Breckenridge slopestyle and halfpipe competition begins Wednesday
BRECKENRIDGE, USA – Training is underway and a big weekend of FIS Freestyle World Cup/Visa USSA Grand Prix slopestyle and halfpipe competition is set to take over Colorado's famed Breckenridge resort beginning with slopestyle qualifications on Wednesday, January 8th, 2014.
This week's event was moved to Breckenridge from its originally scheduled venue of Northstar, in California, after it was decided just before Christmas that adverse weather conditions at Northstar would likely make it impossible to construct a suitable venue for top level World Cup/Grand Prix competition. Having recently hosted the invitation-only Dew Tour event, Breckenridge's facilities are in top shape, and the resort is an ideal host for the relocated contest.
This will be the third World Cup slopestyle event of the season, following previous contests in Cordrona, NZL, and Copper Mountain, USA. After those two events, it is Nick Goepper (USA) – the lone US freeskier thus far to have mathematically clinched an Olympic berth – sitting at the top of the World Cup leaderboard, followed by Russell Henshaw (AUS), and James Woods (GBR).
Regardless of who gets chosen behind him, Goepper will be leading a strong, deep US team into the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games, with several skiers capable of securing slopestyle podiums. Henshaw and Woods will roll into Sochi with less team support and perhaps more pressure than anyone on the US squad, as both are strong medal hopefuls for nations not traditionally considered to be snow sports powerhouses. Both athletes will be looking to finish the pre-Olympic campaign with strong performances in Breck and then next week in Gstaad, Switzerland.
On the ladies' side of the slopestyle coin it's Dara Howell (CAN) leading the way after her win in Copper Mountain last month. Rounding out the current top three is 17-year-old phenom Lisa Zimmerman (GER) and the only-slightly-older reigning X-Games gold medallist Tiril Sjaastad Christiansen (NOR).
Howell, the 3rd place finisher at the 2013 Freestyle World Ski Championships in Voss, Norway, has been filling nicely the void left by her teammate and 2013 world champion Kaya Turski, who has been sitting out all of 2013/14 thus far with a torn ACL. Howell took 2nd at the Cardrona event to go along with her Copper win, with both results coming against top-level competition. Breckenridge will be her toughest test yet, however, as the American skiers scramble to prove their Olympic worth on home soil.
Last Friday's halfpipe event in Calgary, Canada, was something of a feeding frenzy for the Canadian men's squad. In the absence of the US team, for whom the Calgary event wasn't an NSA approved Olympic qualifier, the Canadians swept the men's podium, with Justin Dorey taking the win, followed by Noah Bowman and Matt Margetts. Another Canadian, Simon D'artois, finished in 5th.
The Calgary results shook up the World Cup leader board, propelling Dorey to second overall behind Copper Mountain halfpipe winner Aaron Blunck (USA), while veteran Antti-Jussi Kempainnen (FIN) rounds out the top three. Bowman's 2nd place finish in Calgary moved him into 5th overall, with Margetts now sitting just behind in 6th.
2013 halfpipe world champion David Wise (USA) failed to qualify for finals at last month's Copper Mountain event, and his performance at Breckenridge will be one to keep an eye on. Arguably the best halfpipe skier in the world, Wise still finds himself in a position where he will need a strong showing at Breck to cinch his place on the US team for Sochi.
For the ladies', it is one of the few true halfpipe and slopestyle crossover skiers who sits atop the World Cup halfpipe leader board, with Devin Logan (USA) riding a 5th in Cardrona and a 4th in Copper to the top. Calgary winner Rowan Cheshire (GBR) sits in 2nd, and has clearly stepped up her game in 2013/14. Cheshire makes for another strong British medal hopeful in the new ski halfpipe and slopestyle events in Sochi, should she be chosen to compete. In 3rd on the World Cup rankings is Mirjam Jaeger (SUI), after registering a 6th place finish last week in Calgary.
2012/13 crystal globe winner and 2013 world champion Virginie Faivre (SUI) made her 2013/14 competition debut in Calgary after missing the start of the season due to injury, placing 2nd, and her return immediately makes the path to a Sochi podium more difficult for the rest of the field.
The Breckenridge event is the last World Cup halfpipe competition of the season before the big show in Sochi, while for the slopestyle athletes the Gstaad event on January 18th will represent their last shot at Olympic qualification. With so much still to be decided before the Olympics, so few events left, and only so many precious quota spots to go around, the Breckenridge event promises to be one of the most intensely-battled competitions of the year.
Breckenridge, USA, competition schedule can be found HERE
More information can be found on the USSA events page, HERE