Recapping Grand Prix at Park City; plus, U.S. Olympic freeskiing team announced

January 19th, 2014 by

We’ve had a heck of a few days here in Park City. It’s been go-go-go, as further evidenced by the fact that I’m beginning to type these words whilst sitting in the front seat of a Ford Fusion rental, en route to the airport in Salt Lake City.

It’s a nice day here. The traffic is minimal, given the ongoing Sundance festival, and I haven’t had breakfast yet. Also, I drank more Bud Light than I did water over the past 48, so I’m certainly feeling the effects of dehydration. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

As I reflect on the events of the past couple of days, a few key things stand out: first, the level of competition was absolutely insane. Second, the weather and the competition venues were spectacular. Third: I feel a tremendous sense of relief to have reached the end of the Olympic qualifying series. I can only imagine how the athletes must feel. And lastly, I’m so happy to have seen many friends achieve success this weekend, and moreover, these past five weeks; at the same time, I also hurt for those who fall shy of a dream.

There is much to recap, so I’ll do my best to take things one step at a time.

Following a full day of competition on Friday—when we saw Schlopy and Logan top the slopestyle podium, and Rolland and Bowman earn wins in the superpipe—the stage was set for an exciting, tension wrought Saturday. The event schedule was identical to that of the prior day: women’s slope practice, followed by a final; then men’s slope practice, followed by a final; and after a two hour break, pipe practice for the ladies, followed by a final; and to round things out, men’s pipe practice, and one last final round. Are you sufficiently dizzy? Saturday’s itinerary also included the highly anticipated U.S. Olympic team naming ceremony, concluding the action in Park City.

In regards to women’s slopestyle:

We saw a fantastic display of skiing from the ladies. Canadian Dara Howell impressed the judges (and us) with two solid runs, including a switch bio 900 over the first jump in the course—she’s the only female competitor currently throwing said trick. Howell’s performance was good enough for third place. She finished second on Friday, too. In front of Howell on the podium was Colorado’s Keri Herman; with her top-three finish—having earned a first place prize in Breckenridge—Herman fulfilled the objective criteria for Olympic qualification and secured a spot on the Sochi-bound slopestyle squad.

The story of the morning, however, was a surprise win for up-and-comer Julia Krass, who earned a 92.60 on her second run of the day, securing her first major contest win. The 16-year-old Hanover, NH native now resides in Park City, and we spoke with her following the contest:

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Julia Krass tops the women’s slopestyle podium; her first major win.

As touched upon in the interview, Krass’ win certainly puts her in contention for a coaches’ discretion spot. So don’t count her out of the Olympic hunt just yet. Ironically, Krass’ roommate, Maggie Voisin, is another frontrunner when it comes to a discretion spot, as pertaining to women’s slopestyle. Voisin put down two runs on Saturday that would have surely landed her on the podium, were it not for a bit of trouble on the last feature in the course—a down rail. The 15-year-old, from Whitefish, Montana, is skiing with style and technicality that have made her the buzz of the competitive circuit. Also in consideration for the coaches’ discretion spot: Grete Eliassen and Darian Stevens, who each earned a podium finish at the Grand Prix at Copper Mountain, CO.

View full results from the women’s slopestyle contest here.

Now, moving on to men’s slopestyle.

As we approached midday, the temps rose, and the conditions were full-on spring-like; nice enough, in fact, that I was able to sport the ol’ B’s jersey. A massive crowd gathered in the base area to watch the contest, and the stakes were high, as a handful of Americans were in need of a podium result to be considered for an Olympic nomination. Adding an extra element of fun: seven of the 18 competitors hail from Park City, ensuring the audience had much to cheer for.

Living up to the fans’ expectations of what an Olympic qualifier should look like, the boys threw down in a big way.

