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Wednesday, January 24, 2007
Updated: May 11, 2:46 PM ET
Pipe Fittings

By Jeff Foss

The Aspen Superpipe—flawlessly sculpted and sugarcoated in powder crystals—looked like something out of a Playstation game when practice kicked off this morning. So gnarly Norwegian Andreas Hatveit hit it up video game-style with back-to-back switch spins that most skiers can only do with a joystick. With the seal cracked, it was officially open season on the pipe's towering 22-foot walls.

The "hardest working runway model in skiing," Jon Olsson sported signature Head sticks emblazoned with hot-girl graphics. Later, his signature hot girlfriend arrived to watch him warm up (whether or not she's jealous of her two-dimensional rival is unclear). Either way, Jon kept his amplitude fairly low in the practice, possibly to keep her from worrying and possibly because he's playing his cards close to his fur-trimmed vest.

Meanwhile local all-star Peter Olenick sought out the default coaching of his brother Michael. The latter O-man is sidelined with a broken collarbone, affording Pete a captive audience. "Don't land so low," Michael ordered from a lawn chair. "Keep those hands forward. Drop your shoulder. Hold your mute longer. Look ahead." Then he made Peter run wind sprints.

But then a mildly disconcerting moment: Freeskiing angel Sarah Burke fell from grace and directly onto the Superpipe deck. From the looks of things the blonde bomber escaped with a bloody nose, but naturally she was mobbed by wide-eyed medics hoping to touch her face.

Another athlete who came out of the gates with guns a blazin' was Loic Collomb-Patton. The flying Frenchman opted for the plaid lumberjack look, and his switch alley-oop cork 9 mute-grab drew thunderous pole-clicks from fellow riders. "If he can hold on and get high on the next hit, watch out," said his injured countryman Laurent Favre between satisfying drags on one of those things the French still smoke.

And then there was some character named T. Hall or Tanner H. or something like that. Who does this guy think he is, laying down slanderous switch cork 7's, float-y unnatural flairs and treetop-shearing 1080s? It's chilly in the Aspen stratosphere, which may explain why he's sporting a full beard. Big-air specialist TJ Schiller quietly looked on, nibbling sunflower seeds and probably repeating something along the lines of "great, not again" in his headphone-cupped noggin.

Simon Dumont showed up a bit late, looking a little older, a little wiser, and a little more seasoned. He hopped on a sled, shot to the top, appeared at the starting gate, and immediately stomped a 1260 halfway down the pipe—considering the speed-sacrifice he'll make during a judged run if he doesn't land on the right part of the transition, it appears Dumont is uninterested in second place. Mike Douglas, freeskiing's Godfather who, in contrast to Simon, is already wise and therefore looks simply older, followed the Du-mizzle everywhere he went with a follow cam. It's nice to know the old man's hand is still steady.

Finally another familiar face (well, somewhat familiar, considering we haven't seen or heard from him in ages) was France's Candide Thovex. It's been four years since Thovex dropped jaws at the inaugural X Games Skier Superpipe, and his competition history since then has been spotty. But if his skiing in practice is any indication, this could be the year that he climbs back on that podium-shaped horse.