Mike Riddle and Maddie Bowman win The North Face PPOS halfpipe event at Copper

Mike Riddle and Maddie Bowman win The North Face PPOS halfpipe event at Copper

Following an exciting qualifier on Saturday, the stage was primed for a solid showdown today in Copper Mountain’s 22′ Main Vein Superpipe. Sixteen men and 12 women dropped in this afternoon, two runs each.

Canadian Mike Riddle carried his momentum from yesterday’s win in qualifiers, and once again topped the men’s field. Park City’s Peter Crook and Colorado’s Aaron Blunck rounded out the podium in 2nd and 3rd, respectively. On the women’s side, American Maddie Bowman overcame slight trouble in run #1 and stomped an outstanding run on her second go. Her efforts notched an 85.8, enough for the win. Anais Caradeux of France landed in second, while Utah’s Angeli VanLaanen finished third.

Amid the competitors’ runs, the resounding topic of discussion today was the bitter cold that infiltrated Summit County. Event organizers faced sub-zero temperatures early this morning while prepping for the day’s competition, and athletes practiced between 9:00 a.m. and noon in single digit temps.

Byron Wells said about the weather, “It’s so cold today, it makes me wonder why I ski, and that I don’t surf. Because surfing is warm. I haven’t been this cold in more than a year. So, I want to be a surfer.” Peter Olenick added, “Today is as cold as Coors Light TV commercials make your beer look.” And Matt Margetts drove the point home, noting dejectedly, “Today is colder than my ex’s heart.”

Despite the nagging cold, the competitors put on a great show:

The women kicked things off at noon. Anais Caradeux logged the first noteworthy run of the day, starting off with a lofty 5 safety, and linking with an alley-oop 5, another 5, a straight air and a 720 at the bottom. “I’m super stoked that the first comp is out of the way,” said Caradeux. “The girls skied awesome. Maddie Bowman threw down, and Keltie [Hansen]’s cork 9 was amazing. I’m looking forward to next week’s Dew Tour, I think it’s going to be a really good comp for the girls.”

Angeli VanLaanen showed once again today that she’s not afraid to boost huge. After going down on her last hit of run #1, she pulled it together for run #2, sending two massive straight airs up top, a nice 5 mid-pipe, and a big ol’ 720 on her last hit (redemption!) to seal the deal.

Maddie Bowman struggled a bit on run #1, and rebounded with a stellar performance on run #2. She opened her winning run with a sizable straight air—traveling a big ways down the pipe—and followed up with a 900, a rightside 5, left 5, right 7 and a switch hit to close.

Maddie Bowman wins The North Face Park and Pipe Open Series halfpipe event at Copper (12/9/12)

On the men’s side, Aaron Blunck impressed all on his first run: Right 9 tail, left 9 tail, right 10 stale, switch 7 japan, flair mute and alley-oop flat 5 critical. Blunck attempted to up the ante on run #2, but went down on a massive double cork 12. “This weekend was really fun,” said Blunck. “It was a bit stressful, too. Being the first event of the year, I really wanted to start off the season real’ well.” Having accomplished his goal, Blunck added, “This is a big confidence builder going into the rest of the season. I feel like I’m up there with the best of ’em, so, yeah, I’m just so stoked right now.”

Peter Crook propelled himself into the second place position today with a left 900, right 7, switch left 7, right 9 and left 10 to close. “I’m so stoked, I couldn’t be happier. Everything just worked out for me today,” exclaimed Crook. “I have to thank everyone that’s been helping me, especially my coach, Ocho [Luke Allen]. Everyone killed it today, I can’t believe I’m up on the podium. This is a big booster for me, I had a little bit of a knee problem last year, so I’m excited to start the season off on a strong note.”

Mike Riddle earned himself the win on his first run today, which consisted of a double cork 12 mute, a right 900, left 900, flatspin 360 and a switch 9 to cap it off. Riddle banked an even 90, which held out through all of run #2, leaving him with a victory lap to close out the day.

Luke Van Valin checks in with Mike Riddle, following his win at The North Face PPOS event at Copper (12/9/12)

Prior to the start of finals, I caught up with Andy Woods, U.S. Freeskiing Halfpipe Pro Team Coach, to inquire about his team’s strategy heading into the first event of the year. “We’re telling the kids this is a great warm up for the big season ahead of us,” said Woods. “We have Dew Tour next week, X Games in a little over a month… the sooner we can start competing, the better off we’re all going to be.” Speaking with Andy, I couldn’t help but ask about the increasing number of coaches at events, an apparent dependence on two-way radios, and the ever-changing strategies associated with halfpipe competition. With Sochi on the horizon, none of this comes a surprise, but it’s certainly interesting to see a transformation take place. “Well, we have a lot of Walkie Talkies,” said Andy, punctuating his statement with a chuckle. “We probably have at least six people on our Walkie Talkie frequency right now. That’s a personal record for me, for sure. We’re just trying to cross the ‘t’s’ and dot the ‘i’s’ and make sure the kids have everything they need to be successful.”

This afternoon, I also spoke with Chris Turpin—former professional skier and longtime coach at summer camps like High North and Momentum—who now plays the role of Head Technical Coach for Halfpipe and Slopestyle for Team Russia. As freeskiing will make its Olympic debut in Sochi, I asked if he feels any added pressure to whip his athletes into tip-top shape. “In the past, I’ve worked mainly with ‘true’ freeskiers, and I’m now working with a very diverse bag of athletes with backgrounds in skier X, alpine, moguls, aerials, gynmastics, diving and such,” said Turpin. “In terms of work ethic, they’re like work horses, but they lack a bit of that ‘freeskiing heart.’ I can change their skiing, but I can’t change their culture. That being said, of course there’s an added pressure in that [Russia] is looking at them. But the world has to understand that, for instance, our pipe riders have only been skiing pipe for a year, because pipe has only been in Russia for a year, and our slope guys are a few years behind, because freeskiing in Russia is fairly behind as far as North American standards go.” Despite having a challenge on his hands, Turpin added, “As long as I got my skis on, I love my job. And as long as people do what I say, I love my job [laughs].”

To see a full listing of today’s results, follow these links:

Hoping to catch a glimpse of this weekend’s action? You’re in luck. CBS Sports Network will air coverage of the event on 12/23/12 at 1:00 p.m. EST, and again on 12/25/12 (time TBD). The broadcast will run one hour.

Yesterday, we elaborated on the implications of this event for AFP and FIS standings. To see the current AFP standings, click here. To see the current FIS standings, click here.

The North Face PPOS carries on to Whistler Blackcomb, BC, January 14-17 (HP + SS), Waterville Valley, NH, on February 23 (RJ + BA) and Northstar, CA between March 8-10 (SS). The Northstar stop is also a sanctioned FIS Nor-Am Cup event.

Lastly, be sure to check out our article on “how to do an open event” for info about open freeskiing events and their role in the grand scheme.

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