When the first Olympic-size half-pipe in North America opens for the season, the world takes notice, and for eight of the last nine years that pipe has been right above Center Village at Copper Mountain Resort. That streak continued Wednesday with resort officials announcing that the full-length 22-foot-high pipe was cut and ready for business.
With Copper’s announcement, and the Dew Tour iON Mountain Championships in Breckenridge just two weeks away, some of the world’s best skiers and snowboarders were on the hill first thing Wednesday for a practice session, taking full advantage of the early opening.
Aspen native and snowboard star Gretchen Bleiler and other U.S. freeski and snowboard team members reportedly shared the pipe with members of a number of international teams.
“It’s always good if there’s a pipe early in the season,” Swiss national team snowboard coach Pepe Regazzi said while standing at the top of the pipe, shooting video of one of his athletes doing a training run. “It’s important that they (team athletes) have a lot of training.”
Ski and Snowboard Club Vail snowboard director Ben Boyd echoed the sentiment while waiting for two of his World Cup-level riders to drop in for a run.
“We’re coming into the Olympics; the more on-snow time we can get to get the athletes prepared for these events is important,” he said.
Both the Dew Tour, Dec. 12-15 , and the Sprint Grand Prix half-pipe and slopestyle series the following week at Copper are serving as part of the U.S. Olympic team-selection process this year. Besides members of the U.S. team, the events will include a deep field of international competitors.
“It’s awesome to have this before the competitions,” World Cup level rider Jake Pates said after a training run. “It really makes a difference.”
“The park was in really good shape for the first day,” Australian female World Cup rider Alex Fitch said. “It’s really important we don’t have much training time between World Cups, so it’s really important to get in there while we can.”
Both Boyd and Regazzi said their athletes were taking it easy on the first day of training, focusing on getting their feet back under them. Regazzi said his Swiss team was also adjusting to the time change and altitude.
Through the weekend, the pipe will be open to the public, giving amateurs and everyday riders an opportunity to share terrain with potential Olympians.
“There’s a lot of national teams here,” Boyd said. “Copper’s done a great job. We don’t get pipes as good as this (early season).”
“This year we’re open earlier than expected,” Copper spokeswoman Stephanie Sweeney said. “We’ve had really great early season snow.”
Athletes will continue to practice on the Copper half-pipe leading up to the start of the Dew Tour and then again in mid-December.
Starting Sunday, Dec. 1, the pipe will be closed to the public in the mornings — it’s reserved during that time for U.S. and foreign national teams.
It will reopen daily at 12:30 p.m.
Anyone looking to try to catch a glimpse of potential 2014 Olympians will have viewing opportunities from the deck outside of Jack’s in Center Village.
Woodward at Copper — one of the nation’s largest indoor training facilities — will also host a meet and greet with selected members of the U.S. team Saturday evening, as a part of a weekend with a number of events open to the public.
More information can be found at www.coppercolorado.com