A run through a mogul course is short, sweet and elegant and at the same time torturous on the body. This week, roughly 110 U.S. Freestyle Ski Team hopefuls are taking turns bouncing down Copper Mountain's 200-meter course as they seek a handful of coveted, elite slots on the U.S. Freestyle Moguls Ski Team and earn World Cup and NorAm starts.
The Copper course is a backup to the Steamboat course, where freestyle selections for remaining spots of the team are typically held. Low snowfall brought the organization to reschedule the location, and opted for another Colorado spot instead of moving things to the East Coast. Ski team officials are excited to have the dedicated space on the U.S. Ski Team Speed Center, which has had plenty of hype surrounding it as it provided the first alpine training center for racers in November.
"This is the first traditional freestyle event at Copper since 1978 and the first non-alpine event held on the game-changing U.S. Ski Team Speed Center," Copper officials stated in a press release.
It's also a chance for athletes to make or break their season. Athletes like current C team members Ali Kariotis (Tiburon, Calif.), Shane Cordeau (Sun Valley, Idaho), Ryan Dyer (Steamboat), Cody Tempel (Missoula, Mont.), Dylan Walczyk (Breckenridge) and Bryan Zemba (Killington, Vt.).
The Copper event is an opportunity for athletes to qualify for FIS Freestyle World Cup and NorAm starts for the 2013 season. Two men's and two women's spots are up for grabs, as well as one each by coaches' choice. More than 100 skiers are contending for those spots.
"Being the host nation, we have six additional starts," freestyle coach Scott Rawles said, referring to the World Cup events at Lake Placid and Deer Valley. Each nation gets 12 slots automatically, and as defending World Cup champion, Hannah Kearney gets her own spot in the circuit. The dozen of U.S. athletes already chosen are currently competing in Finland, Rawles said.
In addition to the World Cup spots, other top athletes will qualify for the NorAm tour, which has two stops in the United States and two stops in Canada.
At the start of the week, athletes were training on course. Wednesday and Thursday, they compete for the sought-after spots before entering another day of training. Saturday is the final day of competition, which concludes with the dual moguls discipline, which pits two racers against each other on the course at the same time.
Course creators had a quick turnaround as they moved snow from the speed center to the mogul area, located at the bottom of Rosi's Run and visible from Copper Station at the base of the Super Bee Chairlift. To be fair, the course had to come close to Deer Valley's Olympic course, which is pitched at 28-29 degrees. Copper wasn't able to get to quite that pitch because there's no dirt work underneath, but it came together as a quality backup location, Rawles said.
"This is a big event. I'll have five athletes of the U.S. Ski Team plus regional skiers," Rawles said, referring to the aforementioned athletes. "This event makes or breaks your season. Sochi is getting closer and closer. ... We are 14 months out. It's go time."
Among the skiers at Copper is Kearney, who won't be competing but will be present to train. She's not going to be cleared to compete following her October injury in Switzerland until Jan. 1.
Skiers as young as 13 and 14 years old will test their skills against more mature skiers as they seek to move up through the ranks throughout the week.
"We are excited to be adding the U.S. Freestyle Moguls selections to Copper Mountain. We have had an incredible competition lineup this season on the U.S. Ski Team Speed Center, Copper's world-class speed training venue, in our 22' Main Vain Superpipe and now the newest addition, a World Cup Mogul competition. Guests will have the opportunity to see future Olympians in multiple disciplines throughout Copper Mountain events," Copper president and general manager Gary Rodgers said.