By Scottie Williams Explore Big Sky Contributor
SALT LAKE CITY – The Subaru Freeride Series launched its 2015 season at Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort in Utah, Feb. 4-8. Following its separation this summer from the Freeride World Tour, the SFS has become a spotlight for competitive skiing in North America. Athletes will compete at three more stops this season including Telluride, Colo., Alyeska, Alaska, and from March 25-29 at Big Sky Resort where the overall champions will be crowned.
Snowfall is well below average this winter in much of the country, and Snowbird’s competition venues were no exception.
Friday’s weather was not cooperative as winds gusted over 90 mph. The female competitors endured the high winds and made it through the semifinals, while both male ski and snowboard divisions were postponed due to venue closures later in the day. With another morning of high winds on Saturday, the day’s competition was postponed until Sunday, allowing both men’s divisions only one run during the main event.
Sunday’s weather brought spring-like conditions, and spectators wearing T-shirts and tank tops gathered below the North Baldy venue to cheer on their favorite skiers and snowboarders.
Two local riders represented Big Sky, including Lone Peak Tram operator and snowboarder Chance Lenay, who made a return to the series for a second year still looking for his first SFS podium. In his finals run on Sunday, Lenay displayed his determination to make it onto the podium this season but didn’t land his air into the finish. Lenay remained positive after the run, reaching out to friends and family through social media, saying he had “No regrets, that was so much fun!” Lenay finished in 16th place.
Fresh on the series this year is local skier Dan Bartzick. The 18-year-old Lone Peak High School graduate made his competitive skiing debut last year in Crested Butte, Colo., and went on to finish in fifth place overall on the junior tour, earning him a spot on the series this year. Bartzick and the other young guns showed no fear making the transition from the junior tour. After strong skiing through the upper and middle section, Bartzick crashed losing both skis during his final air into the bottom of the venue.
After the competition, Bartzick expressed he still had much to learn after his SFS debut.
“Trying to find a better balance between a technical line and showing off good clean open turns is something I want to improve on,” Bartzick said.
At the end of the weekend, seasoned veterans mixed with new faces atop the podium. Veteran Jonathan Penfield from British Columbia won men’s snowboarding, while 18-year-old rookie Grant Howard of Sandy, Utah landed the top spot in men’s skiing. Ashley Bembenek of Crested Butte took the honors for the women skiers, and Canadian Audrey Hebert topped the women’s snowboard podium.
The next stop for the Subaru Freeride Series is March 4 in Telluride. Subaru Winterfest and the SFS will return to Big Sky March 25-29.