A FIS sanctioned World Cup and also an AFP Platinum level contest, the Visa US Grand Prix at Copper Mountain is among the biggest freeskiing events of the year. An international field of athletes is competing this weekend for FIS World Cup points—a crucial piece of the “Road to Sochi” puzzle—AFP points, prize money and, as always, coveted bragging rights. Regarded as an “early season event,” the US Grand Prix at Copper also provides athletes a chance to gauge where they stand heading into the heart of competition season.
In addition to competing for themselves this weekend, athletes are also now focused on team goals. “The Copper Grand Prix events, halfpipe and slopestyle for both freeskiing and snowboarding will allow our athletes to rack up great FIS points that will go towards our nation’s quota spots, so it’s very important that the US Freeskiing Team guys and girls ski well this weekend,” says Mike Jaquet, CMO of the United States Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA). “If we can get all our nation’s quota spots between the Copper and Park City [Grand Prix] events, it takes a lot of stress off needing to send athletes around the world next year to secure them.” And it’s not just the US team that’s focused on the quota spots—all teams are. With so much on the line, it was no surprise that we were witness to an impressive show today.
Blizzard conditions plagued the early morning practice session, and many athletes’ first runs. Despite a bit of nagging cold, the occasional hefty wind gust and a thin layer of fresh pow at the bottom of the pipe, the athletes threw down. The order of competition was as follows: Women took one run, men took one run, women took a second run and the men followed suit.
On the women’s side, Maddie Bowman, Ros Groenewoud and Brita Sigourney topped the podium, in first, second and third respectively. Sigourney (USA) struggled on her first run and sat in 11th place going into run number two. With the pressure on, she managed to stomp a solid run consisting of a right-wall 900 on her first hit, alley-oop, 540, rightside 540 and a 720 to close. Her efforts earned her an even 79. Hot off a win at the Dew Tour in Breckenridge, Brita was in good spirits at the end of the day: “Things definitely went better than I expected, considering the weather. My first run wasn’t good, but then the sun came out and I was stoked to put down a run and end up on the podium with my friends,” Brita said. “I’m feeling good right now. I think I could maybe challenge myself some more, maybe do some new tricks… I’m excited for the next few weeks and really looking forward to X Games.”
Roz G (CAN) logged a decent first run score, and was able to improve on her second run. Roz opened with a lofty straight air and followed up with a rightside 9, 540, rightside 540, 360 and a switch right 5. Roz bagged a 79.2, and walked away with her second straight podium finish.
Topping the field today was USA’s own Maddie Bowman. Maddie, like Brita, struggled on her first run and dropped in for her second attempt with a load of added pressure on her shoulders. Maddie rose to the occasion, nailing a run that consisted of a rightside 9 up top, left 5 mute, straight air, left cork 9, rightside 7 and a switch 5 to close—good enough for an 84.6. Maddie is no stranger to the top of the podium at Copper; she took top honors here this past December at the North Face Park and Pipe Open Series (PPOS). Maddie also finished second at the Dew Tour in Breckenridge just a few weeks ago.
Checking in with Ros G and Maddie Bowman
On the men’s side, Canadian Mike Riddle topped the field while US Team members Aaron Blunck and David Wise rounded out the podium in second and third, respectively. Wise’s run consisted of a rightside 9 to open, left double cork 12, rightside 7, switch 7 and an alley-oop flat 5. We predicted Wise would win the AFP superpipe title this year, so for the sake of not looking like imbeciles, we’re happy to see him collect some AFP points.
After bobbling on his first run, 16-year-old Aaron Blunck came charging out of the start gate on run two, and carried his momentum straight to a second place finish. Blunck’s run consisted of a massive rightside dub 12 mute up top, left 9 tail, right 9 tail, alley-oop flatspin 5 Japan, right 10 tail and switch 7 mute to close. Blunck walked away with a score of 87.0. Blunck too podiumed here at Copper at the The North Face PPOS in December—he’s been riding smoothly and consistently. Way to give ‘er, Aaron.
And today’s champion: Mike Riddle. Riddle has also displayed amazing consistency this season, topping the podium at The North Face PPOS and landing third at the Dew Tour at Breckenridge. Riddle has podiumed at each of these events with a stock run consisting of a double cork 12 mute, rightside 9, left 9, alley-oop flatspin 3 and a switch 9. This go-round, the judges awarded Riddle with a solid 91.2. While this run has served him well, Riddle indicated he may mix things up heading into X Games later this month. “I’ve been working on some new tricks, and I’m looking to change it up a bit for X, so watch out,” he said this afternoon. And watch out we will!
Checking in with Mike Riddle, Aaron Blunck and David Wise
Aside from seeing a tramload of great halfpipe skiing today, it was exciting to watch the various teams interact with their respective coaches and technicians. This team dynamic is a trend we’ve seen growing over the past few years, and with Sochi now on the horizon, the interplay is at an all-time high. It’s something Jaquet also touched on when discussing this weekend’s Grand Prix.
