Vail is predominantly a ski-racing town. However, with park expansion plans, a new 22-foot halfpipe in the works, and the U.S. Open of Snowboarding coming to Vail, big changes are on the horizon for Vail’s Park and Pipe scene. There have been a handful of tremendous freeskiing and freestyle skiers that have trained in Vail and gone on to win numerous competitions. In the next few years the Vail Valley will see more freeskiing and freestyle athletes using Vail as their training ground.
The North Face Open Series for halfpipe came to Copper this past weekend and athletes from all over the world showed up to compete. Pro level athletes such as Mike Riddle, Gus Kenworthy, and Tanner Hall were a few big names at the event. The North Face Park and Pipe Series is a huge event for aspiring athletes looking to head to the Olympics. Both slopestyle and halfpipe skiing will make their Olympic debut in 2014 at the Sochi, Russia Winter Games.
The North Face series is a FIS event, which provides athletes with the points necessary to qualify for the Olympics. The athletes trained during the week at Copper and competed on Saturday with the finals on Sunday. With FIS points at play and $55,000 in prize value up for grabs for the whole series, it is a great event to get noticed and potentially pad that wallet.
Ski and Snowboard Club Vail has had a tremendous influence on the world of skiing in the valley, and it is no exception when it comes to freeskiing and freestyle skiing.
Just two short years ago SSCV hired renowned coach Elana Chase to lead the freekiing program to new heights. Elana has coached X-Games athletes such as Torin Yater Wallace, David Wise, Jen Hudak, and Walter Wood.
When she came to Vail, Elana developed the current freeskiing pro team at SSCV. Annalisa Drew, Alex Ferreria, Walter Wood, and Aaron Blunck are a few of the athletes on the pro team that made it to the finals in the North Face Open.
On Saturday night in Copper Village, during a blizzard, the U.S. Freeskiing team was announced for the 2012-2013 season to the public. Blunck who is currently ranked 14th in the world, according to AFP’s (Association of Freeskiing Professionals) overall ranking, and Ferreria, who placed fourth in the qualifiers at the North Face Open, were announced to the U.S. Freeski Rookie team during the ceremony. With hard work these athletes will have a chance to compete in the next Winter Olympics.
Walter Wood is a name that has been in the press before. This rising star has been training in Vail with Chase for the past couple years and has shown incredible talent. Currently ranked 9th in the world for halfpipe he almost had the perfect finals run at the event. “We haven’t really been skiing since this summer in New Zealand. These competitions come up quick and you have to really be on it if you want to do well. The conditions today were absolutely freezing cold which makes your equipment start to malfunction a bit. It is tough to compete in these conditions, but the person that pushes through is usually the one that goes away with the podium. I had a blast today and I’m excited for next weekend,” says Wood. Wood actually broke his binding, partly due to the cold temperature, when he landed in the pipe on his last “hit” out of the pipe. He sees this past weekends North Face Open as a good training opportunity for next weekends Dew Cup at Breckenridge.
Blunck, a Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy (VSSA) student, skied unbelievably well in the finals. By linking smooth off axis tricks from wall to wall, Blunck landed himself a spot on the podium. During his final run Blunck attempted a double cork 1260, which is one of the more difficult tricks a pipe skier can perform. Blunck outperformed well-known veteran athletes like Tanner Hall, Justin Dorey, and Matt Margetts. The Sixteen-year-old, Crested Butte local, ended up placing third in the event winning himself $1,250.00. “The facilities that have come up in Vail recently are top of the line for training. We have a trampoline room inside of VSSA. We will have a 22-foot pipe to ski on this year in Vail and won’t have to drive to other resorts. I’m really excited about everything that has been happening in Vail and I’m really excited about how today went,” says Blunck.
Former VSSA student Peter Crook placed second in the finals winning $1,500 just behind Mike Riddle. Mike Riddle is currently one of the best pipe skiers in the world and it showed during his smooth run. Crook recently established the British Virgin Islands National Freeskiing Team so that he can compete for his home country in the Olympics. “I started skiing pipe here in Copper this week for the first time in a while. I had a missing link in my run that I worked on and managed to put down a good run. This is a huge boost for my confidence and I’m excited to continue to progress this season,” says Crook.
The fact that these up and coming athletes are able to successfully compete with some of the best is a clear indicator that they too are some of the best in the world.