It still hadn’t sunk in that I would have to compete against the best in the business the next morning. Although many others of equal caliber were knocked out for falls or tomahawks, it was hard for the judges to finally decide on a cut-off list that broke the men’s field from 60 participants to 27. Most of the riders have been in this position before, making qualifiers on one or more of the stops during the last five years, but for me it was a first.
The women's field had their hands full trying to top Shannan Yates who was vying for her sixth event title. Local Snowbird rippers Beth Weissman and Kaitlin Elliot made the cut as well as Cindi Lou Grant and Casey Lucas. On the men's front, I was supposed to show up and compete against local favorite Tyler Anderson, Jedediah Doane, Jacob Levine and Brian Selmer. There was also, Timi Carlson, Mark Carter, Kyle Clancy, Sammy Leubke and Alex Yoder. Names I have seen in videos and magazine for years. Names that were coming up in the top three on the pervious stops. Names of really good snowboarders. I didn’t sleep well.
The morning showed more promise with 5” more of snow and clouds slowing lifting to reveal Mt. Baldy in the morning sun. However, it would be a fleeting glimpse that the athletes would have liked to continually count on as the day wore on. The athletes were allowed on Snowbird's 8:30 am tram for the two days of qualifiers. This day was no different. Plenty of cat-tracks to jump, cliffs to warm up on and get shut down on. It was a ‘send it deep’ day in mid-April after record-setting warm temperatures the week before. The new snow encouraged me to take the line I had spotted out from the visual inspection the day before and reviewed over the athlete map. I wish I had taken the time to review the actual venue when my friends were hiking it the three previous days, but I didn’t anticipate making it this far. Now it was an hour before dropping and I had to stomp three cliffs and a hip jump before calling it a day. I reminded myself it’s just another day riding. It just happens to be a day filled with pros, cameras and huge cliffs.
The women started a half hour late for weather delay, but the 8 women rolled through pretty quick with good light with Shannon Yates winning her 6th katana sword by 11:30 am. As the men waited for the announcers to congratulate Shannon on her victories, the men on top were watching the weather roll up the valley like gray smoke, consuming everything in it’s path. Local Tyler Anderson threw down two huge 360’s that were repeated by Mark Carter and after a few more restless clouds, the window was open and they were calling me to drop in, 3…2….1. Dropping.
All the adrenaline and worries, anxieties and fears kind of leave in that instant with confluence of instant decision-making and mental alertness that I rarely experience. Jump, jump, turn, big turns, push out, slash, jump, trees, aim for, slow down, can’t see, jump. Two more. Slow it down, make this. WoW. Pull it together, stick! Sluff, One More. Two walls, roll, don't’ jump, roll. Rock! OHH, Oh, I’m still standing! YYeahh!!!
1:36:40 was all it took. All the worry and stress for just under two minutes.
Right after my run the weather would turn worse, making the three hour event into a marathon 8 hour ordeal from beginning to end. The locals stayed out with cold beverages, cheering on the remaining competitors and were rewarded with quit the show. Brian Selmer’s giant cliff drop off the amphitheater, Gregory Terziev spinning huge 3’s down the course, Dave Brumm dropping hammers, Jamie Rizzuto with the only backflip and Sammy Leubke laying down his winning run through the gray. There were a few cliff tumbles and at least one board laid to waste by Tim Crowie, but thankfully everyone walked away healthy and mostly happy.
As the last rider cleared the venue almost all the spectators left to find warmer pastures to continue to party, which most athletes did as well. However, when the awards were going down, the remainder came out to congratulate those friends and comrades we’ve had the opportunity to ride with for the past three days and reflect on the end of the Masters series.
We all know the risk of riding big mountains and I’m glad that I had the opportunity to do so with my peers that I respect and admire. Talking with fellow athletes we all have the pit in our stomach, fire in the chest that makes us want to give it our all. It may be our new born baby, girlfriend or wife that we are laying down those lines for. It may be our friends or sponsors for the opportunity to keep riding and do what we love. After all, it is the love of snowboarding that put us up at the starting gate to start with and continues to put me on top of big mountains.