The Winter Olympics in Sochi Russia are now only 1 calendar year away. Ski and snowboard athletes, among others, are well aware of the qualification process ahead in order to make it there. Since halfpipe is a relatively new Olympic event, skiers and snowboarders are training and competing harder than ever looking for a spot to represent their country in 2014.
As many are well aware, Colorado has cranked out so many Winter Olympics athletes that it is hard to count. More specifically, Vail has been a hotbed for numerous Olympic potentials. This week, The Grand Prix Freeskiing World Cup is at Copper and athletes from all over the world are competing for FIS points and potential Olympic spots.
It comes as no surprise that many Ski and Snowboard Club Vail (SSCV) athletes showed up for the World Cup event. The Grand Prix runs from January 9th through the 12th. The event itself has been running for the past 17 years, which makes it the longest running domestic tour for Halfpipe and Slopestyle.
Local SSCV coaches Elana Chase, Ben Boyd, Brady McNeil, and Elijah Teeter, have been providing these local athletes with valuable information and training on how to perform well at this event.
The field of athletes for both snowboarding and skiing includes some of the best in the world. “Anyone from big snowboarding movies and all of the Olympic hopefuls are out here competing today,” says SSCV Pro Slopestyle Coach Brady McNeil. “Our slopestyle team is one of the best, but our halfpipe team is probably going to be the real focus at this event. Our slopestyle team will have a better shot at making the finals during the next world cup where the field won’t be quite as stacked,” says McNeil. “Our real goal out here is making top 30 out of a field of 180. Right now I’m coaching two of our rising star athletes from Chile,” says McNeil during slopestyle training. During the snowboard slopestyle competition, only 16 snowboarders made it to the finals and included big name athletes like Takahiro Ishida and Torstein Horgmo.
The finals for the snowboard pipe competition will be on Saturday with the finals for skiing on Friday. Some of the big name athletes in the snowboard pipe competition competing for SSCV are Kaitlyn Farrington, Kelly Marren, Stephanie Magiros, Alex Fitch, Joey Mensch, Zack Black, Brett Esser, Kazuhiro Kokubbo, Kohei Hirano, and Iyumu Hirano. Farrington actually beat Olympic gold medalist Kelly Clark at Dew Cup in Breckenridge just a month ago, winning the event. She will undoubtedly be a podium contender for the event.
Freeskiing halfpipe qualifiers for the World Cup at Copper happened on Wednesday with SSCV skiers Aaron Blunck and Alex Ferreira qualifying for finals. They are in fact the only two athletes that made it to the finals without guaranteed spots at X-Games, and also two of the youngest competitors in the finals. By performing flawless runs during qualifications, they made a clear statement showing they are ready for anything that comes their way.
Blunck changed up his run a little from previous competitions and did a left 900, to a right 900, to a double cork 1260, to an alley oop 540, to a right 1080. “I have been working pretty hard on the air bag in Vail the past few weeks to really dial that double cork and I’m now feeling pretty good about it,” says Blunck. “We moved where he does that technical trick in his run. Before he was doing the double cork on the first hit and now he is doing it on the third hit, which has really helped,” says Pro Team Coach Elana Chase. “For my finals run I think I’m going to pull out a couple new tricks that I have been working on,” says Blunck. “Alex also switched up his run for this event which worked out well for him,” says Chase. “He did a left 1080, to switch right 720, to an alley oop flat 540, to a right 900, to a double cork 1260. He went big on his double cork 1260 which was awesome,” says Blunck.
Other SSCV athletes such as Broby Leeds, Billy Mann, Walter Wood, Anais Caradeux and Annalisa Drew had strong performances during qualifications. Considering the disadvantages of Leeds having a bruised leg, and also the fact he was sick, he performed rather well but just missed the top 12 cut off for the finals. On the Women’s side, Annalisa Drew competed well and will be headed to the finals on Friday.
Halfpipe qualifications for snowboarding starts on Thursday the 10th, and spectators are sure to see some amazing runs from local Vail snowboarders.