The FIS USANA Freestyle World Cup will take place in Lake Placid and Wilmington Jan. 15-18.
Before the sporting world shifts its attention towards Russia next month for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Lake Placid and Wilmington will take center-podium as they host the FIS USANA Freestyle World Cup from Jan. 15-18.
This is the final World Cup event before several nations, including the United States, submit their Olympic team rosters to the International Olympic Committee by Sunday, Jan. 19.
Over 150 athletes from 25 countries will participate in this dangerous-yet-enthralling form of competitive skiing that encompasses a half-dozen disciplines that fall into two main branches.
Aerials and moguls, the more traditional subset, sees skiers attempt to execute a series of complicated moves and maneuvers down specially-graded inclines studded with small protuberances, both man-made and natually occuring, called “moguls” while aerials sees competitors launching themselves off steep snow-packed ramps before somersaulting — like diving, but with skis — into the glittering white abyss below. Competitors receive a score based three criteria — jump takeoff, jump form and landing — by a panel of judges. Those with the most World Cup point totals throughout the circuit become champs and have a better chance of making the Olympic teams.
The newer freeskiing branch called “new school,” a spin-off that borrows as much from skateboarding and BMX as is does from traditional skiing with events like the halfpipe and slopestyle that surged in popularity in the late-1990s, are not included in the World Cup’s competitive slate.
Freestyle skiing in general is a relatively late newcomer to the winter sports arsenal. The Switzerland-based International Ski Federation (FIS) first recognized it as a sport in 1979, held the inaugural World Cup series the following year and spearheaded the first world championship in 1986. Mogul and aerials were added to Winter Olympics in the mid-1990s, with mogul competitors debuting in the 1992 Albertville Games and aerial following two years later at Lillehammer.
Lake Placid and Wilmington have hosted the annual championship for 27 years in a row and it has become one of the most high-profile events on the region’s winter event schedule.
“It’s a huge deal for us,” said Jon Lundin, a representative of ORDA, the state facility that hosts the competition. “It’s a great way for Lake Placid, Wilmington and Whiteface to showcase everything that we have offer.”
Athletes will compete in a series of events all week starting with the mogul competitions on Wednesday, Jan. 15, a week that will culminate with the aerials finals at the Olympic Jumping Complex on Saturday night.
Lundin said he expects a crowd of 4,000 to attend the bonfire-lit event replete with live music from local acoustic jam outfit Annie in the Water that will be broadcast nationally on NBC in an hour-long special.
“Watching these athletes soar 60 feet in the air — twisting, turning and doing somersaults — is an unbelievable athletic achievement and is great to watch,” said Lundin.
Locally-based participants include four-time World Cup mogul champ and defending 2010 Women’s Olympic Mogul Champion Hannah Kearney and women’s aerial contender Ashley Caldwell.
Kearney, who grew up in Vermont and now lives and trains part of the year in Lake Placid, is attempting to become the first freestyle skier to win multiple Olympic gold medals. She won 16 straight mogul World Cups from Jan. 2011 to Feb. 2012 and finished second in last Saturday’s Calgary World Cup.
She competes this year while on the mend from sustaining severe injuries in an Oct. 2012 training accident in Zermatt, Switzerland, in which she broke two ribs and sustained several internal injuries. Kearney returned to the World Cup circuit last year and won six of 10 events including the World Championship.
Athletes start training on Monday and Tuesday (the public is welcome to attend), with mogul events kicking off in earnest on Wednesday at Whiteface. Aerial inspections and training start on Thursday at the Olympic Jumping Complex.