Big Lights, Big Air, Big Fun

It was a big show of big air at Dollar Thursday night

It was a big show of big air at Dollar Thursday night

Thursday night, you could smell the party on Dollar way before you could see it. Burgers sizzling by the dozen on outdoor grills enveloped Carol’s Dollar Lodge, right down to the parking lot, in a mouth-watering haze. But it was also hard to miss the sights and sounds of the “Big Air” contest going on beneath the lights on a cold, clear late winter’s night.

Two mammoth klieg lights flooded the awesome jumps beside the Half Dollar lift, spotlighting a “Big Air” contest featuring athletes from this week’s 35th Annual US Collegiate Ski & Snowboard National (USCSA) Championship. Midway through the five-day event, competitors turned up the adrenalin and embraced the opportunity to spend an evening with their fellow athletes.

USCSA athletes worked up appetites as big as the jumps during the week's events

USCSA athletes worked up appetites as big as the jumps during the week's events

The Big Air contest showcased freestyle skiers and snowboarders who qualified for the event by submitting a video to USCSA. Eight daredevils took to the jumps, wowing the crowd with eye-popping tricks and some seriously big air. Many athletes and their families hiked up the hill to catch the action from an in-your-face vantage point. The crowd was three deep from the crest of Half Dollar to the base of the Lodge.

Those not halfway up the hill, enjoyed the action from the outdoor barbecue outside the Lodge’s back doors. Having competed hard for three days, this gathering was the opportunity to gather and relax at a casual athlete reception. The more than 500 competitors from 65 teams visiting Sun Valley were all invited to the event and mixed and mingled with friends new and old. Food, from those succulent burgers to Sun Valley’s famous chocolate chip cookies, was plentiful and conversations were animated. Laughter rebounded from the slopes in every direction.

The athlete reception was a great chance to relax, mix and mingle

The athlete reception was a great chance to relax, mix and mingle

The USCSA Nationals wraps up on Saturday with a full schedule. The Dual Slalom Alpine race kicks into gear at 10:15 a.m. on Baldy’s Greyhawk run. For the many cross-country skiers racing for glory, the final 3 x 5 relays take place at 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. Snowboarders finish the competition on Greyhawk with a Giant Slalom race at 9:30 a.m. All disciplines will celebrate podiums and great results at the final awards ceremony at 4 p.m. on the Sun Valley Lodge Terrace.

According to Sun Valley Technical/Program Director and Race Department Manager Nick Maricich, the event is ending on a high note (no pun intended). “The Snowboard Giant Slalom will be a rare chance to see this Olympic event live,” he said. “On the Alpine side, the Dual Slalom should prove to be the most exciting Alpine event of the competition.”

A thoroughly unscientific survey of athletes, their families, Sun Valley Resort ambassadors and visitors Thursday night gave the entire week a huge thumbs up. Students said they enjoyed the large field of competitors and felt challenged, in a good way, by Sun Valley’s fast runs and big terrain features. Many also commented that the free-skiing and boarding was “epic.” The schedule permitted time for kids to just be kids and to play in the snow.

All eyes were on the big jumps and the big air

All eyes were on the big jumps and the big air

Nick said, “the athletes on the Alpine side said that the pre-race training was the best they have had all year and that the race venues were world class. The overall feeling was that the surface and pitch were amazing and they can’t wait to come back. I also heard great feedback on the  22-foot Halfpipe, the Terrain Park and the cross-country course. Sun Valley did it right!”

Go out on Saturday and support these athletes from as far away as Massachusetts, South Carolina, Illinois, California and British Columbia. The energy the college students, their coaches, families and friends brought to town and the slopes this week was palpable. We invite all USCSA competitors and their families to come back and see us again soon!

As Nick said, “Sun Valley is ecstatic to have top college athletes here and we feel that events such as these are important to our future. Any time we can introduce Sun Valley to some of the brightest young athletes in the country, we know we have invested in what comes next.”

Athletes relax at Carol's Dollar Mountain Lodge, a brief respite in a week of strong competition

Athletes relax at Carol's Dollar Mountain Lodge, a brief respite in a week of strong competition

Next up? The Rev Tour. Stay tuned for more information about this amazing event that is coming to town. There’s no way around it — things are happening in Sun Valley!

–RES