There's a saying in the Pacific Northwest: "If you don't like the weather, too bad."
Trying to argue with Mother Nature in her winter breeding grounds of the soggy Cascades is like fighting a pig in slop -- sooner or later you will realize that the pig is enjoying itself. With weather this unpredictable, shredding the intense face of "The King" -- as the famed 7,012-foot Silver King Mountain at Crystal is affectionately known -- was difficult, to say the least. It was remarkable that The North Face Masters finals went off at all, let alone in the amazing way that it did.
Clouds came in and out, with wind ripping up to 60 mph up top. Yet in a day that certainly demanded focus, the men kept their wits about them and their boards underneath them (for the most part) in a area that consisted of open chutes, wind-loaded powder fields, perfect cliffs with steep landings, and some seriously exposed sections that didn't even look rideable ... at least to a mortal shredder. But after all, these guys are The Masters.
In a showing of almost total domination, Jackson Hole's community of uncompromising shredders showed up and took the event by storm, with Kyle Clancy moving down near-vertical pitches like he was riding a skateboard, Alex Yoder rolling through chutes and around rocky exposures like he was casually cruising a groomer, and last year's Young Gun winner Mikey Marohn hauling, with style, chucking a massive backside three of the "last chance cliff" at the bottom. They took third through fifth respectively.
Coming in at second was one of our sport's most impressive young freeriders Sammy Luebke. The Standard Films star exploded on the course, holding speed and control through his entire run, laying waste to the land like a blitzkrieg.
"It was crazy. I couldn't really see what was going on so I just tried to get my board on and have fun," said Luebke. In this case, "fun" would be described as fast and nasty with a sick frontside three off a 20 footer at the end of his run.
All said and done, it was Southern Colorado's Brandon Reid who raised the genuine Katana Sword at the end of the day.
"Against the rest of the field, Reid's run showed freeriding in its truest sense," said legendary big mountain rider and head judge Tom Burt.
From his committing air up top to his fluidity through the trees and peppery rocks below, Reid dethroned "The King" with cool confidence and board control. "My goal today was just to navigate," said Reid. "Instead of knowing one line really well, I tried to get a sense of the entire zone, that way in case I'm not feeling the flow into what I thought I wanted I have a contingency plan."
Contingency plan or not, Burt admitted that, "it was really close between first and second. There was no denying Sammy's freestyle airs, but in the end Reid's line selection and fluidity showed us the best freeriding."
Reid has been making the pilgrimage to the North Face Masters for five years. This is his first podium.
In tribute to the late Aaron Robinson, the reigning champion two years running, friend and riding partner Alex Yoder summed up the positive atmosphere of the event best: "More than just champion on paper, A-Rob was champion of the vibe. He was the guy who won riding fast and charging -- basically by having the most fun."
In the end, whether master or apprentice, that's really what it's all about.
Thursday: Women's Finals
At the first stop of the North Face Masters at Crystal Mountain Washington the only thing firing harder than the field of riders is the weather. Sun, wind, snow, fog -- you name it, and Mother Nature has brought it to the table.
Wednesday saw the rare Northwest Bluebird emerge from its winter's slumber to shine on the slopes of Northway Bowl for the event qualifiers. Riders from all over North America enjoyed a fresh six inches of snow, which fell the previous day and made all the difference on a hairball slope that hadn't seen snow in over a week. With controlled pow slashes and composed cliff drops scoring high with the legendary judges Tom Burt, Temple Cummins and Andy Hetzel, shredders like Kyle Clancy and Iris Lazzarichi proved that smooth and sexy was the ticket into the finals.
As the day broke on Thursday, hopes were high that the finals could be run, despite a weather forecast that said otherwise. Sucker holes in the sky came and went, and when the riding finally got underway around noon, the windows of visibility played games with competitors as they made their way down the course.
The snow-filled clouds blanketing Crystal's famed Silver King mountain brought with them another few inches of fresh -- so though the riders were dealing with low visibility, at least they it was coupled with knee-deep powder. Riders picked their way through every type of available terrain, from sketchy chutes to sizable cliff drops, but in the end Maribeth Swetkoff-Kramer and Maria Debari placed highest with smooth, fast runs through the steeps and epic slashes in the pockets of fresh snow.
None could top veteran competitor Shannan Yates, however, whose run was seriously gnarly. In a venue where most chose snow-covered chutes and open faces, Yates blasted though a very exposed, very rocky section with a control that the rest of the women just didn't have. She even threw a two separate cliff drops in there, sealing the deal.
By 2 p.m. the weather had, for all intents and purposes, taken the mountain hostage, reducing visibility to mere feet. So it was decided that the Men's Finals would have to wait until Friday morning.