Team Americas defeated the defending champions Team Europe in the second edition of the Swatch Skiers Cup this past weekend at Valle Nevado, Chile.
The brainchild of Sverre Liliequist and Kaj Zackrisson, the Skiers Cup draws its match play format from the infamous Ryder Cup golf tournament. Each team captain chooses seven riders to complete his team of eight, then the two teams have a series of one-on-one matchups in two different disciplines -- big mountain and backcountry slopestyle. Each matchup awards one point to the winner's team, and in the end the team with the most points wins the trophy, $20,000, and continental pride.
Just over a week before the event, a few of the star athletes from each team withdrew. For a variety of reasons, Sean Pettit, Kye Petersen, Pep Fujas, and Parker White opted out of competing for Team Americas and Mark Abma also had to pull out due to a recent injury. Thanks to the cancelations, I was invited to compete for the Americans. On Team Europe, only Kaj Zackrisson was unable to attend due to a family emergency.
The event kicked off with the big mountain day, and for me this was a dream competition. Taking helicopters from Farellones, the mountain village below Valle Nevado, competitors ascended to a peak plainly visibly to the north of town.
Despite an extremely dry winter in the area and no recent snow, the venue miraculously guarded consistent, soft powder with hundreds of lines for competitors to choose from. The event went smoothly until Chris Benchetler of Team Americas took a hard tumble on his first run and sustained a shoulder injury.
A meeting was held to figure out how to replace Benchetler for the second run. It was decided that Chopo Diaz would run twice in the second heat, a tough prospect considering the difficulty of the face and its over 13,000-foot summit elevation. But Diaz faced the challenge with ease, and the rest of the event went smoothly. At the end of the day, the score between the two teams was tied 8 to 8.
The backcountry slopestyle day remained, and with another week left in the event's weather window and a snowstorm on the horizon, organizers decided to put the event on standby until the last minute, hoping for fresh snow on a sunny Friday to finish. But as the final day approached, the snow forecast deteriorated and the temperatures rose. Though the storm did deposit around eight inches of snow at higher elevations, at the lower elevation of the slopestyle venue, conditions deteriorated. The snow that fell was quickly zapped by the sun, and then refroze into a four-inch-thick breakable crust.
On Friday morning's competition day, a new course of action was taken to break the tie between the two teams and finish the competition.
Organizers decided to take three riders from each team and return by helicopter to the big mountain venue to hold another freeride-style comp. Markus Eder spun 360s in both directions, plus a rodeo 540 and rodeo 720. Eder crashed on his rodeo 720, losing his heat, but his riding left a big impression on the event.
In the end, the competition couldn't have been closer -- after the three final heats Team Americas came out on top with a final score of 10 to 9. And despite the difficulties with the athlete rosters, injury, and snow conditions, the event was deemed a success, building a foundation for a competition that organizers hope will be a mainstay in the ski scene for years to come.
Title sponsor Swatch has signed on for another three years of the contest, and the next edition will be held in Zermatt, Switzerland, this coming February.
"We're not competing just for ourselves, it's a group of friends pushing each other to do something good for our countries," says Frenchman Richard Permin. "That's pretty cool."