Finishing third was Bobby Brown. “Bobs” had more or less secured an Olympic berth the day prior, with a second place finish, but, to put an exclamation point on things, he came out on Saturday and skied his way to another podium. Behind Brown in the standings was Gus Kenworthy, who—after his fair share of recent struggles—was determined to lock down a spot on the U.S. Olympic team. Under enormous pressure, the Telluride local pulled through. We spoke with Gus following the awards ceremony:

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Kenworthy, relieved to have secured a spot on the U.S. Olympic team.

Stealing the show, though, was Park City’s own Joss Christensen. After finishing 8th at Dew Tour, 12th at Copper Mountain, and with a 4th place result here on Friday, Joss earned his first major contest win, and in so doing, made himself a major player in the discussion re: coaches’ discretion. While Kenworthy, Brown and Goepper each earned a spot on the U.S. Olympic squad, the fourth spot is very much up in the air. Frontrunners for consideration are Christensen and Schlopy, each with a win on their home turf. Also in the running, despite a lack of noteworthy results, is Tom Wallisch. Many will argue that McRae Williams should be considered for the fourth and final spot, as well, though he too lacks a podium finish.

We asked Joss about his big win, and also about the pressure of waiting for word regarding his Olympic bid:

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Christensen shows off his new pickaxe; this marks his first major contest win.

View full results from men’s slopestyle here.

Switching gears to halfpipe.

On the women’s side of things, we saw Devin Logan snag a third place finish. A double threat, Logan, of course, earned a spot on the U.S. Olympic slopestyle team here on Friday. With last night’s podium she will now be among those considered for a coaches’ discretion spot, as pertaining to the women’s halfpipe team. Depending on how things pan out with Gus Kenworthy (more on that down below), and in the event that Logan earns that final spot on the pipe team, Logan could potentially be the only U.S. freeskier to compete in both the slopestyle and halfpipe disciplines, in Sochi.

Finishing second in the pipe last night was Brita Sigourney, who unofficially punched her ticket to Sochi on Friday night, despite a 9th place finish. Her podium on Saturday provides a confidence boost, if nothing else.

And taking the big win last night was Utah’s Angeli VanLaanen. After having landed on the podium at Dew Tour, she needed just one more top-three result to fulfill her objective criteria for Olympic qualification. Unable to bag a podium between the contests at Copper and Breckenridge, and missing the podium here on Friday, the pressure was on, big time. Adding to that pressure was the fact that she pulled a quadricep in practice on Thursday night. Not to be overlooked, either, is the fact that Angeli is living with Lyme disease.

We caught up with Angeli in the finish corral, post final:

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Angeli VanLaanen, bound for Sochi.

View the women’s pipe results here.

On the men’s side, Gus Kenworthy pulled through in the clutch, once again, bagging a much-needed podium finish to put him in contention for the coaches’ discretion spot, as pertaining to the halfpipe team. Going up against Gus in that race will be Alex Ferreira, who earned a podium finish here on Friday. Additionally, Torin Yater-Wallace—despite having missed the Olympic qualifying season due to an injury suffered at Dew Tour—will be given strong consideration.

Any of those candidates look to join David Wise, Aaron Blunck and Lyman Currier in Russia next month—those three are locked for a spot on the halfpipe team. Wise was a “go” for Sochi following a win in Breckenridge. Blunck and Currier, on the other hand, secured spots here in Park City—both in dramatic fashion.

Blunck, who earned a win at the Grand Prix in Copper and a second place finish at Dew Tour, was looking to lock in his spot on the halfpipe team. After suffering a separated shoulder during a qualifying run at the Grand Prix in Breckenridge, however, his skills and perseverance were tested. Blunck missed the podium here on Friday night, and was thus under enormous pressure on Saturday. Then, after going down on his first run of two in the finals, it came down to one final run. He stomped it. He earned an even 92.00. The crowd went wild. And later, when the announcers exclaimed over the PA system, “Blunck is going to Sochi,” tears of joy welled from his eyes.

