Blair Habenicht tucking and surfing his way down the course with fluid style and pulling into a second place finish. Photo: Jeff Hawe

Blair Habenicht tucking and surfing his way down the course with fluid style and pulling into a second place finish. Photo: Jeff Hawe

Burki and Yates Claim Crystal Mountain Masters
Locals reign and Yates extends tour lead as The North Face Masters’ second stop comes rolls into Washington.

Words by Mike Lewis

When the battle comes to your home turf, you have to make a stand, and local riders did just that as The North Face Masters’ second stop of the season pulled into Crystal Mountain, Washington February 9-12. After a pummeling storm brought a weather day and delay before the finals got underway, locals Forrest Burki and Blair Habenicht took first and second on the men’s front and Shannan Yates, who owned the fist stop of the tour in Snowbird, nailed a second samurai sword “trophy” at Crystal.

Visiting Crystal Mountain is like travelling back in time to what ski resorts were before mega corporations, hell bent on development and real estate-fueled profits, sunk their claws into the sport. Sixty miles to the southeast of Seattle, in the shadows of Mount Rainier, the resort sits in a box canyon with three old school hotels, and little if no other diversions other than riding the steep, rocky terrain the mountain has in spades. While the town may offer a lens into skiing’s past, the mountain, with its high-speed quads and six packs, is a perfect locale for The North Face Masters, which is anything but a throwback. The big mountain contest with its open format offers a glimpse of a developing realm of contests for people seeking to explore the limits of their riding on the gnarly terrain above tree line versus the halfpipe, and a solid counterpoint to the events taking place a short way to the north at Cypress Mountain.

This year’s second stop of the three-event Masters series saw 83 men and 17 women throw their helmets into the ring. Riders such as Lucas Debari, Ross Baker, Blair Habenicht, Iris Lazzareschi, and big mountain legend Rob Kingwill were on hand to pit their skills against a hungry field of competitors who came from as far as New Zealand, France, Japan, and Australia.

Day One of the contest got under way after a rare sunny morning offered spectacular views of neighboring Mt. Rainier. But, reminding everyone where they were, the snow rolled in on the face known as Northway for some hard hitting action as the competitors threw everything they had at the steeps, chutes, and rocks of this amazing peak, and went for broke on the marginal snow conditions. There were definitely good lines to be had, but the spotty coral reef that emerged as the day progressed didn’t lend itself to many huge airs, but it definitely separated the men and women from the boys and girls on the technical front and some competitors still went for broke. French rider Sebestien Jam definitely got the biggest air of the day ribbon launching a diamond a good 60 feet…to flat. Somehow he was fine and had a good laugh later about being “the crazy French guy who sent it.”

Crystal’s own Sky Risvold stomped his line and qualified first for the men with Squaw’s Ross Baker and Baker’s Lucas DeBari tight on his heels. On the women’s side, Snowbird’s Laura Dewey and Shannan Yates locked in the first and third qualifying spots and Crested Butte’s Mary Boddington took the second.

After Day One’s showcase, snow continued to pile up and the forecast called for good tidings for the snow pack for the rest of the week, but not for visibility and the events organizers, Mountain Sports International, The North Face, and judges Tom Burt, Andy Hetzel, Temple Cummins, and Julie Zell announced a weather day early Thursday morning to allow the final’s epic venue, Silver King, to set up.

The weather day was definitely not a day of rest as the big mountain competitors took over this incredibly underrated small mountain town for a full day of shredding its amazing terrain, hidden chutes, and knee deep snow.

Following the weather day and a celebration of the lines that were at the town’s sole bar, the Snorting Elk, Day Two got off to a tenuous start as the snow and wind continued with a vengeance. Not to be deterred, the MSI and TNF crews had the course ready to go on Silver King first thing Friday morning and sat in a holding pattern waiting on visibility and trying to keep banners, tents, and fences battened down through gale force winds and driving flakes piling up on the 60 degree rock and tree littered face above.

Competitors anxiously scoped their lines and contemplated possibilities through brakes in the storm and the event finally got underway at noon with the women dropping in.

Snowbird’s Shannan Yates charged her line, putting together solid turns and three big airs to lock in her second straight win of the season on The North Face Masters tour. “It was one of the coolest lines I’ve seen any of the women do in the three years the contest has been going on,” says The North Face’s Jimmy Hopper. Squaw’s Maria DeBari and Crested Butte’s Mary Boddington rounded out the top three for the women posting solid runs in not so solid weather conditions. “It was a mistakes limiting day,” said Judge Julie Zell in a post-contest interview. “It was tough conditions for everybody. Visibility was killing everybody, especially the women.”

Conditions improved as the men made the hike to the top of the King, with the sun popping out sporadically for their runs and the locals set the visiting riders straight on just whose mountain this is. Crystal’s Forrest Burki’s line and impressive airs scored him the top spot and $3,500 bucks for his efforts, along with a tie for the tour lead with Snowbird’s winner Mark Carter. Right behind Burki was fellow Crystal local Blair Habenicht who racked up an 82.667 out of 100 and $2,000 – not a bad day of riding for the home team. Wolf Creek’s Charlie Hoch ratcheted his way into third and rounded out the podium with an impressive line.

At the end of the day, all results aside, the most impressive thing about this event was the vibe and camaraderie on display at one of the best big mountain venues you’ve probably never heard of. All of the riders are fierce competitors, but the competition is more personal than anything, as snowboarding should be. Riders discussed lines, cheered each other on, as pretty much the only spectators in this remote locale, and collaborated on making their way to the third and final stop of The North Face Masters in Kirkwood, California February 25-27.