Friday, March 14, 2008

Athletes and fans gear up for weekend

48 Straight ski cross qualifiers provide exciting preview

Express Staff Writer

U.S. racer Travis Svensrud carves down the ski cross course on Dollar Mountain during the qualifying round of the Jeep King of the Mountain Series on Thursday. A fresh layer of snow slowed course conditions, but not by much, as the world?s best ski cross athletes fought to make it to the finals on Saturday.

Early crowds that formed the base of Sun Valley's Dollar Mountain on Wednesday and Thursday to watch the Jeep King of the Mountain Series snowboard-cross and ski-cross qualifying events got a good look at a course fast enough to challenge some of the world's best athletes.

So fast, in fact, that some last-minute alterations had to be made to slow the skiers' warp speeds.

The preliminary competitions heading into 48 Straight's event-filled weekend provided fuel for the building anticipation, as the snowboarders and skiers hurled themselves down Dollar's slopes to earn a spot in the finals, which will take place on Friday and Saturday, respectively.

For its second year, 48 Straight, formerly known as the Honda Ski Tour, is once again looking to create the most entertaining event of the winter. To that end, the ski and snowboard races and halfpipe competitions will be combined with a full roster of live musical acts, an environmental exposition and a number of other activities to ensure that there's never a dull moment.

After Wednesday's snowboard cross qualifier was graced with warm temperatures and sunny skies, the conditions quickly changed for the following day's event, as the participants in the ski cross qualifier were faced with colder temperatures and light but steady snowfall.

The challenging conditions led a number of competitors to withdraw before the qualifying heat even took place, especially in the women's field where the number of racers dropped from 21 to nine.

However, that didn't keep spectators from lining the course, which runs the length of Dollar. While the races were delayed because of problems with the timing device, the fans' persistence was rewarded, as both fields contained a number of the sport's biggest names including, for the men, multiple World Cup downhill winner Daron Rahlves, last year's Ski Tour overall winner Stanley Hayer and the leader in this season's ski cross World Cup points, Czech Tomas Kraus.

As well, former X-Games gold medalist Casey Puckett made a surprise entrance despite previous rumors that a recent shoulder injury would keep him out of the starting gate.

After one competitor crashed and 11 didn't start, only 32 racers crossed the finish line for the men, negating the need for a second round of qualifiers. Making it through were local skiers Wes Powell and Biche Rudigoz.

In Saturday's event, racers will run in groups of four, with the top two advancing through quarter- and semifinals to the final show.

On the women's side, Magdalena Jonsson from Sweden posted the fastest qualifying time at 1:10:17, while World Cup veterans Anik Demers-Wild from Canada and Australian Jenny Owens crossed with the second- and third-best qualifying times.

Local female racers Langely McNeal and Christine Cordeau both made it through the second round of qualifying, joining six other women for Saturday's semifinal.

Standing amid a group of young fans at the finish line, 48 Straight co-founder Kipp Nelson was seemingly on track to achieve his goal of using the event as a means to raise interest in the sport and skiing in general.

"It's going really well," Nelson said over the amplified music. "The course is a bit slower because of the new snow, but it's exciting nonetheless."

While dozens of Wood River Valley residents turned out to cheer on their local favorites, some came from much farther afield to be part of the weekend.

"This place is very similar to a European ski station," said Christian Bouveroux, who traveled from Belgium for a ski vacation. "There's so much happening right now in town, not to mention some great skiing."

Bouveroux said he chose to visit a friend in Sun Valley in March, rather than earlier in the season as originally planned, after coming across the 48 Straight Web site and seeing the competitions and musical lineup. The latter features internationally known names, such as Michael Franti & Spearhead, Ky-Mani Marley and Slightly Stoopid.

But Bouveroux is finding more to like about the valley than just what 48 Straight offers.

"Perhaps the biggest difference is that the lift attendants are actually friendly here," he said.

Win a heli ski trip

Enter for a chance to win a free heli ski trip, courtesy of Sun Valley Heli Ski Guides and the Sun Valley/Ketchum Chamber & Visitors Bureau. Video, photos and stories of the 48 Straight weekend will be accepted at and the post that most portrays the "go higher" spirit championed by Sun Valley ski legend Friedl Pfeifer will be awarded with a full day of helicopter skiing and $150 in Chamber Choice Gift Certificates. The deadline for entries is noon on Sunday, March 16, and the award will be announced at the base of Warm Springs that same day at 4 p.m. the winner must be present to receive the award.

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