“Up top, I was kinda bummin’ because I fell on my first run,” Blunck told me. “I’m coming off a separated shoulder, so I was just freakin’ out. But I said, ‘I know I can do this.’ I took some time up there by myself, just sort of hung out for a while… Before my second run, I said to myself again, ‘I know I can do this.’ I landed it and I couldn’t believe it. Even if I didn’t get a good score, I would have been stoked to throw down one of the best runs of my life. When they said, ‘Congrats on making the Olympic team,’ I couldn’t even comprehend… I looked at my dad and that’s when things kinda started to get a bit emotional.”

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Blunck, wipes tears of joy after punching his ticket to Sochi.

In the case of Currier, the Boulder, CO native effectively went from “pretty good,” in the minds of many, to full-on, top contender on the halfpipe circuit, over the course of the past 48 hours.

Currier finished third on Friday. Last night, on his first run of the evening, he threw down what was certainly the best halfpipe run of his entire life, to date. A huge crowd had gathered at the base of the pipe—and alongside the deck and on neighboring slopes, too—and as Currier put that final rightside 1080 to his feet, the masses erupted in applause. That energy level was sustained throughout.

Of the countless halfpipe contests I’ve been a part of, this one ranks near the top in terms of sheer excitement factor.

Lyman, whose father, David, competed in alpine skiing in the 1972 Olympic Games in Sapporo, Japan (side note: as did my mother—go mom!) was ecstatic to be following in his father’s footsteps.

“[This] means so much to me,” Lyman said. “Ever since freeskiing was named as a new Olympic sport, it was my dream to get on the team, and to make my dad proud, and to follow in his footsteps. Hopefully I can bring him home something nice.”

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Lyman Currier, champion of the day.

See the men’s pipe results, right here.

And with that, the Olympic qualifying period came to a close. Following an awards ceremony, the Sochi-bound athletes were ushered down the hill, where O.A.R. was performing live before a sea of rowdy concertgoers. One “Crazy Game of Poker” later, the athletes were introduced on stage, one at a time. Phrases like, “first ever freeskiing team in the Olympics,” and “bringing home medals,” resulted in deafening applause from the large crowd. On two occasions, the “USA, USA,” chant filled the air.

In order of appearance: Devin Logan, Keri Herman, Nick Goepper, Bobby Brown, Gus Kenworthy, Maddie Bowman, Brita Sigourney, Angeli VanLaanen, David Wise, Aaron Blunck and Lyman Currier. As each one was called, they adorned the official U.S. Olympic freeskiing apparel, crafted by The North Face. And in case you’ve skipped reading all of the above, please note: these names do not comprise the entire U.S. Olympic freeskiing team—the coaches’ discretion spots are still pending.

VanLaanen told me it was one of the most rowdy crowds she’d ever laid eyes on.

As quickly as it all happened, the athletes were once again herded to a media center, where a press conference was held. It’s something the athletes must surely get used to as they prepare to compete on this grand stage: “Go here,” now “do that,” and “do it faster!” Despite the chaos, the athletes were all genuinely excited to have been a part of the ongoings, and I’m sure we’ll be able to say the same of the Olympic happenings come late February.

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Team USA takes to the stage.

I mentioned near the start of this article that I “hurt for those who fall shy of a dream.” And I would be remiss not to broach this subject: Just prior to the start of the press conference, I came across a tweet that had been posted by Simon Dumont.

“I think I just skied my last pipe comp ever,” he wrote. “Sorry for letting you all down. I tried my hardest to make it to the Olympics. #bummed.”

In just a few short moments, all of that excitement I had been feeling—the thrill of being a part of something “bigger”—it all came crashing down pretty quickly. Simon, who had been gunning for a Sochi spot, pushing through many nagging injuries along the way, had suffered a blow in Park City on Friday night, adding a torn ACL to his laundry list of ailments. When he was all but counted out, Simon returned to the pipe on Saturday and gave it one more shot: the lure of competing in the Olympics pushing him to new heights. To see him push through an injury of that nature, it was frightening. More importantly, it was inspiring.

