Ski Touring in France | The Secret Powder Stashes of the Maurienne Valley

Incredible terrain, cheap lift passes and its own microclimate. This valley really has it all

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It’s still early, my breakfast has barely settled, and yet here I am halfway up an icy, 55-degree slope, kicking footholds and digging my board in with every step to stop myself from slipping. Most guides would start a new group of skiers off with a cruisey red or blue run to assess their level. But Sylvain Rechu, who’s bounding up the hill ahead of me with the sure-footed self-assurance of the proverbial mountain goat, has no such time for such niceties.

The experience is all the more discombobulating because less than 24 hours ago I was at home in London. In between there have been two high-speed trains, a metro journey in Paris, a taxi to resort and three chairlifts rides, but it’s definitely still one of the more rapid ascents to 3,000 metres I’ve ever made.

“In winter the road is closed, so the valley remains a hidden secret, tucked away from the tourist crowds.”

In Sylvain’s defence, our group is pretty experienced, and no-one is uncomfortable getting stuck straight into this kind of terrain. Also, we have a lot of ground to cover if he’s going to show us the best that the Maurienne valley has to offer in just three and a half days.

Although it’s home to no fewer than 24 separate ski resorts, the Maurienne remains something of an unknown quantity, at least to most British skiers. Between us, our group, which includes my friends Matt, Cat and Abi, have spent decades exploring the French Alps, both for business and pleasure. Yet most of us have never been here, and none of us knows the area well.

Stairway to heaven. Matt scales the steep ascent in Bonneval-sur-Arc on our first day.

Stairway to heaven. Matt scales the steep ascent in Bonneval-sur-Arc on our first day.

The zone we’ll be exploring, the Haute Maurienne, is just a stone’s throw from some of France’s most famous mega-resorts as the crow flies. From Bonneval-Sur-Arc, where we met Sylvain this morning, you can actually drive to Val d’Isere in under two hours in the summer. But in winter the road, which winds over the Col d’Iseran, is closed. And so the valley remains a hidden secret, tucked away from the tourist crowds. As Eric Provost, Bonneval’s directeur de domaine skiable, tells us: “We have two kinds of visitors here – families who want something a bit quieter, and freeriders.”

The advantages of the Haute Maurienne’s lesser-known reputation are instantly obvious as we reach the objective that Sylvain’s set his sights on – a ridgeline just below the 3,217 metre Pointe d’Andagne. Down the other side we can see a broad, open valley which looks like it could provide a whole season’s worth of lines. Incredibly, although it’s five days since it last snowed, it’s nearly all untracked.

It’s hard not to be excited as we remove skins from our skis and splitboards. But this expectation is tempered by a certain amount of rationalisation. It’s the middle of April and it’s sunny. Even though the bowl isn’t tracked out, the snow surely can’t be fresh, can it? Yet as I follow Sylvain down into the face, I find myself letting out an involuntary whoop. It is fresh! At least a lot of it is.

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A man of many talents. Sylvain Rechu, the guide, trades in his skis for a snowboard one day and kills it on both.

The long, 600 vertical metre descent (named Anselmet after a local guide) winds its way down chutes and around ice cliffs. On the north facing aspects and in the shade of the rocks, the snow feels as if it could have fallen just hours before. Stopping to gather the group before the runout, there are high fives and broad grins all round. It’s some of the best snow we’ve had all season.

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Lads & lasses on tour. The group in La Norma, high above the Haute Maurienne.

I don’t care how hardcore you are, one of the best things about skiing in spring is the leisurely lunches in the sun. Thankfully the Haute Maurienne doesn’t disappoint. A quick tour up and a run down a more sun-affected lower slope takes us to the village of l’Ecot. Beyond the absurdly pretty stone church and down the winding streets we find Sylvain’s favourite restaurant, a converted farmhouse called Chez Mumu. It’s been a solid morning’s workout and we wash down our plates of pasta and boudin noir (French black pudding) with a couple of well-deserved beers.

As we eat, Sylvain explains more about the surrounding area and its unique microclimate. The valley benefits from a weather system called the Retour d’Est, which spirals up northwards from the gulf of Genoa and regularly dumps snow on the Maurienne even when the more northerly resorts in France are missing out. Could this place be much better for freeriding?

