Michelle Manning And Clif Bennett Win The Subaru US Extreme Freeskiing In Crested Butte

Fans came out in droves for the final day of the 2009 Subaru US Extreme Freeskiing Championships at Crested Butte Mountain Resort (CBMR). The first stop on the 2009 Freeskiing World Tour (FWT), fifty athletes qualified for the final day in the Hourglass/Bermuda Triangle, an area off-limits to the everyday skier, but opened up for the final day thanks to the work of the Crested Butte Mountain Professional Ski Patrol. In the end, Michelle Manning and Clif Bennett both of Alta/Snowbird, Utah, would post the best-combined score to take the titles.

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The Hourglass/Bermuda Triangle is a 1,000-vertical-foot drop with a sustained pitch of 40-degrees and reaching 60-degrees in several spots leaving skiers no room for mistakes. With no traffic in the area the entire season, competitors were treated to a mixed bag of conditions from soft powder, to bottomless, punchy holes and areas of completely bare rocks and trees.

“It’s different because it’s so steep and committing,” said head judge and vice president for the IFSA Eric Schmitz. “Every move is committing,”

Thirteen women got a shot at the expansive terrain for their first run of the day, but several fell victim to the variable conditions leaving just Michelle Manning of Alta/Snowbird, Utah, Crested Butte local Phillipa “Pip” Hunt and Crystal Wright of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, advancing to the Super Final.

The three women entered the Super Final separated by one point but consistency and fluidity paved the way for Manning as she moved from third to first place on her final run to win her first FWT women’s title and earn herself $3,500.

Manning admittedly dropped the biggest air she’s ever attempted in a competition on her first run, but opted out on her second run to seal the title.

“I was going to go bigger but I decided to play it safe and I’m glad I did,” said Manning.

Manning finished with 84.38 combined points after her three runs in the competition, Hunt took second place with 83.25 points taking home $2,000 and Wright took third place for a $1,000 pay day. Ariana Stefano of Whistler/Blackcomb, British Columbia, missed the Super Final cut but finished in fourth place with 54.44 points and a check for $500.

Thirty-two men reached the final day starting in reverse order of the finish from day one. While the back of the pack hung it out there in an effort to make it to the Super Final cut, numerous were caught over their heads at the bottom and found themselves facing 30 to 60-foot mandatory airs.

But consistency and fluidity, once again, paced the way for several skiers in the middle of the pack as four of the top five skiers heading into the final day ended up crashing opening the door for a number of skiers to move up through the ranks.

Nine skiers emerged from the first run to advance to the Super Final with Alex Else of Crested Butte sitting on top. Skiers continued with their “punch it” attitude rocketing through the upper Bermuda Triangle area fully aware of the consequences that lurked down below.

Clif Bennett of Snowbird, Utah, pushed into the Super Final from 13th place blasting his way through a series of pillow drops dubbed “Bed, Bath and Beyond” from top to bottom without hesitation to take sixth place after the first run.

Bennett followed the same line for the first half of his final run only faster before stomping a double drop into a 30-foot air and flying into the gut of the Hourglass and firing off three high speed GS turns before shutting it down for the finish line setting a new course record time of 48 seconds.

It was his line choice, stout airs and smooth high-speed turns that impressed the judges and earned him his first ever FWT title earning $5,000 cash.

“I always enjoyed skiing that pillow line and on the second run I wanted to throw in a little variation,” said Bennett. “Once I was in the air I thought, I better get my stomping feet on and put the landing gear down.”

Bennett finished the event with a cumulative score of 108.56 after his three runs. “I have a feeling of accomplishment to have completed three solid runs,” said Bennett.

Caleb Mullen of Crested Butte defended his home mountain finishing in second place scoring a total of 105 points and taking in $3,000. Griffin Post of Sun Valley, Idaho, totaled 104 points to finish in third place earning $2,000. John Mason of Breckenridge, Colorado, scored 98.75 points for a fourth place and $1,500 with Julien “the Flying Frenchman” Lopez of La Plagne, France just .25 points behind in fifth place and a $1,000 payday. Mark Filippini of Vail, Colorado, rounded out the cash prizewinners in sixth place with a score of 97.13 and a $500 slice of the money pie.

While Else suffered two tumbles on his final run to fall out of the money list he took home his first Backcountry.com Sickbird Buckle, a shiny silver belt buckle to be worn with pride for life.

In the end Schmitz was impressed by what he saw from the athletes over the course of the four-day event.

“There’s an awesome new style of skiing, safety,” said Schmitz. “We didn’t use a single sled in four days. All of the venues are so consequential and that says everything about the athletes skiing and not hucking.”

The FWT tour continues with its second stop of the tour March 5-8 at Snowbird, Utah, as competitors look to continue to build on their overall tour points they earned at the first stop in Crested Butte.

More info on the Freeskiing World Tour.

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