Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Freeskiing [Print without images]

Thursday, April 19, 2012
Updated: April 22, 8:32 PM ET
AFP Champs: A preview

By Megan Michelson
ESPN.com

Some of the athletes you'll see this week in Whistler at the season's final contest.

Preview Slopestyle Big Air Superpipe

It has been a long contest season for halfpipe and slopestyle skiers, full of cross-continental flights, never-been-done before tricks, and the rippling sadness of losing one of their own. Although winter's not quite over yet, the contest portion of the season will come to an end this week.

The world's top freeskiers will convene in Whistler, British Columbia, for the last time this year for the World Skiing Invitational, also dubbed the Association of Freeskiing Professionals World Championships. The contest, scheduled for Thursday through Sunday, takes place during Whistler Blackcomb's Telus World Ski and Snowboard Festival.

This year, the overall AFP world champion title has been renamed the Sarah Burke Trophy, after freeskiing pioneer Sarah Burke, who passed away in January. That trophy will be given to the male and female skier who have accumulated the most points in slopestyle, halfpipe, and for men, big air, by the end of the season. Last year's overall champion Gus Kenworthy appears to have a solid lock on their year's overall men's title, while Devin Logan is currently the favorite for the women.

"Logan and Kenworthy will both be tough to dislodge from the top, but the likes of Dara Howell, Jossi Wells, Joss Christensen, Keri Herman and Torin Yater-Wallace will do all they can to fight for the honor of being Overall World Champion," says a release from the AFP. "All will be decided April 18-22nd in Whistler."

Also up for the taking are some $80,000 in cash and prizes and end-of-season AFP ranking titles in slopestyle, superpipe, and big air. A platinum level event, a first place result at WSI in all three disciplines offers a 1,100-point advancement in the AFP rankings.

These trophies are up for grabs at the AFP World Champs.

"World Champs is possibly the most exciting event of the season. Everyone has worked hard all year long to make it to this event and have this final opportunity to top the world rankings," says freeskiing judge Steele Spence, the AFP's general manager.

Training began Wednesday, with slopestyle qualifiers on Thursday and finals on Friday. Saturday night is the Big Air contest, and superpipe finals take place Sunday.

With the final AFP rankings to be determined at the end of the week, a few titles are already in the bag and some are left for the taking.

In men's slopestyle, Tom Wallisch has been a wrecking ball this season, winning Winter X Games Aspen, the overall Dew Cup, the U.S. Grand Prix, and a silver medal at Winter X Tignes. As a result, he's already secured the overall AFP Slopestyle trophy, thanks a 316-point lead over Nick Goepper. Bobby Brown is currently ranked third, but he could beat out Goepper for second if he places in the top five and is higher than Goepper.

"My plan for WSI is to just go out and have fun skiing with my friends," Wallisch said. "It's been a great season all around, and Whistler is one of the most fun places on earth."

Kaya Turski has won every major women's slopestyle contest this year, already locking in the top spot in the AFP rankings, so there will be no surprises here. Although Devin Logan, Dara Howell, and Emilia Wint will be battling it out for the second and third place positions.

The race for the men's halfpipe top spot will be a contentious one, with Torin Yater-Wallace currently beating David Wise in the overall AFP rankings by a mere 28 points. The final ranking all rests on their positions in Whistler. If Yater-Wallace beats Wise at World Champs, he'll win the title, but if Wise beats Yater-Wallace, the title goes to him.

Roz Groenewoud is leading the women's halfpipe rankings, but she's only 173 points ahead of Devin Logan in second. Which means if Groenewoud lands on the podium at World Champs, she'll secure the top women's halfpipe spot. Logan would need a first place finish with Groenewoud in fourth place or lower for her to overtake the top spot. Maddie Bowman rounds out the current top three.

And in men's big air, it's a tight race between Elias Ambuhl, Kai Mahler and Gus Kenworthy. Ten women will also be invited to compete in big air, but due to a lack of women's big air contests, there is no overall ranking for women in that discipline.