Our impression of the area as something of a secret backcountry paradise is reinforced the following day. Sylvain drives us down the valley (past a 19th century chateau perched improbably on the edge of a cliff) to the resort of La Norma. Unseasonal clouds swirl around the peak as we ride up the chairlift, but they begin to clear as we put skins on skis and boards and begin the tour up to the ridgeline below the peak at 2,917 metres.

From here, a series of steep couloirs plunge down towards a red piste some 400 vertical metres below, offering a whole plethora of different lines. The chute we drop into has a few tracks down it, and the snow is more chopped up and challenging than what we’d ridden the day before. But there are still some of the same miraculous pockets of fresh, and the run out – fast and open – sees us slashing and spraying each other all the way down to the piste.

Our next stop is Aussois, another of the resorts that are covered by the unified Haute Maurienne Eski-mo pass. Like La Norma and Bonneval-sur-Arc, it boasts fewer than a dozen lifts, but that still doesn’t explain how they can justify selling their six-day, five-resort passes for the ludicrously low price of €158. That’s more than €100 cheaper than a 6-day Espace Killy pass, which covers Tignes and Val d’Isere in the Tarantaise.

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Crusin’ – Cat Weakley enjoys a sunny run down to the refuge.

This difference in price between the two valleys is something Franck Buisson is fond of reminding his guests of. We meet Franck, the long-serving guardian of the Refuge de la Dent Parachée, after an hour or so of touring off the top of Aussois through the late afternoon sunshine. A jovial man with an easy smile and a twinkle in his eye, he welcomes us with a bottle of genepi and a whole slew of stories, most of which involve the stuck up rich folks from the Tarantaise getting their comeuppance at the hands of the wily Mauriennais.

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To be franck… The man, the myth, the legend in full swing.

It’s apparently a fairly common stereotype round these parts, but Franck is such an excellent raconteur that even the guides bringing clients over from Val d’Isere can’t help but chuckle. As dinner arrives and the genepi keeps flowing he tells the story of a friend who’s a helicopter pilot stopping in for lunch one day, and accidentally taking off with one of his chickens in the cockpit. “And then I went to Courchevel and they were trying to sell me chicken and chips for €120 – not only did my chicken get taken to the Tarentaise but now they’re trying to sell it back to me for €120!” He laughs, outraged.

Sleeping arrangements in the refuge are basic – there’s one main dorm which fits around 30 guests, who have to share the wide on wooden bunks in groups of three or four. But whether it’s the genepi, the long day outdoors, or the quiet of the remote location, I sleep soundly, despite the inevitable snore-chestra that cranks into action after lights out.

“A jovial man with an easy smile and a twinkle in his eye, he welcomes us with a bottle of genepi.”

It’s just as well because the following morning we’re out early, strapping harnesses over our ski pants and adding ice axes and crampons to our touring packs. From the refuge at 2,520 metres we’re aiming to tour to the 3,300 metre Col d’Abby. The snow here has definitely been affected by the sun, and where it’s refrozen on the steeper slopes, the ice is slippery enough that skins are no longer enough.

Strapping on crampons and using axes makes everything feel instantly more sketchy, but in the end the final ascent isn’t too taxing. Once again we’re treated to an incredible panoramic view, with fun-looking lines in all directions. Unfortunately despite Sylvain’s dynamic leadership, we’ve reached the ridge a little bit late and won’t have time to drop down the other side and make it back over. There’s a last lift we need to catch in Aussois if we’re going to make it back up the valley to Val Cenis, our final stop of this trip, tonight.

But if we’ve not quite completed the full tour Sylvain had planned, no-one in the group is hugely disappointed. Instead, we opt to take our time over the sunny line back the way we came at a leisurely pace. Arriving at the refuge earlier means we can enjoy another long, sunny lunch too, and a few more of Franck’s stories.

We might not have seen everything the valley has to offer – that would have been impossible in such a short space of time. But we’ve certainly seen enough to get a sense of the potential. With its 3,000 metre-plus peaks, its peculiarly consistent snow, and its lack of crowds, this place offers everything a freerider could want, and all at a fraction of the price you’d pay elsewhere. And then of course there are the friendly locals.

