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Soaring in the Slush
January 31, 2005
Despite days of torrential downpours, the Snowboard World Championships in British Columbia were a feast of 720s, 1080s and, to quote Jaymo, tweakarama
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January 31, 2005

Soaring In The Slush

Despite days of torrential downpours, the Snowboard World Championships in British Columbia were a feast of 720s, 1080s and, to quote Jaymo, tweakarama

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It's right there in the Book of Genesis. After the ark ran aground on Mount Ararat, the Almighty promised Noah to never again flood the earth. Inhabitants of southern British Columbia could be forgiven for wondering last week if He'd had a change of heart. � Besides triggering a fatal mud slide and flooding rivers, which forced road closures and mass evacuations, the Old Testament rains that fell on the Canadian province transformed the Snowboard World Championships, held at Whistler's Blackcomb Mountain, into a prolonged exercise in slush management. To the vast credit of the event's organizers, led by the redoubtable Mark Taylor of IMG Action Sports, the competition proceeded smoothly, if not drily. Like General Patton with his bull terrier, Willie, Taylor patrolled the venues with his German shepherd, Lulu, cutting the gloom with his smile and blond mane while buoying waterlogged volunteers with such verities as, "There is no bad weather, there are only bad clothes."

Taylor was right. The weather wasn't bad. It was atrocious. The downpour on Sunday, Jan. 16, gave way to Monday's torrential rains, which ushered in the deluges of Tuesday and Wednesday. A 24-hour window of mist and fog closed on Friday evening, ensuring that Saturday's halfpipe would take place in pelting rain.

If the conditions seldom varied, the competitors' attitudes toward them did. "It's actually kind of fun," said halfpipe artist Danny Kass. Growing up in New Jersey and honing his craft on a hill called Vernon Valley, Kass recalled, "It was easier to learn new tricks when it was raining. Slush makes for a softer landing than packed snow. The first time I ever went upside down, it was raining."

Kass left Whistler with different feelings about slush. Like two of the three other U.S. men who were there to ride the pipe, he failed to make the finals. In an uneven performance that did not bode well for next winter's Olympics in Turin, Team USA saved its best for first, sweeping gold in the opening discipline. That was snowboardcross, a new Olympic event combining elements of motocross and Roller Derby. Four riders jockey for position over a steep course featuring whoop sections (a sequence of big-ass speed bumps), banked turns, double jumps and gaps. Coming off one such jump "in the backseat" (meaning with too much weight over the back foot) at the 2001 Winter X Games, Lindsey Jacobellis found herself gazing up at her board and the sky beyond it. From a height of 10 feet she landed on the back of her head and neck. "I tried to get up and just fell back down," says Jacobellis, who was then 15 years old. "My whole body was numb and tingling." After regaining feeling in her extremities, she earned a small measure of renown when a clip of her crash ended up on a popular snowboarding blooper reel.

These days Jacobellis is known for more than a spectacular wipeout. Now 19 and a graduate of Vermont's Stratton Mountain School, she has become the planet's most dominant female snowboardcross rider. She did not lose a race in that event on last year's World Cup circuit, and she has won it at the last two Winter X Games. Jacobellis trailed in none of her heats at Whistler and easily beat France's Karine Ruby, the reigning world champion, in the final.

Seth Wescott had to work a little harder. The 28-year-old Mainer, who spent time last spring heliboarding Alaskan glaciers "to expand my comfort level and make snowboardcross races seem tame," arrived at Whistler a bit gimpy. In a race the previous week an opponent had fallen on him, opening a gash on his right shin and stretching his left MCL. After executing a nervy pass midway through the semifinal at Whistler, Wescott finished comfortably ahead of Canada's Fran�ois Boivin for gold. Joining them on the podium was California's Jayson Hale, who in an earlier heat had survived a collision with a strapping Austrian, Alex Maier--the Herminator's little brother. "He passed me," said Hale, "but he crashed, and I ran him over."

Boivin's silver complemented the bronze earned by his countrywoman Ma�lle Ricker, the Mark Schlereth of snowboarding, who medaled despite having undergone her eighth knee surgery in October. While casting rose petals before those two, however, Canadian reporters clucked their tongues at Jasey-Jay Anderson, 29, who failed to make the semis in snowboardcross. Anderson, a four-time overall World Cup champion, was once thought to be Canada's brightest snowboarding light, but with disappointing results in the last two Olympics, he had developed a reputation as a rider who wilted on the biggest stages.

Some snickered when, after Anderson's 29th-place finish in the parallel giant slalom at Salt Lake City in 2002, he claimed his equipment was holding him back. The Europeans had an edge, he insisted, because of their superior board technology. Anderson showed up for the parallel giant slalom (PGS) in Whistler with a custom-made Coiler board that contains a layer of aluminum alloy where standard boards have fiberglass. The alloy conforms more readily to the surface of the snow, reducing chatter and helping the rider hold his edge. When Anderson predicted that the new rig would help him break through, one competitor "laughed in my face," Anderson said. On Tuesday, after sleeping with his new board, he won four two-run elimination rounds and gold.

That night the Coiler was Anderson's bedmate again. On the first run of his first heat in the parallel slalom--a non-Olympic event that's basically a 100-meter dash to the PGS's 200--Anderson fell, staking Markus Ebner to a 1.2-second lead going into the second run. But the German went down hard on that run, and Anderson advanced. His edge, and luck, held: In the quarterfinals Anderson's opponent, Harald Walder, jumped the gun. Like a subway rider with a defective token, the overeager Austrian folded at the waist over the metal arm in the starter's gate and never recovered. Anderson won two more heats and his second gold medal in two days. The Vancouver Province dubbed him Rain Man.

Anderson's double gold gave a much-needed morale boost to a nation bummed out by the all-but-sure cancellation of the NHL season and to the citizens of this stunning resort town, who had looked forward to showing Whistler's best face to the world. Vancouver will host the 2010 Winter Olympics, many of whose venues will be at Whistler. That made last week's world championships the wettest dry run in the history of sport.

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