The Red Bull Linecatcher backcountry freeskiing contest at Vars-La Forêt, France, saw the highest level of freestyle and freeride skills ever combined, culminating in a spectacle unlike any other.
Canada’s most aspiring backcountry talent, 18-year-old Sean Pettit, stole the show with consistent and exceptional runs combining a visually stunning combination of tricks with a stylish line down the Eyssina Face. Competition newcomer Markus Eder (ITA) stormed to second place, while Tim Durtschi (USA) was a worthy addition to the podium line-up in third.
Fifteen elite backcountry riders from around the world came to the Vars-La Forêt Blanche resort in the French Alps to battle it out for the prestigious title yesterday. In addition to their trophies, the top three shared a cash prize of €10,000 (US$13,341).
Sean Pettit made it look ridiculously easy as he ticked all the boxes for skill, style and cohesion, thrilling the eager spectators waiting at the finish gate as well as the judges. Improving on his second-place finish from 2010, the young rider from Whistler, BC, claimed a well-earned victory for a combination of tricks on a newly-designed course complete with natural contours and shaped kickers.
In his first of three runs, Sean started with a double drop off the top with straight airs, followed by a few turns to the middle jump. He then produced a magnificent cork 7, causing rapturous applause from the growing mountainside crowd before rounding off with a 360 at the final jump.
'We all had a lot of fun out there today' – Sean Pettit
Although he was less than perfect in his second run, the fun-loving Canadian was able to raise the bar once more in a third attempt and added a final backflip for good measure – sealing his already strong lead at the top.
“I had a good time, I just went out there to have some fun and that’s what I did,” grinned Sean after the obligatory champagne spray during the podium ceremony. “We all had a lot of fun out there today, and if I had to use one word to sum up the contest, that’s what I’d say: ‘Fun.’ I just managed to put my feet down to land my whole run. That was key out there today.”
The surprise package of the day came in the shape of 20-year-old Italian Markus Eder (pictured, top, with Fabio Studer). He secured a place in the competition after making it through in Sunday’s Qualifying round, where he was one of three wildcard riders to earn a place in the Final. His impressive switch 540 was enough to eclipse many of the more seasoned pros to take his place on the podium in his first ever Red Bull Linecatcher outing.
“When I came here, I didn’t even expect to qualify, as I am usually a park rider – so it was awesome to bring my tricks here,” said Markus, overcome with the achievement and smiling from ear to ear. “I landed the 540 switch and it felt good! It was amazing making the podium, the best feeling I’ve ever had.”
Three solid runs from American contender Tim Durtschi enabled him to make up for a disappointing 2010 contest, where he crashed on every run. The Alaskan-born rider was clearly delighted to make the top three this year and was consistent throughout the day.
“To come back and land all three runs this year felt really good,” admitted the 23-year-old, who now lives in Bend, Oregon. “I’m really happy I made the podium, and every time I stepped it up a bit and made more of some of the bigger features. I couldn’t be happier now. I started my run with a switch 5 and did a flatspin off the big cliff and ended it with a 3 off the last feature. It was a really good run.”
Notable performances were also recognised for American ace Sage Cattabriga-Alosa, who won the award for Best Natural with a stunning 360 at the start of his run, while 24-year-old Montana rider Wiley Miller earned the Best Trick prize for a nose butter 720.
It wasn’t a great day for the home nation, however, with French favourite Richard Permin placed ninth overall, three places behind Val d’Isère wonder Léo Taillefer in sixth, who came through as a wildcard from Qualifying. Matti Imbert – strongly supported by his home crowd at Vars – finished in 10th place.
This year’s contest was dedicated to American rider CR Johnson, who was third in last year’s event before being tragically killed in a skiing accident in February 2010.
1 Sean Pettit (CAN)
2 Markus Eder (ITA)
3 Tim Durtschi (USA)
4 Sage Cattabriga-Alosa (USA)
5 Chris Booth (AUS)
6 Léo Taillefer (FRA)
7 Wiley Miller (USA)
8 JP Auclair (CAN)
9 Richard Permin (FRA)
10 Mathieu Imbert (FRA)
11 Nicolas Vuignier (SUI)
12 Anthony Boronowski (CAN)
13 Chris Benchetler (USA)
14 Bene Mayr (GER)
15 Rory Bushfield (CAN)