As the TGV whisks us back across France after an entertaining final morning in Val Cenis I reach into my bag and pull out the bottle that Franck had pushed into my hands as we left.

“This is a your payment,” he’d said with a wink, after I promised to send him some photos of the refuge to hang on his wall. Franck hasn’t bothered listing such trifles as the alcohol percentage on the homemade label, but needless to say it’s powerful stuff. Whether it’s the speed of the train, the strength of the moonshine, or simply the excellent company, the journey flies by in a blur. And when we pull into London’s crowded St Pancras station with a bump, I feel a little like Lucy coming back from Narnia. Were we really exploring a secret powdery paradise just a few hours before?

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Happy valley… The sun setting over the Maurienne.

Do it yourself:

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Getting there:

Train fares from London to Modane, in the Maurienne Valley, start at £116 standard class return. Book with SNCF (voyages-sncf.com).

Accommodation:

In the valley, we stayed at he 2-star Hotel La Clé des Champs in Val Cenis Lanslevillard (hotel-lacledeschamps.com) where rooms start at €68 per night.

Up the mountain we stayed at the Refuge de la Dent Parachée (refugeladentparrachee.ffcam.fr) which is open from March 1st and offers Bed, Breakfast, Dinner for €45.20.

Guides & Liftpasses:

We were guided by the awesome Sylvain Rechu, who kills is on skis and a snowboard equally. He works for the French/Swedish outfit Off Piste Maurienne (offpistmaurienne.com)

The 6-day Eski-Mo liftpass includes a day at each of the five Haute Maurienne member resorts (Aussois, Bonneval, La Norma, Val Cenis, Valfréjus) and a second day at the resort at which the pass is purchased. Prices range from €158-€198 depending on the time of year. Book from the Eski-Mo website (eski-mo.com)

Tristan’s trip was hosted by the French Tourist board and the Haute Maurienne region. For more info on the area, visit haute-maurienne-vanoise.com.

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David Wise Wins Gold | Men’s 2018 Olympic Ski Halfpipe Finals Result and Report

Wise pipped David Ferreira to the top prize as 16 year old New Zealander Nico Porteous took the bronze

Alex Ferreira, USA, during the men’s skiing halfpipe qualification at the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics. Photo: Sam Mellish

Team USA weren’t able to take the clean sweep that many expected them to do in the men’s ski halfpipe, but they did take the gold and silver as David Wise made Olympic history by becoming the first man to land all four double corks during his final run in the Winter Olympics.

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David Wise celebrating stomping his historic run.

A score of 97.2 was enough to see him beat Alex Ferreira – who looked like he was going for gold the whole way after Wise crashed his first two runs – but even after upping his score on all three runs, Alex’s eventual 96.40 wasn’t enough to win.

16 year old New Zealander Nico Porteous made history by disrupting the American domination to take bronze with a score of 94.80, and the hugs between Porteous, Ferreira and Wise told you everything you needed to know about why we love the sport at the end of the contest.

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Alex Ferreira, the second last man down the mountain, was the first and only man to put down a score of over 90 in the first round of runs.

He got a 92.60 and after that it was just a question of whether that score would hold. Aaron Blunck followed him down to finish off round one with an albeit possibly underscored effort of 81.40 to show just how high the judges were rating Alex’s run (and Aaron wasn’t able to reach the medal spots despite landing a final run that brought him up to 84.80).

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Alex Ferreira after run two.

Alex Ferreira’s run was eventually toppled by an insane second run of 94.80 from young New Zealand star Nico Porteous, but Ferreira came back to stomp an insane run including a double 10 to flair that scored a 96.0 and at that point, it was clear that he would be hard to catch. It was big, it was techincal and clearly it was just what the judges were looking for.

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But his compatriot David Wise saw the challenge, took it up, and somehow beat Ferreira out.

Defending Winter Olympic Sochi halfpipe champion David Wise was the hot favourite in the run up to the Olympics. He’s been on fine form in the FIS halfpipe world cup in the 17-18 season, claiming a couple of gold medals already, and he won the 2018 X Games halfpipe as well, but the nerves seemed to be getting the best of him in Pyeongchang.

