By JODY ZARKOS
and TREVOR SCHUBERT
Express Staff Writers
For a first-time event, The Honda Ski Tour has attracted some big-time athletes, and the Sun Valley slopes promise to be studded with stars this weekend.
Skier standouts in halfpipe include Simon Dumont of Bethel, Maine, the 2004/2005 X-Games champ in superpipe and winner of several big contests, including the Ultimate Bumps and Jumps Quarterpipe. The 2003 X Games champ, Candide Thovex, of France, is also on hand, as well as versatile Canadian Corey Vanular, who has won major championships in halfpipe, railjam and slopestyle events.
Among the field in the skiercross are two-time overall World Cup skiercross champion Tomas Kraus, of the Czech Republic, and 13-time World Cup alpine winner and Olympian Daron Rahlves.
Europe's unseasonably warm weather and lack of snow has been somewhat of a boon for Ski Tour organizers, who lured Kraus after a World Cup skiercross event in Les Contamines, France, was canceled.
All the X-Games champions dating back to 1999 (except the 2002/2005 champ, local Reggie Crist, who is rehabilitating a hip injury) are here, including Enak Gavaggio (1999), Shaun Palmer (2000), Zach Crist (2001), Lars Lewan (2003/2006), and Casey Puckett (2004).
Curtis Bacca, who runs industry and athlete relations for The Honda Ski Tour and is owner of The Waxroom in Ketchum, remarked, "These guys are all business. It's the real deal. They have been training, and they are serious."
The payout for being at the top is serious, too: $25,000 for first place, $15,000 for second, with prize money trickling all the way down to the 16th finisher.
Getting to be one of 16 is key. Skiercross qualifying will be held tomorrow on Dollar Mountain in Sun Valley. Racers get two runs down the course. The top 14 advance, and the men who finish 15th to 22nd get to run two more heats for the final two slots.
Saturday's skiercross trials will begin at 12:30 p.m., with heats and finals from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Some locals help round out the initial field of 32, including Rob Webb, Clic Bloomfield, Olin Glenne, Matt Murphy, Griffin Post and Nathan Schwing.
Giving The Ski Tour instant credibility is the fact the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA), the national governing body for Olympic skiing and snowboarding, made the skiercross at Sun Valley a USSA sanctioned event Monday.
That fact alone opens the door for the The Ski Tour to perhaps becoming a U.S. qualifier for the Olympics now that the International Olympic Committee added skiercross to the 2010 Winter Olympics.
"That's what we are eventually hoping for," said Ski Tour co-president Steve Brown. "We're hoping U.S. athletes can qualify for the Olympics using our tour."
Sun Valley crews and Mountain Sports International crews have been working on the Dollar skiercross course since early fall, and by all accounts, it's fast (about 48 to 50 seconds, according to testers), great news for spectators since the entire course can be seen from the base of the mountain.
"It's really fun," said contestant Jamey Parks, of Utah. "The middle section definitely comes up quick, and there is a lot of stuff going on through there."
The course is the handiwork of Salt Lake City-based Mountain Sports International. The company's president and CEO, Adam Comey, said it's always a good sign when you see contestants at the finish line with a look of utter fear—coupled with a smile.
Although cloud cover Thursday made light conditions a little flat, there was apparent consensus among contestants: The course is fun, and the design is well-thought-out.
Sunday's competitive heats in halfpipe are from 12:30-1:15 p.m. and 2-2:45 p.m. on Bald Mountain. The halfpipe finals are from 6-7 p.m. No lift access will be provided for the finals.
The halfpipe and skiercross events are free to the public and accessible by foot.
The Honda Ski Tour is kicking off its inaugural extravaganza through Sunday in Ketchum and Sun Valley. Organizers hope to make it an annual event in major ski resorts across the West.