudes come by for some advice, do you tell 'em to kiss it? Yeah, pretty much. I've got a bunch of friends on international teams, but we just don't talk about it. After the races, over a beer.

So how are you riding coming in? Strong. I'm really looking forward to this week. I was really disappointed in my fifth (place) at World's last week. I won the three heats I didn't get hit in, and there's nothing else I can do except for that. I got tangled up out of the start in the semi-final, so I went to the small final and won that. I won the opening winter World Cup in Arosa (Switzerland), and Bad Gestein (Austria) I backed off a little bit. It was a sketchy course, but I laid it out for the time trials and won the first run at both time trials for the two World Cups there.

I'm riding as fast if not faster than everyone in the world right now, so it's a matter of making sure I get my rest and am ready to go on Saturday.

What kind of riding does the course favor? Are there still chances to pass? There will be some passing in this one, but it's not going to be like that bubble moving around itself that we've seen here before. There's way too many features, which I think is awesome. It's gonna create better opportunities for the better riders to ride away from the rest of the field. Typically here in Aspen that hasn't happened.

Errol Kerr

January, 22, 2009
Jan 22
12:00
PM ET
By Brian Kamenetzky
Brian Kamenetzky
Last year, Errol Kerr was the surprise of the SkierX Men's competion, busting through the time trial with the top mark then making it to the final before finishing sixth. Not bad for a kid who drove himself to the event and arrived without a place to stay. This year, he's a medal favorite, and is doing you a favor.

In a comp like Skier X, it can be really tough to tell which guy is which. Not Kerr. He provides endless visual cues that'll help you find him in the crowd. To wit:

The neck scarf: "I started wearing it on a cold day, and did fairly well. From that day forward, I tried to take it off and couldn't do it. Now I wear it every day, even when it's sunny and warm out. There's some sort of sensation, maybe like a race car driver warding a neck collar, there's some sense of not having the wind touching your neck. I don't know- it kind of has a surreal feeling going down the hill. Now I can't ski without it."

The mittens: "A lot of people make fun of me, but I can't ski without them. I tried gloves again this fall, but didn't like 'em. People say it's hard to hold on to the start gate and your poles when you're wearing mittens. I don't know, because I haven't really tried without. Some guys wear more of a motocross style glove with plastic inserts built in. Mine have the same protection. It's a comfort thing. I don't have anything against gloves, I just don't feel comfortable."

The pink: "The first ski cross I went to, they randomly gave out colors and I got pink, and ended up doing really well. I figured, why run away from that?"

It is the new black, after all. Or was a one time or another.

Put it all together, and Kerr sounds pretty superstitious. Not true, he says. "I wouldn't say that at all. I'm not the guy that puts on one boot in front of the other, then clicks on one ski before the other. It's just something that you get used to, and people start recognizing you by it. So you just keep doing it."