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David Wise, USA, during the men’s skiing halfpipe. Photo: Sam Mellish

After Wise struggled in qualifying for the mens’ ski halfpipe final, crashing out in his first run and then struggling to a 79.6 to qualify in ninth with his second, some were doubting his chances of getting on the podium, and a rough start to finals saw him struggle to exercise his demons as he crashed out in both his first and second run.

If you’ve ever wondered if the pressure gets to a reigning Olympic champion, the answer is clearly yes. In his third and final run he proved they weren’t getting the better of him though. He became the first man to do all four double corks in an Olympic Games and was rewarded with a 97.20 and first place as a result.

If you think of skiing – you can ride left, ride right, right going forward and ride going backwards – and David Wise stuck a double cork in every single one of those directions.

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Alex Ferreira built on his own run again to get over the 96 mark but it wasn’t good enough to beat Wise.

The Americans dominated in qualification regardless though, with reigning world champion Aaron Blunck qualifying in first, Alex Ferreira in second and Torin Yater-Wallace in third, but the rest of the world weren’t going to let them away with it easy.

Torin Yater-Wallace struggled in run one and smashed an enormous double alleyoop on run two but crashed out again after running after running out of pipe down bottom.

In run three he nailed a right side double 1260 but then caught the edge and went down again. It’s a testimony to skiing that the people who looked most concerned about him after the crash were those waiting in the medal positions at the bottom.

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Alex Ferreira, USA, during the men’s skiing halfpipe at the Phoenix Snow Park in Pyeongchang-gun, South Korea. Photo: Sam Mellish

If anyone was going to trouble the USA domination in finals, the qualifications suggested it would be the New Zealand brothers Byron Wells and Beau-James Wells, who qualified in fourth and fifth – but that duo of competitors was reduced to just Beau-James after Byron crashed out in qualifiers and was unable to compete.

Nevertheless, 16 year old Kiwi Nico Porteous also qualified further down the field and proved he was certainly not there to make up the numbers when he built on a great first run with a mesmerising second run that scored 94.80 and put him into the lead. That’s a medal score.

And his face after the score told you everything you needed to know.

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On his final run Nico took is easy and sent it steezy down the course. He was settling for the 94.80, the run of his life so far, and you can see why. He laid down the gauntlet for the other riders, and only two of them were able to pick it up and beat him to the top of the table.

Beau-James turned his qualification run into a first final run of 87.40 where he sent some astronomical hits. He effectively landed his run first time and it was always going to be hard for him to build on that from there. In run two he went bigger but had a couple of flat landings, and he seemed to be using his second run to check a few things out for his final run.

That final run saw him step it up to a 91.6, sending an early switch double and then completing his usual run. He can be proud of that.

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James Beau Wells, New Zeland, during the men’s skiing halfpipe qualification at the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics. Photo: Sam Mellish

Kevin Rolland put down a sick run in qualifying to rank in sixth place as well, but it came at a price. He was seen to notably be holding his left hip after his run. Whether that injury was notable or not in the final is hard to say, but Rolland did crash out in both of his first runs.

Come run three he took another huge hit, and it’s fair to say it was hard to watch. The man who has won everything but the Olympics was unable to stick a run down in the Pyeongchang halfpipe.

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Kevin Rolland, France, during the men’s skiing halfpipe. Photo: Sam Mellish

His French compatriot Thomas Krief is the only non-North American to win a FIS halfpipe stop in the 17-18 season, but he couldn’t put down a run either. It was an off day for the French.

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Thomas Krief, France, during the men’s skiing halfpipe at the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics at the Phoenix Snow Park in Pyeongchang-gun, South Korea. Photo: Sam Mellish

The Canadians Mike Riddle and Noah Bowman meanwhile were looking to up their game from qualifications, where they finished in seventh and ninth – though Noah Bowman’s ninth place finish was somewhat controversial – and they quickly landed their first runs to go temporarily into first and second place.

Noah Bowman’s first run of 89.40 set the pace from the get-go for the rest of the field. It was a spot that immediately put Noah in first place, and even as the higher scores kept coming in, the 89.40 kept Bowman in the third medal spot until the third and finals runs.