“Another key focus for this weekend that our coaches—Skogen [Sprang], Ben [Verge], [Andy] Woods, and others—are focusing on is treating these events as a good dry run for [the Olympic test event in] Sochi,” he explained. “Most of these athletes, of course, have big event experience with X Games and Dew Tour but the formats for the Olympics are different as far as what you need to go through on the actual competition day. Being in a team environment with coaches and team managers there to help you and your teammates is crucial to success, and we’ve seen this play out in many Olympics before—definitely in the snowboarding halfpipe events. So getting the Team used to the program, the support, the tech stuff, the run analysis that we are doing with video and iPads, is all really a great drill for them, one year out from the Olympics.”
I caught up with Andy Woods, U.S. Freeskiing Halfpipe Pro Team Coach, to inquire whether the team had a special strategy for Grand Prix. “Prior to today, it was all about working up to the tricks you want to do in qualies and finals, and to have a plan,” he said. With a bit of weather interfering today, Woods said it forced them to alter their approach. “This morning was all about ‘find speed wherever you can. Pretty much everyone put down their stock runs, but the tough thing was maintaining amplitude. When you have weather like this, we just try to deal with it the best we can. We have some success, we have some crashes… that’s just the way it goes.”
Looking forward, Woods indicated X Games and the Olympic test event in Sochi are heavy on his mind. “We have a team camp in Breckenridge next week, so we’re just going to try to train up. People have ideas of runs that they want to put down, so we’re going to try and get as close to that as we can, or hopefully beyond that,” he said. “We’ve got X Games, and then a week later we’re on to Sochi, so, big stuff coming up. X Games is always a big energy drain, and there’s not much time to gear up for Sochi post X. We’re just going to power through.”
I also spoke with Canadian Team Coach Trennon Paynter, to see what he and his gang had discussed prior to Grand Prix. “The strategy going into today is kind of what the strategy has been for the team all season, which is ‘keep up the good work,’ as cliché as that sounds… The whole team has been working harder and smarter than they ever have. They’re training harder, they’re training their comp runs and their comp tricks more, and we’re seeing it pay off in results and in their consistency, so we’re just trying to continue on that theme. The other thing today, obviously, was just making sure not to get thrown off by the weather. Everyone’s dealing with the same pipe…”
Trennon continued, “The big thing for us this year is we actually have a system that can qualify people for the Olympics this season, which is a little different than a lot of other countries—up to two per sport, per gender. So, theoretically we could qualify two men and two women this season. It’s huge. It’s the first time in any of these guys’ careers that they’ve been in a competition that can earn them an Olympic spot.”
For a Canadian athlete to qualify this season, they must podium in two of five designated events for their discipline, plus earn a top 16 finish in another. While the Grand Prix superpipe is in fact not a designated event, Paynter says the early qualifying process is a means of relieving pressure from the Canadians’ top athletes next season, allowing them to focus their efforts on Sochi.
When asked about the Olympics, Riddle explained he’s doing his best to block out the hype. “I’m trying not to get too caught up in that and stick to the day by day. If I get too ahead of myself I’ll start getting stressed, so, I’m just trying to relax,” he said.
While the skiers were attacking the U-ditch today, snowboarders were competing in slopestyle. Tomorrow, skiers and boarders will trade places, and we’ll see these 12 men—plus 12 women, who will be determined via qualifier tomorrow morning—strut their slope skills.
Speaking of snowboarding, therein lies the answer to why Byron Wells did not compete in the finals today. “I didn’t compete because I hurt my leg in qualifying. Total bummer,” Byron said. “So, instead of watching pipe today, like I normally would, I went and watched a bunch of babe snowboarders ride. I think it was a better use of my time. You know, it’s a known fact that snowboard chicks dig skiers, so, the way I see it is that I’m just making an investment with my time.” A valid point, indeed. We wish you all the best, Byron, in your quest to court one of snowboarding’s biggest stars.
Miss the action today? Don’t fret. Today’s competition will be broadcast on NBC and NBC Sports Network at the following dates and times:
- Saturday, Jan. 12 @ 4:00-5:00 p.m. MT (Halfpipe on NBC)
- Saturday, Jan. 12 @ 1:00-2:00 p.m. MT (Halfpipe on NBC Sports Net)
- Saturday, Jan. 19 @ 2:00-3:00 p.m. MT (Slopestyle on NBC Sports Net)
Fantasy Freeride players are paying close attention to this weekend’s contest. For all things Fantasy related, check out fantasyfreeride.com.
US Grand Prix Men’s Superpipe Final Results
1. Mike Riddle — 91.2
2. Aaron Blunck — 87.0
3. David Wise — 83.6
4. Joffrey Pollet-Villard — 79.8
5. Thomas Krief — 77.8
6. Alex Ferreira — 73.6
7. Simon Dumont — 70.0
8. Kevin Rolland — 68.8
9. Benoit Valentin — 65.2
10. Matt Margetts — 54.6
11. Gus Kenworthy — 35.8
12. Byron Wells — DNS
US Grand Prix Women’s Superpipe Final Results
1. Maddie Bowman — 84.6
2. Rosalind Groenewoud — 79.2
3. Brita Sigourney — 79.0
4. Virginie Faivre — 78.4
5. Megan Gunning — 75.0
6. Ayana Onozuka — 73.0
7. Annalisa Drew — 71.8
8. Marie Martinod — 64.6
9. Mirjam Jaeger — 64.2
10. Katrien Aerts — 63.4
11. Manami Mitsuboshi — 63.0
12. Cassie Sharpe — 46.0