NEWRY — Justin Velasquez found himself at the bottom of a pig pile resembling a rugby scrum Saturday, remarkable considering the 16-year-old snowboarder from Augusta was on the side of a mountain.
His two hands told the story. In them, he clutched a prized possession he just acquired: A competition bib, No. 7, worn moments earlier by freestyle skier Tom Wallisch.
That bib was also the reason Velasquez was at the bottom of the pile.
“No way, I wasn’t letting go for anything,” Velasquez said. “Tom Wallisch? No way, man.”
Wallisch was one of seven professional and 11 amateur freestyle skiers to compete at the finals this year at the second annual Dumont Cup at Sunday River, and event dreamed up and organized by Bethel native, X-Games gold medalist and world-record holder Simon Dumont. The winner a year ago at the Dumont-designed course, Wallisch settled for third this time.
“The course is better than last year. More features. It was awesome,” Wallisch said. “They had a chance to dial it in this year. They definitely stepped it up. The jumps are bigger, there’s more rails this time around. Everything’s really well-shaped. It’s getting better and better.”
And while Wallisch was one of the top professionals, it was a skier who competed as an amateur and had to survive three rounds of qualifying that stole the show in the finals on Saturday. Alex Schlopy, the top qualifier among the amateurs, sailed over the second jump in his first run, performing a switch 1,440 — a trick that involves four complete 360-degree turns, while taking off and landing backwards.
“The double cork 1,440s and all that, that was beautiful,” Velasquez said. “And it was the amateurs doing that, which was even more cool.”
Schlopy won $12,000 for his efforts, and also took home the top prize for amateur qualifiers.
Wallisch praised the inclusion of rookies and amateurs in the event, too.
“We have so many contests these days, with the Dew Tour and X-Games. It’s nice to have a competition with a little less pressure, and there’s all the kids that can be involved,” Wallisch said. “Having an open contest like this, whoever wants to sign up can be in it and come out and ski and beat the pros. It’s cool.”
For Dumont, the second time around was much smoother than last year’s event.
“The first year went amazing,” Dumont said, “This year, to make that better, we wanted to look a little bit more professional. We cleaned up a lot of the jumps, made sure that everything was groomed a little bit better, but other than that, why change anything when it worked last year.”
One tweak Dumont and the organizers did make was to broaden the field a bit.
“There were more pros here this year, that field was a bit deeper,” Dumont said.
The host professional only ran the course twice Saturday, and didn’t take any runs during the actual competition. Instead, he sat back and helped judge the contest from the timing stand about midway down the course. Below him, hundreds of fans crowded the edge of the run to watch as the skiers defied gravity in run after run, dazzling onlookers with an array of flips, twists, grabs and big air.
“It’s just so awesome to see the guys coming out and throwing down,” Velasquez said. “These guys, coming out and laying down switch-misty-sevens like it’s nothing, everyone should have respect for that.”
A handful of Maine amateurs did their best to showcase their skills, though none qualified for Saturday’s final. Those skiers included Shea Flynn of Auburn, Kevin Costello of Lewiston, Jonathan Seltzer of Kennebunk, Curtis Bolduc of Mexico, Tyler Duncan of Fryeburg and Sam Parker of Bethel.
There was one scary moment Saturday. About halfway through the third and final runs, amateur Brian Kish went awry after takeoff on the second and largest jump. Instead of landing on the wide downslope, he landed awkwardly on his knees on the ice side of the mound of snow. The impact jolted his head forward onto a knob of ice. He flopped downward off the side of the jump and slid into the protective orange course barrier where there were very few spectators.
Kish’s father rushed to his side, along with several members of the ski patrol. Emergency personnel stabilized him, loaded him onto a backboard and sped him off to the bottom of the hill and to the hospital via ambulance. Before leaving, workers signaled to the gathered fans that Kish would be OK.
The remaining amateurs and professionals completed their runs, and with the news that Kish would be OK, the festive atmosphere returned quickly.
“Somehow, this all comes together,” Dumont said. “It was great last year, and this year, we just took a little bit more time, had a few more discussions to get the course a bit cleaner, and it all worked out. The people here are tremendous to work with, and it’s incredible how we can get this all to come together.
“There was a U.S. Open, and that was the biggest open event in free skiing,” Dumont continued. “It’s kind of fallen off, and it’s not happening anymore, so I wanted to take over and do something on the East Coast. I know there’s an untapped source of talent that needs to be shown to the world, so why not have the Dumont Cup be the canvas?”
And as long as the event continues to draw hundreds of fans like Velasquez, the pros are just fine with that prospect.
“The fans out here were great, like they always are here at Sunday River,” Wallisch said. “I hope they can keep on doing this event, it’s great for us.”