Bowman crashed his final run and when David Wise finally landed his run, Noah was pushed out of the medal spots.

It wasn’t to be Canada’s day. It was to be the day of David Wise. It was to be the day that Alex Ferreira almost won gold, and a day that a 16 year old kid went above and beyond what anybody expected of him to win bronze. It was a contest that will not be forgotten soon.

Suffering from a real bad case of Olympic fever? You’ll be pleased to hear that we’ve joined forces with Ubisoft, the folks behind ‘Steep: Road To The Olympics’, to provide you with the very best coverage of the PyeongChang action.

While many of us will never even get close to attempting a switch triple cork 1440 Octo grab in real life, thanks to the magic of video games, and in particular ‘Steep: Road To The Olympics’, that possibility is much closer than you think.

Get STEEP & the Road To The Olympics add-on in the STEEP: Winter Games Edition. Available now

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American Domination | Men’s 2018 Olympic Ski Halfpipe Qualification Results and Report

Team USA launch their push for a clean sweep of the medals in men’s halfpipe skiing

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The Americans took all three top spots at the men’s ski halfpipe qualifying. Photo: Sam Mellish

The results from the men’s ski halfpipe qualifications are in, and the Americans have laid down the gauntlet for finals after USA’s Aaron Bluck, Alex Ferreira and Torin Yater-Wallace finished in first, second and third.

Rather than the Canadians, it was the New Zealanders that followed the Americans in after, with Wells brothers Byron and Beau-James Wells sending it big and qualifying in fourth and fifth place.

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Byron Wells celebrates after sticking a stylish second run.

It was an event which was categorised by crashes and mistakes for the first half of the field. Eight skiers from the first 11 either crashed out hard or made a big mistake. This was something that set the bar for the qualifications and lead to a situation where a score in the high 60s or low 70s would get you into the finals.

Indeed, American favourite and defending Olympic champion David Wise bailed on his first run and took it easy on his second to make sure he put down a score a 79.6. It wasn’t a huge score and not what David would have wanted, but he’s in the final – even if it does mean he might have to change his game plan for it.

Aaron Bluck also crashed out on run one, but a stylish second run featuring a starting 720 and a heap of sick 900s was enough to bag him a 94.4 and send him into first.

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Aaron Blunck after a hell of a second run.

Torin Yater Wallace was the first favourite to stick a big score, bagging an 89.6 in run one and then going on to slip, slide and style his way down run two.

His good friend and fellow US team mate Alex Ferreira followed him and went even better shortly after though. He was late with some grabs but really stuck a big run for a score of 92.60.

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The Canadian’s were also on form, and possibly in parts underated, with Mike Riddle scoring 82.20 and Noah Bowman scoring a 77.20 – which Woodsy said “he thought was better than Aaron Blunck’s run”.

They’ll be desperate not to let the US away with a clean sweep of the medals at the final, which takes place tomorrow on 21 February at 11:30am local time in South Korea or 2:30am in the UK.

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The Pyeongchang Winter Olympic halfpipe at Phoenix Snow Park in South Korea. Photo: Sam Mellish

Team GB had three athletes in action in qualifying – Murray Buchan, Xander Glavatsky-Yeadon and Peter Speight.

The format of the Olympic halfpipe qualification sees each skier do two runs down the slope (with only their best score counting), and the best 12 skiers qualifying for the finals.

Unfortunately none of the British boys were able to qualify for finals this time around.

Murray Buchan was the only Brit to land his first run – and he did so with style. There was a big 900 to start and from there the run included a left five, a double flair, a right 720, a second double flair. It scored a 66.

On his second run Murray was the land man down the pipe and just had to up his score a couple of marks to qualify. He landed his run again – and we thought it looked cleaner – but was devastatingly marked down for missed grabs and scored 65.4, missing out on finals by just 2.6 points.

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Murray after sticking his first run in men’s halfpipe qualifications.

Xander unfortunately bailed out on both runs, and after also crashing on run one, Pete Speight was able to stick a second run including back to back 720s and back to back 900s which scored 64.60.

There’s been a lot of talk in the run up to the men’s ski halfpipe that Team USA are strong favourites and are in perfect place to do a clean sweep of the medals.

