By Justin Broglio
Hello from another sunny day in California. If you don't follow freeskiing, you're definitely missing out; what went down today at the Men’s Freeski Slopestyle Prelim was something of pure beauty. To say the least, everyone here at the media lounge is flipping out with excitement for tomorrow's Slopestyle Final.
Pittsburgh native Tom Wallisch stepped into the start tent this morning and never looked back. His heat-one score of 91.17 grabbed the top of the board and didn’t budge all afternoon. Some of the industry’s most well-known, accomplished, and respected riders tried in vain to hack away at Wallisch's perfect run. In the end, the close contender was Simon Dumont, who stood at 88.83, a fat two points below Wallisch. Canadian Alexis Godbout, who was nearly out of the mix, nailed a right 9 into switch 1260 on the last two hits. For his tech work on that second run, Alexis finished in a close third with 88.50.
What's astounding is how little Wallisch had say about his flawless performance today.
"I don't know. I'm just having fun," he later said from the Winter Dew Tour Athletes’ Lounge. "The course is not very big, but the features are super fun, and there's a lot of room for variety,” he said. “I switched up my run the second time and I guess that did it."
Wallisch, who rose from obscurity after winning the Level 1 Superunknown contest IV three years ago with a YouTube video of his skiing, did indeed "switch up his run". He tossed in a Rodeo 6 and a Rodeo 9 off the first rail and cannon pipe, respectively, and a smooth (and I mean baby's-bottom smooth) switch right 10 to switch left 10 on the last two hits.
Fellow Slopestyle Prelim skiers standing course-side during Wallisch's second run were nothing short of awed. They proclaimed Tom’s run “amazing", and his style "heavenly". Others took it a step further: “He's a god", "Why don't they just give him the cash now?"
Beyond Wallisch, the first heat featured Kiwi Jossi Wells’s perfect 450s onto the metal and Aussie Russ Henshaw’s rightside cork 900 into double cork 1080 with the mute grab (the latter which he learned only two months ago). Dumont, who was fighting back the flu all morning, tossed in a 1260 on the last hit after cranking 10's all morning. 18-year-old Derek Spong’s techy switch left 10 into switch right 10 nearly rivaled Wallisch’s.
Trying to calm myself from the madness I witnessed during heat-one, I smashed down a PB&J (yeah, I make my lunch at home) and a Dew Voltage before heat-two began. It didn't work.
Nick Martini sparked off heat-two by hucking a Rodeo 6 to Right 7 to 270 Disaster to Left 9. By finishing off with back-to-back switch 10s, he garnered an 85.33, which slid him into fourth place (for the time being), just behind Wells.
The last five riders of the day launched a battle for third place. 23-year-old Canadian Charles Gagnier snagged an 86.17 only to be upstaged by Mike Riddle–yesterday's Men's Ski Superpipe number-one qualifier–who threw down a run that included his version of the flat 540. Let’s slow things down here a sec: Riddle’s signature “Barrow” is a combination flatspin truck driver grab which he tweaks out to make it look as if he’s shooting a bow and arrow mid-spin. Trust us; it’s astounding. Riddle's 86.50 edged out Gagnier by mere decimal points. Sammy Carlson, returning from a low-scoring initial run, dropped in with a 450 disaster. Carlson moved to sixth, from where he pushed Philip Casabon out of contention; Anders Backe moved to tenth place.
The ultimate run–and one of the best all day–belonged to Alexis Godbout. His switch backlip 270 on the first rail and right 900 to switch 1260 on the last hits were just a few of Québécois’s exploits which prompted the judges to award him an 88.50. This sent Anders Backe hiking home to Vikersund, yet ultimately Alexis placed three-tenths behind Simon’s second-place score of 88.83.
Tomorrow the 10 men below will battle it out with Slopestyle pre-quailifers Bobby Brown and Per-Kristian Hunter added to the mix. JF Houle, a tour leader who was recently injured during practice at Winter X Games 13, will be absent from the California slopes.
As for me, I’m heading straight home to a cold shower.
FREESKI SLOPESTYLE MEN'S PRELIM RESULTS
1st – Tom Wallisch – 91.17
2nd – Simon Dumont – 88.83
3rd – Alexis Godbout – 88.50
4th – Mike Riddle – 86.50
5th – Charles Gagnier – 86.17
6th – Josiah Wells – 85.67
7th – Sammy Carlson – 85.50
8th – Nick Martini – 85.33
9th – Russ Henshaw – 85.17
10th – Matt Walker – 83.00
11th – Anders Backe – 82.00
12th – Philip Casabon – 81.00
13th – Gus Kenworthy – 80.50
14th – Derek Sprong – 80.33
15th – Oscar Scherlin – 79.17
16th – Henrik Harlaut – 79.00
17th – Sean Jordan – 77.50
18th – TJ Schiller – 76.50
19th – Banks Gilberti – 74.17
20th – Matt Margetts – 73.33
21st – Sean Logan – 73.33
22nd – Byron Wells – 72.67
23rd – Antti-Jussi Kemppainen – 70.67
24th – Karl Fostvedt – 68.83
25th – Tanner Rainville – 64.83
26th – Kentaro Tsuda – 61.67
27th – Sean Decker – 60.50
28th – Peter Olenick – 51.67
29th – Colby West – 20.50
30th – Pekka Hyysalo – 15.67
31st – Tucker Perkins – WD