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|A shot from last year's WSI.|
The season's last big freeskiing competitions are taking place this week: The Jon Olsson Invitational in Sweden and the World Skiing Invitational at Whistler, BC. These two contests mark the end of a long competition season for athletes who started traveling last fall.
At WSI in Whistler, which is taking place during the annual TELUS World Ski and Snowboard Festival, slopestyle and big air are being brought back for the first time in years (the contest was mainly a halfpipe event). It's also being called the inaugural Association of Freeskiing Professionals World Championships, the event that will determine the final standings for this year's AFP world rankings in slopestyle, halfpipe, big air and an overall world champion.
This will the first big contest after the IOC's decision to include ski halfpipe in the 2014 Winter Olympics. "You can bet competitors will be energized at the AFP World Championship knowing that they are now potential Olympic athletes," said AFP co-founder Christopher Jerard.
The prize money for this week's AFP contest has increased to $125,000, almost double the prize purse from previous years.
The AFP has been acting as a governing body for the sport since it was founded in 2007 and its ranking system will likely play a part in the selection of who competes in the 2014 Olympics.
In the race for overall champion, Simon Dumont, who won the overall title in 2009, is currently in the lead for the men, over Gus Kenworthy and Bobby Brown. In the women's field, Devin Logan is currently leading the overall rankings, ahead of Keri Herman and Dania Assaly.
"It's hard to say whether or not the Olympics is the reason the lineup of athletes at this year's event is going to be so star studded," says Gus Kenworthy. "I think that the inclusion of pipe is definitely making a lot of big-named riders who aren't typically known for their pipe prowess start to get into it. Of course my eyes are on the AFP overall. I think that the AFP is really what's making WSI huge this year. With it being the last opportunity to try and accumulate some points and move up the ranks for the season, it's a really big deal."
Other contenders who will be competing this weekend in Whistler include top-ranked halfpipe athletes Justin Dorey, Thomas Krief and David Wise. In slopestyle, Brown, Sammy Carlson, and JF Houle will all be there. Many of the big air skiers -- including Alex Schlopy, Russ Henshaw, Elias Ambuhl, Andreas Håtveit, and PK Hunder -- have chosen to compete at the Jon Olsson Invitational instead, so you won't be seeing them at Whistler this week.
"All roads lead to the AFP World Championships this year in Whistler," said Jerard. "The 300-day race for a World Championship will likely come down to this one event for many disciplines."
Stay tuned to ESPN Freeskiing for on-the-ground reports from Whistler starting with Thursday's slopestyle finals.