After a hugely-entertaining opening to the 2021/22 season with a pair of competitions in Europe - first with big air action in Chur (SUI) in October, and then the slopestyle season-opener in Stubai (AUT) just over a week ago - the FIS Freeski World Cup has now moved over to North America for the next five competitions, beginning in the USA with this week’s Visa Big Air presented by Toyota at Colorado’s Steamboat Resort.
While unseasonably warm temperatures in northern Colorado have meant that snowmaking efforts were hindered for much of November, more favourable conditions in in the past week have allowed production to ramp up in a big way. With colder temps and an all-hands-on-deck effort from organisers and builders, the venue in Steamboat is now shaping to be a great one for this week’s action.
The Steamboat competition will be the second and final big air World Cup competition of the 2021/22 season - though there will be three slopestyle World Cup competitions between now and the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games in February. This means that, for many athletes, the Steamboat event will represent the last big air tune-up before the event makes its Olympic debut in Beijing, putting extra emphasis on the importance of this weekend’s competition.
Training in Steamboat begins on Tuesday, with qualifications slated for Friday starting at 9:35, and finals on Saturday beginning at 13:00. TV broadcast information for Saturday’s finals will be confirmed in the coming days, so check back here later on, or follow our social media channels for updates.
WHO TO WATCH - WOMEN
On the women’s side of things it’s Tess Ledeux (FRA) sitting in top spot on the big air World Cup rankings after taking the win at Chur in what was an incredible big air showcase for the women. All eight of the women in the finals in Chur attempted a double cork of some kind, which by default puts the Chur event right there amongst the most progressive competitions of all time.
Amongst all of that boundary-pushing action it was Ledeux rising to the top with her perfectly-stomped left double cork 1260 and she, along with her fellow Chur podium athletes Sarah Hoefflin (SUI) and Elena Gaskell (CAN), should very much be in the conversation come finals time in Steamboat on Saturday.
Also very likely to be in the finals mix in Steamboat is Kelly Sildaru (EST), as the 19-year-old claimed her first World Cup win in three years when she powered through a hand injury to take top spot in the Stubai slopestyle competition. Sildaru only entered one World Cup event in 2021/22 when she took second place at the Kreischberg big air event back in January. With Stubai proving she’s still one of the world’s very best, the five-time X Games winner should be fired up for more World Cup podiums as we move into the meat of the 2021/22 season.
And, finally, we’re all very much looking forward to seeing China’s Ailing Eileen Gu drop in on her first World Cup competition of the season, after she pulled out of both Chur and Stubai following crashes in training at each competition. After becoming the first female freeskier ever to land a double cork 1440 a few weeks ago in training, Gu asserted once again that she’s one of the most well-rounded freeskiers in the world. Expect big things from her this week in Steamboat.
Others to watch out for in the women’s field include the host US team, with Maggie Voisin, Marin Hamill and Caroline Claire all podium threats, as well as 2019/20 big air crystal globe winner Giulia Tanno of Switzerland, the Norwegian team of Johanne Killi and Sandra Eie, Isabel Atkin and Katie Summerhayes of Great Britain, and Silvia Bertagna of Italy.
Two notable absences from this week’s competition are Anastasia Tatalina and Lana Prusakova, the respective big air gold and silver medallists from the Aspen 2021 World Championships last March, as the Russian freeski team has elected not to make the travels to Steamboat.
WHO TO WATCH - MEN
The men’s season opener in Chur was nothing short of outrageous, with the top-3 skiers one-upping each other throughout the competition and earning their podium spots with absolutely mind-blowing tricks to thrill the 13,000+ fans in attendance there in Switzerland.
Tops amongst the three was Austria’s Matej Svancer, who claimed his maiden FIS Freeski World Cup win with an incredible nosebutter left double cork 1800 that earned him a nearly unheard-of score of 99.00 out of 100. After putting himself on the “Up-and-comers” list over the last couple of seasons with Youth Olympic Games and Junior World Championships gold medals, Svancer in Chur very clearly proved that he has graduated to the ranks of freeskiing’s elite and should be expected to stay there for the foreseeable future.
Svancer was just able to squeak by Teal Harle in Chur, after the Canadian dropped a mindbender of his own when he landed a left triple cork 1260 bring-back - a trick that he, and he alone, is capable of landing right now. Harle followed his Chur performance up by qualifying in top spot at the Stubai slopestyle, and though he wasn’t able to put a clean run down in finals there in Austria the 25-year-old has shown that he’s in top form early on in this Olympic season.
Then there’s Birk Ruud (NOR), who claimed the big air crystal globe last time it was awarded in 2019/20, who finished third place in Chur with his signature left dub bio 1800, and who followed that up by taking the win in Stubai. Also a beast in the halfpipe, Ruud is one of the most exciting freeskiers in the world on any terrain, and he’s been running hotter than any other skier in the field thus far in 2021/22.
The men’s Steamboat start list is long and heavy though, and the quick-starters mentioned above are going to have plenty of reasons to look over their shoulders this weekend.
The host US team is going to be highly motivated in Steamboat, with the likes of last season’s double crystal globe-winner Colby Stevenson, Alex Hall, Mac Forehand and two-time Olympic medallist Nick Goepper all well capable of hitting the podium at their home soil competition.
Fabien Boesch and Kim Gubser will be leading the strong Swiss team; Norway will have Ferdinand Dahl and Christian Nummedal riding along with Ruud; Max Moffat and Evan McEachran shore up the Canadian team; and the Swedes will be represented by legends Henrik Harlaut and Jesper Tjader as well as reigning big air World Champion Oliwer Magnusson.
Any way you slice it, this week’s World Cup big air competition in Steamboat is shaping up to be a must-watch.
WHERE TO WATCH
Eurosport Player, ORF Sport+, CBC Sports Streaming, VSPORT JALKAPALLO, YLE AREENA, ARENA4 Player, ESPN STAR+, VSPORT+, VIA PLAY SE, SRG SSR Player
- Visa Big Air presented by Toyota at Steamboat official webpage
- Steamboat FIS data page (start lists, live scoring, results)
- Photos (updated throughout the week)
- Big air World Cup standings
- Full Freeski World Cup calendar