By Justin Broglio

"That's the best 900 out there right now," announcers proclaimed after 22-year-old Mike Riddle finished his first run of the day, claiming the only score above 90 all afternoon during the Freeski Superpipe Preliminary at the Toyota Championship at Northstar-at-Tahoe. Riddle, who scored a 90.50, leads the pack of nine men who advance to the Ski Pipe Final. He's followed closely by Xavier Bertoni (88.25) and Colby James West, who rounded out third place with an 85.25.

On what can be considered a "typical bluebird California" day (sunny, calm, and t-shirt-friendly), a field of 30 riders threw down for a spot in Saturday night's Freeski Superpipe Final. With the "Imperial March"(the Star Wars theme) blasting through loud speakers, Colby led the Prelim’s first heat with a flawless 1080 and switch ally-oop 900, which earned a 85.25. Colby's score stood at the top of the board throughout the first heat, while the competition–namely Matt Duhamel, Tyler Peterson, Kevin Rolland and Walter Wood, who nearly stomped a 1440 during practice–battled their way to the top.

As the field for heat-two took to the hill all eyes were on Colby and the six riders trailing with scores under the 81.75-point bench mark set by French rider Kevin Rolland. It was anyone's game if they could hold it together and reach into the high 80s.

Fellow Frenchman Xavier Bertoni put his name at the top of the board with a score of 88.25, pushing out young kiwi Byron Wells. Once Riddle dropped in, however, the 22-year-old's "veteran status" and ample pipe-investment shined through. He put down an ally-oop flat 3 before finishing with a beautiful switch 900; a line which pushed out tour-favorite Duncan Adams. The 16-year-old Duncan, who was fourth going into today's Prelim, threw down a solid run, which featured a refreshing switch straight air; ultimately, however, he finished in 13th place, just outside the qualifying top-nine.

"It's tough that Duncan didn't make it in today," head judge and industry legend Phil Larose said after the Prelim. "With this pipe being a little bit smaller [than some recent competitions] and the hits coming faster, you've got to go bigger," he said. "The height is there, it's just who has the technicality to get it."

The battle on Saturday pits the nine qualifiers against the Winter Dew Cup contenders: Tanner Hall, Justin Dorey and Simon Dumont.


1st – Mike Riddle – 90.50
2nd – Xavier Bertoni – 88.25
3rd – Colby West – 85.25
4th – Kevin Rolland – 84.00
5th – Tyler Peterson – 83.00
6th – Matthew Philippi – 82.50
7th – Matt Margetts – 80.75
8th – John Strenio – 77.50
9th – Matt Duhamel – 75.50
10th – Walter Wood – 72.50
11th – Colby Albino – 72.25
12th – Taylor Seaton – 71.50
13th – Duncan Adams – 71.00
14th – Byron Wells – 70.75
15th – Lyndon Sheehan – 68.25
16th – Dan Marion – 68.25
17th – Jean-Laurent Ratchel – 65.50
18th – Jack Sullan – 61.50
19th – Peter Olenick – 61.00
20th – Kyle Smaine – 61.00
21st – Marshall LaCroix – 60.75
22nd – Kentaro Tsuda – 55.50
23rd – David Wise – 41.75
24th – Antti-Jussi Kemppainen – 23.00
25th – Matti Räty – 19.75
26th – Rob Heule – 19.50
27th – Evan Schwartz – 15.50
28th – Andre Simonpietri – 12.25
29th – Tucker Perkins – 7.75

Justin, or "Big J" (he stands a whopping 6'7"), lives the simple life on the North Shore of Lake Tahoe. While he's also a frequent correspondent to Powder magazine, it’s his day-job in city government that relegates his skiing to the week-ends.