The FIS Freestyle Skiing World Cup series has had five stops for halfpipe so far in the 17/18 season and Americans have won four of them – David Wise has taken two of those FIS gold medals and Alex Ferreira has taken one gold and two silvers.

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David Wise also won the men’s halfpipe at the 2018 X Games, and when you add Aaron Blunck, the 21 year old who won the 2017 X Games halfpipe and current world champion, it’s a hell of a formidable line up from the Americans.

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Canadian fans at the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics men’s freestyle skiing in Pyeongchang. Photo: Sam Mellish

The rest of the field challenged the idea at the qualifier that this event was just about North America though.

Byron Wells from New Zealand stuck an 88.6 which oozed style. It was a ski run for the skiers and one that challenged the idea you have to spin for days to succeed in halfpipe.

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Bearded Byron Wells is also a helicopter pilot. Badass. Pictured after run one in the men’s halfpipe qualifications.

Byron’s brother Beau-James Wells put down two great runs as well – first scoring 86.2 and then going on to bag an 88.2 with his second run – after telling Woodsy to shoutout the UK grime scene for him from the commentary box; a great way to win over any British viewer.

The French will have hope that their men can bother the favourites though. Kevin Rolland is famous for his style and experience in the sport. He’s got a bunch of medals to his name, and his first run of 87.80 was strong (and enough to give him a training run on the second), but he seemed to leave the pipe with an injury to his left hip after a shallow landing on one particular hip. It’ll be interesting to see if that is still bothering him come finals.

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The Pyeongchang Winter Olympic halfpipe at Phoenix Snow Park in South Korea. Photo: Sam Mellish

His French compatriot Thomas Krief is actually the only man from outside of North America to win a halfpipe stop on the FIS tour this year, and the wildcard pick will be looking to put a cat amongst the pigeons after scraping through qualifying with a score of 74.8. Krief went big on his second run – possibly bigger than you should go in qualifying – and crashed out on his second run, so it was a nervous wait for him but he did indeed make it through.

The North Americans have been running rampant on the halfpipe so far though. Chloe Kim and Shaun White cleaned up for the American’s in the halfpipe snowboarding, and the results of the women’s ski halfpipe Olympic finals showed Canadian Cassie Sharpe at the top as well.

Could America showcase their dominance in the pipe even further in the halfpipe finals tomorrow? We’ll just have to wait and see.

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Rowan Cheshire Into Finals | Women’s 2018 Olympic Ski Halfpipe Qualification Results

Canadian Cassie Sharpe comes in first as Team GB’s Rowan Cheshire qualifies in ninth

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Rowan Cheshire.

Team GB skier Rowan Cheshire has reached the finals of the women’s Winter Olympic halfpipe after qualifying in ninth place with a score of 74.0.

The qualifiers see each of the 24 skiers put down two runs, with the best run counting and the top 12 going through to the final, and it all went by-and-large to plan for the favourites.

Cassie Sharpe of Canada finished in first with a score of 93.4 (though her first run of 93.0 would have been enough to win it as well), experienced French skier Marie Martinod put down a 92.0 to finish in second and American Brita Sigourney came third with a 90.6.

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Cassie Sharpe wins women’s halfpipe qualifications. Photo: Screenshot / BBC sport

Rowan’s fellow Team GB rider Molly Summerhayes missed out on a spot in the finals but stuck down an admirable best run of 66.0 which saw her finish in 17th place. It’s a promising first Olympics for Molly, and great to see Rowan qualify after a tricky past four years in the sport.

Back in 2014, the 22 year old Rowan Chesire became the first British female skier to win a halfpipe competition on the FIS Freestyle World Cup when she won the halfpipe stop in Calgary, but she’s been plagued with injury since – suffering the first of three head injuries in 18 months at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics and being forced out the sport for two years after.

She returned to competitive halfpipe in December 2016 and is currently returning from an ankle injury, so it’s great to see her reach the finals of the Olympic Games now.

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Rowan Chesháire of Team GB. Photo: Sam Mellish.

Canadian Cassie Sharpe meanwhile is the only halfpipe skier to have taken two gold medals on the FIS Freestyle Skiing circuit in the 17-18 season so far, so she came into the Winter Olympics as one of a few hot favourites.

