MOUNT BACHELOR — The clock does not matter. Style points do not count. Boardercross and skiercross are racing in its simplest form: The only thing that counts is the order in which racers cross the finish line.
At the USA Snowboard and Freeski Association (USASA) Boardercross and Skiercross races at Mount Bachelor on Saturday and Sunday, youth snowboarders and freeskiers flew down the banked course constructed next to the Pine Marten Express chairlift in groups of up to four at a time, often racing head-to-head against friends and teammates.
“At the top of the course we just all hang out and talk, it’s very social and fun,” explained Ethan Carlson, 13 and of Bend, who competed in the freeski breaker (ages 12 and 13) boys division. “And it’s cool to go up against your friends that you ski with all the time.”
Although times are not important in the final rounds (each day began with time trials in order to seed semifinal and final races for the divisions with more competitors), Carlson and several other participants said cross events feel faster than a typical, timed run down the slope.
“If you see somebody ahead of you it pushes you to do more than 100 percent, it pushes you to go as fast as you possibly can,” Carlson said after Saturday’s competition.
Tate Harkness, a 16-year-old snowboarder from Mount Shasta, California, competing in her first boardercross event, said she approached it differently from a slalom or giant slalom event.
“I guess I would have had more finesse” in a timed event, said Harkness, who won the California Nevada Interscholastic Ski and Snowboard Federation giant slalom and combined titles last winter. “Around the corners, I was skidding around a little bit.”
Harkness was not the only boarder who slipped on some of the turns. Despite the fine snow falling on the mountain during Saturday afternoon’s blustery final, the course was hard-packed and icy. Of the more than 60 participants, several, most of them snowboarders, crashed on one of the final two turns. In some cases, they took nearby competitors down with them. (Racers are not allowed to intentionally interfere with a competitor by shoving, bumping or pulling, but occasional collisions and multi-athlete pileups are an unavoidable part of the event.) One young snowboarder crossed the finish line skidding on her backside, and one skier, already far behind everyone else in his heat, turned around and shot over the final jump facing backward.
“Every run that I did, that second-to-last turn got me a little bit,” Harkness said. “As I went through the day, though, I got better at it. The second turn of the course, it was a sharp turn and it was pretty rutted. And if you fell on that turn, there was a slight uphill. So especially for snowboarders, we’d have to get out of our bindings (to get moving again). And so you just didn’t want to fall there.”
Shae Domings, 13 and of Bend, competed in the same division as Carlson. Although he has been freeskiing for years, he said Saturday’s race was his first formal skiing competition. He finished second in his semifinal race to advance to the breakers boys finals, in which he took fourth.
“The first couple of runs I wasn’t sure about it. I was like, what am I doing?” Domings said. “But my final two runs, they were really good, I really enjoyed it.”
Domings, who is still new to ski racing, said he would work on getting out of the gate faster during Sunday’s competition (the two days’ results count equally toward the USASA standings). Carlson said he still prefers halfpipe and rail jam events because he enjoys watching his friends show off new tricks and skills, but he said he will probably travel up to Mount Hood, which will host USASA skiercross and boardercross events on two weekends in February. The 50 kids with the most points in each USASA event at the end of the season are invited to the national championships, which will be held in Copper Mountain, Colorado, in early April.
Harkness, who has been snowboarding since she was 7, said her first boardercross race reminded her of her first season of snowboard racing last winter.
“It’s really great,” Harkness said. “Last year I went into the season, and there were no expectations at all. And I liked that. If I was bad, it’d be fine. If I was good, that would be great. That’s kind of what it was like here. No pressure.”
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