Johnny Teller, on top of the world

Mammoth’s John Teller was sitting in his hotel room in France, but he may as well have been standing on top of the world.

Teller zoomed to the top of the World Cup standings in Ski Cross last week, winning in St. Johann, Austria in a close but decisive finish. He finished third this week and slipped to third in rankings.

“I’m hoping that this opens the door to the next four years leading up to the Olympics,” Teller said in a Skype interview from L’Alpe d’Huez.

Teller opened his season with a third-place podium finish, also in Austria, which excited just about everybody on the tour
But no one could have predicted his victory in St. Johann.

“I had no idea he was going to win the whole thing” said Casey Puckett, executive director of the American Ski Cross Association.

“I knew going into this year Teller was ready to step it up but I never would have guessed he would be at the top of the World Cup rank list in the beginning of January.”

Well, he was (as of Thursday), thanks to a strong showing in the preliminary heats. These determine which athletes get to choose their start positions.

“That ended up with me getting really good gate picks throughout the elimination rounds,” Teller said.

“In two of the heats I got the second gate pick but the guy who picked ahead of me didn’t pick the gate I wanted to take, so that gave me the chance to get the gate I wanted.”

The final was played out under the lights, in front of a crowd estimated at 7,000.

“It felt like all of Austria was there,” Teller said.

Teller passed Canada’s Nick Zoricic at the very end of the final race, using superior tactical skiing.

“He swung a little low in the final turn,” Teller said. “I was on his tails all the way down and when he went low I stayed high and passed him at the very end…it was awesome.”

Ski Cross (also known as Skiercross or Skier-X) is based on the snowboarding discipline of boardercross.

Despite its being a timed racing event, it is often considered part of freestyle skiing because it incorporates terrain features traditionally found in freestyle.

In a time trial or qualification round, every competitor skis down the course, which is built to encompass both naturally occurring terrain and artificial features such as jumps, rollers, banks – whatever the course builder can imagine.

After the time trial, the fastest 32 skiers (fastest 16 if not 32 competitors) compete in a knockout-style series in rounds of four. A group of four skiers starts simultaneously and attempts to reach the end of the course.

The first two to cross the finish line advance to the next round. At the end, the final and semifinal rounds determine 1st to 4th and 5th to 8th places, respectively.

Competitors are not allowed to pull or push each other during the knockout finals. Any intentional contact with the other competitors results in disqualification or exclusion from the next race.

The International Ski Federation (FIS)’s FIS Freestyle Skiing World Cup has recently added Ski Cross competitions to its calendar in addition to moguls and aerials.

The International Olympic Committee decided on Nov. 28, 2006, to include Ski Cross in the 2010 Winter Olympics at Vancouver.

Teller is very much on his own, despite his top world ranking.

He is skiing without a sponsor, and is funded by Mammoth Mountain and Kittredge Sports, as well as his family.

“My family and many people in Mammoth have been very supportive,” he said.

“Without them there is no way I could do this. And it’s not just monetary support but moral support as well.”

After this week at L’Alpe d’Huez, Teller has one more race before taking a break and heading back home.