The Sun Valley Freestyle Team is looking more and more like a traveling band of acrobats. Especially in aerials.
From March 23-26, freestyle program director John Zuck traveled to a snow-parched Killington, Vt. with five of his best and brightest to compete against the nation's top freestyle skiers in the 2006 Sprint U.S. Freestyle Championships.
The five were Kurtis Fieguth, Katie Fieguth, Ross Falcone, McKeanna Collins and Austin Bourret.
Sun Valley ski team members were up against Olympians such as Eric Bergoust, Ryan St. Onge and Boise's Jeret "the Hurricane" Peterson.
The biggest Sun Valley story came in aerials, against those big names, when Ross Falcone landed his trademark 1440 (four full revolutions) and finished 11th overall. Austin Bourret, 14, also had a major success in aerials, placing 17th overall.
Falcone landed his rare trick twice March 25, once in qualifying and again in competition, where he had his best attempt. "He nailed it clean," Zuck said.
Showing grace under pressure on a major stage, Falcone said, "It was a breakthrough," about the two landed 14s. Time slowed for Falcone, allowing him to focus on the landing, rather than simply spinning as many revolutions as possible.
The event was the final competition for 1998 Olympic aerials gold medalist Bergoust, 36, a decorated veteran aerialist with 230 World Cup starts and 15 wins under his belt. Prior to the Killington aerials, Missoula's Bergoust told Falcone that if he landed the 1440 in competition, he would give him a U.S. Ski Team jacket.
After the second stomped 1440, the freshly-retired four-time Olympian Bergoust walked right up on the snow and handed Falcone the promised gift.
"I've been following (Bergoust) since the last Olympics in Salt Lake, and it was kind of neat to finally meet the guy, especially after John (Zuck) told us about all the stuff he has accomplished," Falcone said.
Meanwhile, Bourret threw his first 1080 in competition for his 17th-place finish and Fieguth attempted a 1080 iron cross, but touched the snow with his hand on landing.
Falcone and Bourret were two of only three non-inverted tricks to finish in the top 20. Falcone had the only upright trick in the top 15.
Nationals was the final road-trip and final competition of the year for the Sun Valley Freestyle team. For McKeanna Collins, though, it was her first time on the road all season.
Collins, a junior, compiled enough points at home events to compete in the half-pipe in Vermont, where she placed eighth against the top freeskiing ladies in the country.
"If she was competitive and doing it full time, she'd probably be way up there (in the rankings)," said Zuck.
Connecticut's Jen Hudak, 19, a graduate of the Okemo Mountain School, placed first while Sophia Schwartz, former Sun Valley racer and current Waterville Valley (Vt.) team member, placed second overall in the pipe. Katie Fieguth finished 10th. Kurtis Fieguth ended up at ninth in the pipe. Falcone was 10th. Overall, it was a high-end note to the Sun Valley freestyle season.
"Kurtis achieved his goals this season. My goal was to get Austin Moses and North Parker (both 14), to Junior Olympics in moguls and they both did," said Zuck.
Next year, the entire team returns except for the graduating Kurtis Fieguth.