Monday, January 21, 2013

Spencer O'Brien - World Champion

Spencer O'Brien won the FIS Snowboard Slopestyle World Championships in Quebec this past weekend which leads perfectly into this second post about my trip to Breckenridge for the Dew Tour last month where she finished second.

You can read my first post about my trip here. I wanted to highlight our Canadians in separate posts so I have "saved the best" for these posts - well at least in sentiment if not in photography.

Snowboard Slopestyle will make its Olympic debut in 2014. In order to qualify, snowboarders must earn points on the FIS snowboard circuit. Although most snowboarders prefer to compete on the professional tour that offer courses that are more challenging, athletes competed at Stoneham Mountain in Québec this past weekend for the FIS World Championships where Spencer repeated as World Champion. She is also the reigning world champion on the pro tour.

Next weekend, she will compete at the X Games in Aspen, Colorado with coverage on TSN2 starting on Thursday January 24th at 3pm. 

I was happy to get to see some Slopestyle action at the Dew Tour. After watching the superpipe competition, I did realize that slopestyle is not as spectator friendly live as the superpipe especially if you are inexperienced like I was. 

Wherever you are at the superpipe, you can hear the commentary and the announcement of the athletes. You can also see the whole run.

For slopestyle, you have to pick your spots. You can't see the whole run and unless you're at the bottom of the run, you can't hear the commentary (at least at the Dew Tour this year) which means you don't know who is coming (or when). 

My original plan for the semi-finals had been to walk up from the chalet after lunch to the bottom jump but they wouldn't let people climb up. We had to take the chair lift then walk down. Climbing back up to the superpipe afterwards did make me understand perhaps one of the reasons. It's not easy climbing a mountain at altitude! It was a quiet day, so the other reason of having traffic flow one way wasn't really a factor on this first day of competition.

By the time I took the chairlift (not having given myself enough time for it), I had missed the first run. I still managed to get a couple of great shots of Spencer. She would qualify for the final in fourth.

The next day, I watched the first run where I could see a jump leading to a rail feature which is unique to slopestyle.

After Spencer's first run, I kept walking down the mountain looking for other great spots for photos (and to try to see if I could get close enough to hear commentary). Unlike in superpipe where the skier has your attention for their whole run so that the gap between competitors doesn't seem very long, in slopestyle the gap seems longer because we only see a small part of their run. If you're underneath a jump, you don't know when they're coming so it can get tricky getting shots, but eventually you get used to knowing the approximate gap and knowing great spots to get photos.

I love the following shot contrasting Jamie Anderson against the blowing cloud, the side view of the jump and the man-made snow in the foreground.

The conditions were a lot different for the second run only twenty minutes later. The lighting was a lot darker as can be seen on this unedited shot. The above shots are unedited (except some cropping). The difference in the colour of the sky and brightness of the snow is obvious from the beautiful blue sky in her first run and the dark clouds on this photo. 

(I edited the following shots to brighten them). On her second run, Spencer unfortunately didn't land this jump cleanly.

She was still in the lead from the strength of her first run, but Jamie Anderson's second run ended up being the best on the day. Spencer finished second.

I would have loved to have talked to her and get her thoughts on this season and the next leading to the Olympics as well as the design on her snowboard. 

There was quite a crowd surrounding her with journalists interviewing her and kids waiting for autographs. I was happy to get a glance for this shot.

She may have been second on this day, but look for her to be at the top at the Olympics in Sochi.

Here's a video showing highlights from the Dew Tour competition. Spencer is highlighted starting at the 1:20 mark.
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