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Last Night: Thrills and spills at Denver Big Air

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Let's face it: If you build a 106-foot launch tower and then send competitors -- some of them as young as 14 -- careening down the face of it on skis towards a big-ass kicker for a competition like last night's Nature Valley Big Air Challenge in Civic Center Park then, well... let's just say it's a good thing kids these days don't mind wearing helmets.

The bloodthirsty crowds (the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Association's report estimates the number at about 10,000) who came out for the first of two Denver Big Air competitions got what they came for: Grisly agony-of-defeat style wrecks, and plenty of them, punctuating the picture-perfect tricks with stomped landings.

The only sound louder than the roar for Best Trick winner John Spriggs, a 6'5 yeti of a Vail local with thick dreadlocks who wowed the crowd with a double cork 1260 degree spin with a mute grab? The collective gasp every time someone went down hard, like Mitch Gilman's brutal Semi-Finals slam that left his Line Skis team with just two competitors heading into Finals. That's what we came for, right? As with any Evel Knievel-style spectacle, big air fans like to get well acquainted with exactly how dangerous these sports can be.

The Armada Skis team -- Spencer Milbocker, Alex Bellemare, and Breckenridge transplant Ben Moxham -- managed to stay mostly on their feet throughout the competition, claiming the night in the event's Battle of the Brands format after staying in front of the Full Tilt Boots team in Semi-Finals and beating out the Line Skis crew in Finals. A total of 14 teams competed in the event, which served as the kickoff for Mile High Snow Week and the SIA Snowshow, SnowSports Industries America's annual trade show at the Colorado Convention Center.

And wait, there's more! Tonight the Denver Big Air ramp will host an LG FIS Snowboard World Cup event, part of the Fédération Internationale de Ski's tour series. Snowboards don't fly off on impact quite as spectacularly as skis sometimes do, but there should be plenty of yard sale action all the same: Watch for riders like Canada's Sebastien Toutant, the current leader in the World Cup Big Air series, and local heroes Bret Esser (Breckenridge, CO), Broc Waring (Vail, CO) and Jake LaRue (Lord, CO), and try not to hoot and holler too loud when they get the comeuppance they've got coming to them for daring to go big. Keep it classy, Denver: The world is watching.

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