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Saturday, January 27, 2007
Updated: May 1, 2:22 PM ET
Sit And Deliver

By Jeff Foss

Many spectators may have been puzzled when they saw "Mono Skier X" on the 2007 WX docket. An event for those flamboyant weirdos who sashay down the mountain with their feet locked together on modified snowboards? These misguided souls were surprised, then, when Saturday's first mono-skier crossed the finish line-going extremely fast, mind you-in a futuristic ski-chair, his dualing outriggers aimed forward like spears.

"People are always asking, 'What is that thing?" admits 12-time Paralympic gold medalist Sarah Will. "Is it hard? Is it scary? But later, when see us fly past, they get it."

It's a bird! ... It's a plane! ... It's Tyler Walker, who's been without legs since he was four years old, absolutely annihilating the Skier X course. Move over Blair Morgan, there's a new Superman at Winter X.

What they "get" is that mono-skiers (also called sit-skiers) like Will can seriously rip, and the dozen-odd disabled athletes who competed this afternoon are without question the best in the world. Trust us on this one—they're wayfaster than you.

Like Skier X and Boarder X, Mono Skier X is both a timed and head-to-head event: A round of time-trails determines each racer's fate, and a modified version of the Skier and Boarder X course takes over from there. Today's competitors faced a quick and demanding pitch wrought with rollers, gap-jumps, step-downs, banked turns, and finally an extra narrow chute leading down to the final stretch.

In the end it was Tyler Walker-a decorated member of the U.S. Disabled Ski Team and the reigning World Cup GS champion-who took home Gold. It was the first-ever Mono Skier X medal acquisition, and the speedy New Hampshire native was followed by Bozeman's Kevin Connelly and "Flying Dutchman" Kees-Jan van der Klooster. Will, the only female to compete, finished in fourth.

"Right out of the gate, I just tried to stay focused on everything in front of me," said Walker, "but the big thing is how important this event is for the sport."

Walker and other sit-skiers are hoping that the national exposure generated in Aspen will increase awareness and possibly inspire other disabled folks to strap into a sit-ski and head for the hills. "It's great to show everybody that we can do this," says Nick Catanzarite, another member of the National Team. "A lot of people don't even know sit-skiing exists, but with all this media exposure, who knows ... maybe some guy at home in a chair will say 'hey, maybe I'll try that.'"

After inspiring all of Winter X with their performance, Walker and Will finally get a chance to laugh about the fact that people thought they were monoskiers.

Interestingly enough, the man responsible for getting Mono Skier X into the X Games isn't disabled at all. His name is Kevine Jardine, and he's the former head coach of the U.S. Disabled Ski Team. Two years ago, at X Games IX, Jardine helped organize a Mono Skier X demo event on the far side of the mountain. It was a huge success, so he lobbied ESPN to make it an official event at the main Buttermilk venue.

"For a while we were having disabled skiers participate in the X Games by fore-running the halfpipe and things like that," says Jardine, "but when we thought about it, really the closest thing to what these guys are doing on the World Cup circuit is Skier X. Of course, there are some challenging differences, too."

One of these differences is terrain, and the challenge is to build a sit-ski that can handle more abuse. Several of today's crashes were directly related to equipment failure, despite the fact that many of the larger features were deliberately left out of the course. "The chairs don't give us the ability to jump or absorb certain impacts," says Will. "But as this gets more popular, people will figure out what kind of set-ups works for them."

And while many of these challenges will be met on future Mono Skier X courses, some of them might be conquered earlier. "The progression of sit-skiing is similar to that of regular skiing, and a lot of us have started hitting the terrain park," said Gerald Hayden, yet another member of the U.S. Team. "You learn how to jump and land, and then you incorporate that into your race and the equipment you need to get down in one piece."

Expect Mono Skier X to be a mainstay event in WX. But how does it feel to rocket down an ice racecourse in a composite metal chair with nothing but a narrow GS ski to trust, anyway? Catanzarite summed it up best. "It's insane. It's like a rollercoaster ride with no safety belt."