And yet, Dumont was not the only one pushing through considerable injury, in an effort to qualify for the Games. Jossi Wells also took to Twitter last night, noting, “I know of at least 4-5 homies skiing without ACLs. It’s scary what this Olympic business is pushing people to do.”

Nate Abbott also joked on the social network, “@roadtonoknees.”

I followed along with a Twitter conversation between skiing icon Mike Douglas, and Canadian halfpipe coach, Trennon Paynter, as well.

“It’s nights like this that make me remember why we were running so hard in the opposite direction of the #Olympics,” said Douglas.

“@MikeDski All level of competition involves triumphs, and tragedies,” responded Paynter. “The emotion at stake, is what inspires some to compete.”

Douglas wrote back, “@trennonpaynter There’s yin & yang, but completely focusing on 1 event every 4 yrs is not healthy. Neither is competing w broken bodies.”

“@MikeDski whether it’s X Games once a year, or Olympics once every 4, athletes will always make sacrifices for what means the most to them,” said Paynter, in turn.

Controversy and jokes aside, as we take the next step towards Sochi, Simon’s statement and the ensuing discussion provides an important reminder: we mustn’t forget those who have paved the proverbial road. A poignant message to share on this day, in particular, the two year anniversary of Sarah Burke’s passing.

Immediately following Dumont’s post, though, the skiing community showed an outpouring of support, prompting Simon to respond later in the evening, “Thanks for all the love. I have the best fans imaginable.”

In the press conference at the end of the night, which pushed on until nearly 11:00, 17-year-old Aaron Blunck also paid tribute to Dumont, a hero to him, and to so many others in the room, both athletes and non. Blunck noted:

“Simon Dumont is a huge innovator for our sport. He went down unfortunately with that blown ACL last night, and he came out again today, and it was a heartbreaking moment for a lot of us to watch him ski. Coming down the hill… tears in his eyes, it was one of the saddest things an athlete could watch, especially for someone who’s gotten this sport as far as it has come. We can’t think him enough. Thank you Simon.”

The room filled with applause: So many highs, and a few lows, too. Above all: It was a night to remember.

In closing (and I’m now sitting at the Gordon Biersch Company at SLC, having just watched Bruins vs. Blackhawks, and next Patriots vs. Broncos), while it’s easy to get caught up in the moment—and to be certain, I think we should get caught up in the moment, and we should enjoy this moment—it’s important to remember that Sochi is not the be all, end all; it’s just one piece of this pie we call skiing, and this is a message we promote heavily in Freeskier’s special edition, 2014 Olympic issue, which is now available via newsstands and iTunes.

Between Dew Tour, Grand Prix at Copper, Grand Prix at Breckenridge, and now this past weekend, it’s been a long, hard-fought five weeks for the athletes, and for the rest of us who play a part behind the scenes. I’m relived to be turning the page.

Next, we’ll look forward to the announcement of who will earn the coaches’ discretion spots, we’ll enjoy what’s sure to be a fun-filled X Games, we’ll roll through the SIA Snow Show, and then, finally, we’ll board the plane en route to Moscow, and from there to Sochi. It’s all going to be good, my friends.

And now, I think I’ll go track down one of those 10 min/$20 shoulder massages, somewhere near the B gates…

To see how these results affect the current AFP World Rankings, visit afpworldtour.com. For FIS standings, visit fisski.com. For updates re: Fantasy Freeride League, visit fantasyfreeride.com For insight into some of the fun moments from the weekend, check out the @FreeskierLive Twitter feed.

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About the author:
Henrik Lampert loves hot dogs, backflips, the Boston Bruins and Norway. Twenty-seven years old and a Massachusetts native, he's the Editor of Freeskier Magazine and Freeskier.com—a proud staffer since 2010.