The FIS Snowboard Park & Pipe World Cup rolls onto Switzerland this week for one of the biggest competitions in snowboarding, as the 2022 Laax Open is set to go down with slopestyle and halfpipe World Cup action taking to the iconic resort’s slopes from January 13-15.
Men’s and women’s halfpipe semifinals, along with men’s slopestyle qualies, are scheduled for Thursday, Jan 13th in Laax, followed by women’s and men’s slopestyle semifinals on the 14th. Slopestyle and halfpipe finals are both slated to take place this Saturday, January 15th - slopestyle beginning at 13:15 CET, followed by pipe at 17:30.
This week’s action in Laax will be the final Park & Pipe World Cup tune-ups before the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games get underway on February 4th - and also the final World Cup halfpipe competition of the 2021/22 season, meaning that the crystal globes are set to be handed out on Saturday evening.
While most nations’ Olympic rosters are pretty well established at this point, there are still some important decisions to be made, critical World Cup points to be won, and game-changing momentum to be established as we head into the all-important quadrennial that is the Olympics.
WHITE, HIRANO AND JAMES SET TO SQUARE OFF FOR FIRST TIME SINCE 2018
In what has to be the of the most anticipated halfpipe event since the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games, all three of the reigning Olympic podium athletes are set to square off in competition for the first time in almost four years.
That’s right - Shaun White (USA), Ayumu Hirano (JPN) and Scotty James (AUS) are all on the scene in Laax and ready to duke it out in what is regarded by many to be the world’s best halfpipe, setting the stage for an epic show in the final tune-up before we return to Olympic halfpipe competition in Beijing from February 9-11th.
Hirano is fresh off a mind-blowing win in Mammoth, where he needed only four explosive hits to take what was his first major international victory since 2018. The fact that he was able to do so without dropping the triple-cork that he become the first rider ever to land in competition (at the Dew Tour back in December), means that the 23-year-old has plenty more to give, and there’s a good chance we’ll see just what that entails this week.
Now we need to talk about Scotty James, who has not competed since finishing runner-up to Yuto Totsuka (JPN) at the Aspen 2021 World Championships last March.
James’ sole World Cup start last season was here in Laax, where he also came second to Totsuka. It was the same story at the X Games last season - Totsuka first, James second. You may be noticing a pattern here.
In fact, it’s now been nearly two years since James has stood on the top of a major podium, when his run of 11-straight international competition victories came to an end in February 2020 at the hands of Ruka Hirano (no relation to Ayumu) at the Calgary Snow Rodeo. The odds-on favourite for Beijing 2022 gold through the first half of this Olympic cycle, Scotty James’ place in the halfpipe hierarchy is now a bit of a mystery; what will he deliver this weekend?
Ruka Hirano currently leads the FIS Snowboard halfpipe World Cup standings with 180 points, followed closely by Ayumu with 150, and the battle for the men’s crystal globe appears to be down to only them with only Laax left in the season.
Seven hundred and eighteen words into the men’s preview and we haven’t even mentioned the likes of Taylor Gold (USA), Andre Hoefflich (GER), Jan Scherrer (SUI), Valentino Guseli (AUS)…the list goes on. While White, James and the Japanese powerhouse trio will dominate the conversation this week, don’t be surprised if we’re in for some surprises.
CHLOE KIM BACK IN LAAX
We made the rare move of putting the men’s preview first this time around because of the truly epic Big Three storyline, but that doesn’t mean the women’s competition isn’t shaping up to be just as compelling.
Upping the Laax Open star power even higher this weekend is the presence of PyeongChang 2019 Olympic gold medallist, two-time World Champion and reigning Laax Open winner Chloe Kim (USA), who’s riding a streak of five straight victories since she returned to competition last season after a sabbatical of her own.
Kim’s only other start this season was at the Dew Tour, where she took the win by stomping both her signature frontside 1080 and cab 1080 in her final run to leapfrog Queralt Castellet (ESP) and keep her winning streak alive. When you factor in that Kim is one of only two women in the world who’s proven capable of stomping a double cork in halfpipe competition, it becomes clear that there’s really no one in halfpipe snowboarding who can touch her when she’s on her game.
Kim’s biggest rival is likely her U.S. teammate Maddie Mastro, the one other women who we know has the dub cork in her arsenal. Unfortunately for us, Mastro suffered a heavy crash at the Dew Tour and is still working on her recovery ahead of the Games. We won’t see her here in Laax this week.
The above-mentioned Castellet is here in Laax, however, and she’s one of the few riders who can push Kim to her limit. Laax is something of a second home for the Spaniard, and her win here back in 2020 was a dream come true for the rider nicknamed “Cannonball.” Now set to drop in on her fifth Olympic Winter Games next month, the 32-year-old just seems to be getting better with age, and she’ll be looking for her first Olympic podium in Beijing. Expect Castellet to pull out all the stops over the next couple days in Laax and head into the Games with some momentum.
Also on hand here in Laax and looking for their own respective pieces of the podium are the Chinese powerhouse duo of Cai Xuetong and Liu Jaiyu. Cai has three previous podiums here in Laax and is fresh off a second-place result in Mammoth last weekend, while Liu is the 2018 Laax Open winner and PyeongChang 2018 silver medallist who’s looking to warm things up ahead of her fourth Olympic start in Beijing.
Cai currently sits atop the women’s World Cup standings with 180 points, and if she should hold on to take this season’s crystal globe it will be her third-straight title (no globe was awarded in last season’s Covid-19 shortened season), and the seventh time she’s finished atop the women’s halfpipe standings in her career. Sena Tomita currently sits in second behind Cai with 140 points.
And of course there’s the Japanese team, who put six riders into the 10-woman final last weekend at Mammoth.
Twenty year old Ruki Tomita claimed the first victory of her career there in Mammoth, and was joined on the podium by her older sister Sena, in third. Last year Sena also grabbed third place in Laax, just behind her teammate Mitsuki Ono, and those three are just a few of the weapons the Japanese will have at their disposal this week.
WHERE TO WATCH
Both the 2022 Laax Open slopestyle and halfpipe World Cup finals will be streamed live on the Laax Open website HERE, as well as on Redbull TV HERE. Women’s halfpipe semifinals will be streamed live HERE, while you can watch men’s halfpipe semis HERE.