The momentum gained by America's ski and snowboard cross racers during an already stellar winter season shows no signs of letting up, with several top men's and women's riders well positioned to capture season-long titles and podium finishes at the grand finale of the 48Straight Jeep King of the Mountain competition on March 14-16 in Sun Valley, Idaho.
Coming into the final race, Shaun Palmer of South Lake Tahoe, Calif., and Lindsey Jacobellis of Stratton Mountain, Vt., control their own destiny in the snowboard cross standings following impressive back-to-back wins in the first two races of the season. In the ski-cross competition, Tomas Kraus of the Czech Republic leads the men, but Americans Errol Kerr and Daron Rahlves of Truckee, Calif., are right behind in second and third place, respectively. In women's ski cross racing, phenom Ophelie David, who leads heavily in the standings and was positioned to capture her third straight Jeep King of the Mountain championship, will miss the final event thus opening the door for a number of international challengers.
For Palmer, the season has been a resurgence of sorts. The extreme sports legend, who effortlessly claimed five snowboarding world championships X Games skiing gold medals and even a mountain biking World Championship, claimed the top spot on the Jeep King of the Mountain podium last December, representing his first title in nine years. That victory and an early season second-place World Cup finish earned him a spot on U.S. Snowboarding's "A" squad, which he promptly followed with a second straight Jeep King of the Mountain title and another second place finish on the World Cup circuit in the same weekend.
In Sun Valley, "The Palm" will find himself pitted against three U.S. teammates who have each captured World Cup titles this season, including Olympic gold medalist Seth Wescott of Farmington, Maine; former Jeep King of the Mountain champion Graham Watanabe of Park City, whose title in Japan was the second of his career and bumped him to a ranking at No. 4 in the world; and Iron River, Mich.'s, Nick Baumgartner, whose victory earlier this month at the Visa U.S. Snowboarding Cup in Lake Placid, NY, marked his first career World Cup title. If that didn't prove to be a sufficient challenge, the line-up also features Squaw Valley, Calif.'s Nate Holland, currently resting in second place, who achieved an illustrious three-peat gold medal at the X Games, and Canada's Drew Neilson, another former Jeep King of the Mountain champion now ranked No. 5 in the world.
The American's presence is women's snowboard cross is equally dominant, with the stars and stripes holding down three of the top four places in the series standings. None has been hotter than X Games gold medalist Jacobellis, coming off her fourth World Cup win of the season in Quebec and going for a sixth consecutive Jeep King of the Mountain victory to defend her crown. Resting in second is Susanne Moll of Austria, with numerous FIS wins and an Austrian National Championship on her solid resume. In third is Callan Chythlook-Sifsof of Girdwood, Alaska, ranked No. 15 in the world and a member of the U.S. team, followed by Joanie Anderson of South Lake Tahoe, a 2007 X Games gold medalist.
While Tomas Kraus currently sits atop the world rankings as well as the Jeep King of the Mountain standings, trailing him are two Americans just waiting for the chance to grab the throne away from the competitive young Czech with four World Cup wins already in 2008. They include Kerr, the surprising young standout who has stormed to third in the season-long standings after strong finishes in Telluride, Colo., and Squaw Valley, Calif.; and X Games gold medalist Rahlves, the most accomplished speed-event racer in U.S. history. Casey Puckett of Aspen, Colo., the four-time Olympian, five-time U.S. National Champion and 2005 and 2006 Jeep King of the Mountain champion who sits in second place, will not partticipate due to injury. Three of the world's top five ranked racers, all Canadian, will be challenging Kraus in Sun Valley, including Stanley Hayer, Davey Barr and Chris Del Bosco of Vail, Colo.
In women's ski cross, David has been a near unstoppable force, with eight straight Jeep King of the Mountain titles and two consecutive championships to go along with a first place ranking in the world standings and a gold medal at the X Games. In her absence, Sweden's Magdalena Jonsson, the 2008 X Games gold medalist and six-time World Cup titlist; Sasa Faric of Slovenia, ranked No. 2 in the world; and Jenny Owens of Australia, each have a chance to earn their first ever series championship.
The 48Straight weekend also will feature the Paul Mitchell ski halfpipe competition, with Bethel, Maine's, Simon Dumont attempting to defend his championship against a strong contingent featuring New Zealand's Jossi Wells, who won the first halfpipe competition of the season at Squaw Valley; Canterbury, N.H.'s Colby West, who finished third, and Peter Olenick of Aspen, Colo., known for the legendary "Whiskey Flip." Other set to appear in Sun Valley include Ross Falcone, Taylor Felton, Sean Field, Scott Hibbert, Dan Marion, Tucker Perkins, Taylor Seaton, JP Solberg, Jack Sullen, Andrew Taylor and Walter Wood.
Billed as the "Loudest Show on Snow," 48STRAIGHT emerged from the consolidation of the Jeep" King of the Mountain Series," one of the most renowned professional race programs over the past 15 years, and Ketchum-based The Ski Tour, an event that in its inaugural year redefined the merging of high-level racing with high demand musical offerings. The result is a jam-packed weekend of on- and off-snow social, educational and recreational activities ranging from ski and snowboard cross racing and halfpipe competitions to over a dozen live concerts, street parties, art exhibits, stage productions and environmental expos.
Coverage of the action from Sun Valley will be televised to a national broadcast audience on March 29 and 30 on CBS Sports and on nationally syndicated television beginning March 28. Check local listings for specific airdates and times.
The Jeep® King of the Mountain was established in 1993, and Jeep serves as the event's title sponsor. The winter series, now in it's 15th season, is the sister event to the Mountain Biking World Professional Championships. Other marketing partners for the Jeep King of the Mountain Series include Crocs, Firm Green, Infinity, John Paul Mitchell Systems, Monster, Scott USA, Sprint, Spyder and Sun Valley.