Americans Brita Sigourney and Maddie Bowman are also bound to be confident after coming first and second respectively at the most recent FIS Halfpipe in Mammoth Mountain on 19 January. Maddie followed her compatriot Brita into the finals with a 83.80 meaning she qualified in sixth, and talented fellow USA skier Annalisa Drew qualified in fourth as well.

33-year-old French skier Marie Martinod has made a career of being at the right end of the table too. She took the silver in halfpipe at the Sochi Games in 2014, and has won gold since at the X-Games superpipe in 2017. She’ll be hoping to build on her qualifying run tomorrow to add another Winter Olympic medal to her tally.

Rowan Cheshire’s first run of 74.0 included a big 540, a huge alleyoop, a 900, straight air, 720, switch 360 and another straight air to finish. The big amplitude and bucket of tricks saw her end up in ninth thanks (she scored a lesser 71.40 on her second run) and it was good enough to take her through to finals tomorrow (at 1am Tuesday UK time).

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Rowan Cheshire.

Men’s halfpipe skier Murray Buchan, who was in the commentary booth for qualifying in the BBC and will be in action tomorrow, said: “I think Rowan Cheshire can add few things to run that could bump up her score. She is skiing very well.”

Molly Summerhayes improved upon an opening run of 60.80 to land a run of 66.0. “I’m so happy,” she later said. “That’s the best I’ve ever skied”. It might not have been enough to qualify, but it was a really respectable debut from Molly.

The full results from the women’s Winter Olympics ski halfpipe qualifying read:

womens-ski-halfpipe-2-qualification

Britain’s Molly Summerhayes is the 20-year-old sister of fellow Team GB skier Katie Summerhayes, 22, who reached the final of the women’s slopestyle event before finishing in seventh place.

Womens Ski Slopestyle FInals Pyeongchang Winter Olympics 2018

Katie Summerhayes, Great Britain, during the Womens Ski Slopestyle finals at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics on 17th February 2018 at Phoenix Snow Park in South Korea. Photo: Sam Mellish.

While Katie is funded by UK Sport and has various sponsorship deals though, Molly has to fund her skiing herself by working full time in none other than McDonald’s.

Katie was skiing with an injured ankle in the slopestyle final, and admitted on Twitter that she was “gutted” about the result, while her fellow slopestyle skier Isabel Atkin made history – finishing in third place to take bronze and become the first ever Brit to claim a medal on skis.

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How Woodsy Played a Blinder in ‘The Best Skiing Slopestyle Competition in History’

Woodsy might not have got the result he wanted today, but in the context his performance was insane.

James Woods (Great Britain) during the men’s ski slopestyle finals at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics on 18th February 2018 at Phoenix Snow Park in South Korea © Sam Mellish

To misquote Radiohead, for a minute there we lost ourselves. To every Brit standing at the bottom of the slopestyle course in Pyeongchang, and I’m sure all of those watching at home, it seemed for a short while that history might be repeated.

James Woods had put down a blinding run in the men’s ski slopestyle final. Like his team mate Izzy Atkin in yesterday’s ladies’ competition, he was sitting in the bronze medal position with just a few skiers left to drop. Once again, the wait was agonising. But in the end it was not to be.

Nick Goepper of the US, always a threat on a pair of skis, came through with a run that was cleaner than Woodsy’s, landing himself in the silver medal position and bumping Woodsy into fourth.

“The switch triple cork 1440 octograb is a hammer of such magnitude it would put Mjolnir to shame.”

“Fourth isn’t that great, it definitely sucks,” said Woodsy afterwards. “You’re so close to the action.” But while he was disappointed “results-wise” he was proud of the way he’d skied, and rightly so.

Woods’ run, which he’d been “constructing for a good amount of time” mixed up techy rail tricks up top (including a transfer over the goal post reminiscent of Red Gerard) with a triple cork 1440, a 12, and then his signature trick – a massive switch triple cork 1440 octograb, a hammer of such magnitude it would put Mjolnir to shame.

