One stumble at the end of his second run was enough to keep him from making the finals, but Juneau's Elijah Lee still ranked as the top American at the Red Bull Snow Thrill of Chamonix held last weekend in Chamonix, France.
Lee, who lists Eaglecrest, Alaska, as his hometown on his International Free Skiing Association biography sheet, was tied for ninth place with 28.60 points after the first run on Thursday. But he dropped to 13th after Friday's second run with 51.00 points for the two runs combined. His score of 22.40 ranked 16th for the second run.
"I skied a smart, slightly conservative line on the first day of competition, which left me tied for ninth place," Lee wrote in an e-mail to the Empire. "The venue for the second day was a run of maybe 2,000 vertical feet. It was steep, technical, with lots of exposure. The consequences of a fall on a run like this are severe.
"I skied the third-most difficult line of the day, unfortunately wrecking off a cliff at the very bottom of the run. This, of course, did not impress the judges."
Lee's blunder was enough to drop him out of Saturday's finals, which took the top 10 skiers from the 35-skier men's field. Sverre Liliequist of Sweden, who led the overall standings after all three runs, won the men's title with 103.40 points. Robin Courcelles of Canada took second place with 96.00 points and Brice Rollet of France took third with 94.00.
Meagan Carney of the United States won the women's title, beating defending champion Andrea Binning of Austria. Scores were not available.
"... Only the top 10 men after the second run advanced to the final day, so that pretty much wrapped up the competition for me," Lee wrote. "There is no doubt that I am skiing at a level equal to the best of them. What I lack is the ability to hold back that last 10 to 15 percent of my effort to complete each run without falling. I kind of work myself into a frenzy once out of the starting gate."
In free skiing, the skiers are not scored by time as they are in conventional gate skiing (slalom, giant slalom, Super G or downhill). Instead, the skiers either hike or are flown by helicopter to the top of the mountain and they can pick their own routes down the hill. Judges at the bottom of the hill watch each skier's run and give it a score.
"Big mountain competition are unique in that they allow for so much creativity on the part of the individual athlete," Lee said. "Basically, one is given an entire mountain, you ski the most difficult line as well as you can, then the panel of judges critique your skiing. Aggression, control, line choice, technique and fluidity are the five criteria an athlete gets scored on."
This is Lee's third year competing on the International Free Skiing Association's Big Mountain Tour, and his first year competing internationally. Lee, who turns 29 on Thursday, was last year's North American tour champion and this year placed 10th at the Whistler (British Columbia) World Tour. He also finished seventh in a large international competition at Red Mountain, British Columbia.
"Thirteenth place here at the Red Bull Snow Thrill of Chamonix is not exactly where I would have liked to end up, but as the top American I think that I am representing quite well," Lee wrote.
Growing up training at Eaglecrest may have given him an advantage for the big mountain competitions, much as it helped Juneau skiers Hilary Lindh, Joe Tompkins, Matt Beedle, Kevin Stell and snowboarders Ashley Call and Mark Schultz all do well in international competition.
"Eaglecrest is an amazing training field for young skiers and snowboarders because of the unique conditions that one must face," Lee wrote. "The maritime climate in Juneau that we all know and love so much forces one to ski snow that people elsewhere would not even consider leaving the house for. The snow snobs of the Rockies and even the Cascades would laugh at our idea of 'powder.'
"Couple Juneau with a ski area that has terrain as diverse and difficult as anywhere, what you come up with are the ingredients for great athletes. Basically, if you can ski Eaglecrest, you can ski anywhere. Snowboarders, too."
Lee said he plans to compete in a World Tour competition next week in Les Arcs, France, then will head to Verbier, Switzerland, for a European Tour event. He plans to head back to the United States for competitions in Crested Butte and Kirkwood, Colo., then will go to Valdez in April for the World Freeskiing Championships.
Lee hopes to spend some time in Juneau, skiing the big mountains around town, after Valdez, while visiting his parents, Richard and Chava Lee, who still live in town. When the season is over, Lee plans to go to Bellingham, Wash., where he recently bought a house, so he can "steep a hot bath and soak in it for about a month."
"Juneau is still my hometown," Lee said. "I miss it every day, I miss my friends, I miss my Eaglecrest, I miss being out on the water."
Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.