The weather was the story Friday night and into Saturday for the start of the final rounds of competition in the Sprint U.S. Grand Prix and FIS World Cup halfpipe and slopestyle events at Copper Mountain.
An unexpected 7 inches of snow fell in Summit County through most of the day Friday and into Saturday, slowing the freesking halfpipe and slopestyle competitors and making Copper course crews work overtime to keep fresh snow out of the pipe and off the course.
“It was slow out there for sure,” Norway’s Andreas Haatveit said after topping American Nick Goepper in men’s freesking slopestyle Saturday. “The course is not good for conditions like this.”
But Haatveit said he still managed just fine. “I weigh 200 pounds, so I just sat down and hoped I’d get enough speed and I did.”
When asked about the win he said: “Wow, it’s amazing I can’t believe it. I was just having fun trying to ski clean and apparently it worked.”
Haatveit claimed top honors on the podium scoring a 92.8 on his second run beating Goepper’s first run 89.2. As the top qualifier, Goepper was the last to take to the course for the second run. After a bad hit on one of the first rails he opted for a conservative second run.
“I landed weird on the trap rail and then decided it wasn’t really worth it to try and huck the rest of my run. I already had second, so I tried to play it safe and keep my body in one piece.”
After exchanging laughs in conversation with Goepper at the end of the competition, Haatveit said, “I still kind of feel like he gave it to me, but I’m stoked.”
Finishing as the top American in the Grand Prix and first overall in last week’s Dew Tour, Goepper essentially locked up a spot on the first American Olympic freeski slopestyle team with three qualifiers still remaining.
“I feel great,” Goepper said after the competition. “I’m hoping this secures my spot. Hopefully it’s all downhill from here.”
Breckenridge’s Bobby Brown finished fifth on Saturday and continues to be in the running for one of the remaining Olympic spots.
Dora Howel of Canada topped the women’s slopestyle podium followed by American’s Dorian Stevens, Grete Eliassen and Maggie Voisin. Spots on the women’s slopestyle team would appear to still be all up for grabs. Voisin’s third place finish at Dew Tour puts her in contention along with Devin Logan and Keri Herman. Logan finished first at Dew Tour and 12th at the Grand Prix. Herman earned a fourth place finish at the Dew Tour and seventh at the Grand Prix.
Freesking halfpipe finals wrapped Friday night under the lights with Crested Butte’s Aaron Blunck taking top honors.
“I’m on cloud nine right now,” Blunck said Friday. “Finishing with a second place at Dew Tour, I didn’t think I could do much better than that run, and then to come out here and to win is just absurd. I’m so speechless right now.”
Like Goepper — with a number one and two finish in the first U.S. qualifiers — Blunck has likely punched his ticket to Sochi for February’s winter games.
“These two podiums have built up a ton of confidence for me right now,” Blunck said. “Going from Breck to here this past week I have this confidence I’ve never had before.”
Blunck was joined on the podium by France’s Kevin Rolland and Gus Kenworthy of Telluride.
With a podium finish Kenworthy also remains in the hunt for an Olympic spot.
Commenting on the weather Kenworthy said, “It makes it so much harder to do tricks when it’s slow like this. It’s just really difficult to carry speed.”
That was a common theme through both events.
“It was definitely a little bit snowy,” women’s ski superpipe winner Brita Sigourney said. “I was just hoping the pipe wouldn’t be too slow. It turned out pretty well.”
Fellow American Maddie Bowman finished second. Both now hold two podium appearances in the first two qualifiers, putting them in the driver’s seat for the women’s Olympic halfpipe team. Skier slopestyle and halfpipe will join snowboard slopestyle as new Olympic events when the games open in February.
Grand Prix competition closes Sunday with men’s and women’s snowboard slopestyle. After qualifying for the finals, two-time gold medalist Shaun White will look to continue his quest to make the Olympic team in both slopestyle and halfpipe. He already owns a number two finish in halfpipe after last week’s Dew Tour. Originally scheduled for Northstar in California, the next U.S. team qualifier has been rescheduled for Breckenridge, Jan. 8-12, because of snow conditions at Northstar.
Note: Grand Prix snowboard halfpipe finals were held after this story went to press.