Having put it down once in qualifying, Woodsy then stomped the same run twice in the three-run final. But he couldn’t quite keep it clean from top to bottom. On his first run he fell on the final trick, taking a heavy blow to the chin. His second was marred by coming off a rail slightly early, and on his third he sat down slightly on the landing of a 450 out. They were minor mistakes, but enough to cost him a medal.

Men's ski slopestyle final during the Pyeongchang Winter Olympic

Woodsy with his coach Pat Sharples. Photo: Sam Mellish

Of course, throwing down a run like that, Woodsy hadn’t just been going for any medal, he’d been going for gold. And he wasn’t far off. As his coach Pat Sharples said afterwards: “I know I’m probably biassed but I think if he’d landed it cleanly, he would have won.”

Pat wasn’t the only one. Might the podium have looked different if Woodsy had kept it clean, we asked the gold medallist Oystein Braaten afterwards? “Yeah, I think so. It’s hard to say, but with the run he did, it was looking really good.”

“It was such a good last trick, I’m bummed for Woodsy,” Alex Beaulieu-Marchand, who took the bronze, agreed. “And also for the other skiers who were putting it out there.” Because Woodsy wasn’t the only skier who’d tried to tear the Phoenix Park slopestyle course a new one. As Nick Goepper said afterwards, “that was the greatest skiing slopestyle competition in history.” He wasn’t exaggerating either.

Oystein Braaten, the Swedish skier who claimed gold with a super clean run including two switch 14s. Photo: Sam Mellish

Woods himself had set the bar early when he landed his run in qualifying, but he’d known he would had to come out all guns blazing. “When Sharpey [Pat Sharples] brought me the startlist last night, I had a look at it and I thought ‘goodness me’,” he said. “It was like staring at a brick wall. Just to make it to this finals was incredible.”

The field was one of the strongest ever assembled in skiing slopestyle. The course was excellent, pushing riders to be as creative as possible. And the conditions were spot on, with barely a hint of the winds which had derailed the women’s snowboard slopestyle contest earlier in the week. It was a perfect storm. One look at the heavy hitters who didn’t make it through to finals was enough to show you the quality of the skiing on display.

Swedish skier Henrik Harlaut, who’s won enough X Games silverware to sink a galleon, was one of those who fell by the wayside. His countryman Jesper Tjader didn’t make the cut either. Russ Henshaw, Jackson Wells and McCrae Williams all put down runs, but none were deemed good enough. Woodsy’s team mate Tyler Harding skied amazingly well through the rails, landing probably the techiest trick of the day with a 450-on 450-off. But without sticking his kickers there was no way he was going through.

Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics Men's Freestyle Ski Slopestyle

Gus Kenworthy was just one of the big names gunning for gold in the finals, but he couldn’t put down a clean run. Photo: Sam Mellish

The judges must have been relieved that qualifying was only two runs. They’d given Woods a 90.20 and the top place qualifier 95.40. It wasn’t a question of tweaking their scoring scale so much as ripping it up and starting again.

Runs that would win any other competition were dismissed out of hand. Andri Ragettli of Switzerland who had qualified through in second was given a mere 85.80. Oscar Wester, the owner of that top qualifying score, put down a run that included a massive alley-oop double rodeo 9. It was only good enough for 11th place.

“Qualification was mind-blowing and the final was two times that,” was Goepper’s analysis, and Woodsy agreed. “Everybody brought their A Game,” he said, “I couldn’t be prouder for freeskiing.”

“Runs that would win any other competition were dismissed out of hand.”

It was a sentiment that the medallists shared. As ABM said: “Today was an incredible contest for ski slopestyle, showing the world what our sport is.” Goepper said. “I’m an athlete first but I’m a super fan second. Even in training, I kept commenting to the guys on the lift, like ‘wow’.”

All of which helps put Woodsy’s achievement into context. The day may not have ended with the result that he wanted. But in the best freeskiing slopestyle contest the world has ever seen, he’d given it his all, and he’d smashed it out of the park.

And seeing him standing there with blood dripping down his chin (the result of that nasty first run crash) there was no doubt in any of the spectators’ minds that the boy who grew up on Sheffield dryslope could hold his head high. He’d skied out of his skin, pushing the world’s best right to the wire, and driving the sport he loves forward in the process.

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