For U.S. Olympic hopefuls in freeskiing and snowboarding, the road to February’s winter games in Sochi, Russia, continued Wednesday at Breckenridge Ski Resort with the opening rounds of the second stop on U.S. Grand Prix tour.
The tour is the third of five U.S. Olympic team qualifying events. With the first two qualifiers in the books — last month’s Dew Tour iON Mountain Championships in Breck and the U.S. Grand Prix at Copper Mountain Resort — the U.S. team picture remains unclear headed into this weekend’s competition. Only freeskier Nick Goepper and three-time Olympic snowboarder Kelly Clark have locked up spots on the team headed to Sochi.
Up to four men and women can make the team in each discipline. Both the snowboarding and freeskiing teams share a limited number of Olympic spots with other disciplines in the freestyle ski and snowboard categories, including skier moguls and skier and boarder cross.
Competition kicked off Wednesday with opening rounds in snowboarding halfpipe and skier slopestyle.
Some familiar names in men’s snowboarding laid claim to a number of the 16 spots in this weekend’s finals. Two-time Olympic gold medalist Shaun White was joined by fellow former Olympians Louie Vito and Greg Bretz. 2010 bronze medalist Scotty Lago failed to make the cut, making it increasingly difficult for him to return to the winter games. He will need strong performances in the two remaining Grand Prix events.
White needs another strong performance in the pipe to solidify a spot. He finished second at the Dew Tour and skipped the pipe competition in the Grand Prix at Copper to focus on slopestyle. As the top American finisher in slopestyle at Copper, White also will need at least one more stong performance in slope to qualify for both events. Vito is currently fourth among Americans after a fourth-place finish at the Dew Tour. He also needs at least one more strong showing to improve his chances. Bretz is currently closest to locking a spot for the Olympics with two podium finishes in the first two events.
Up-and-coming snowboarder Taylor Gold of Steamboat Springs also qualified for Sunday’s finals. He is currently the No. 2 ranked American behind Bretz and is also closing in on a potential Olympic bid. He finished in the top spot at Copper and third at the Dew Tour.
On the women’s side, 13-year-old phenom Chloe Kim led the charge as the top qualifier headed into the Grand Prix finals. Kim took third at the Dew Tour but is ineligible for the Olympics because of her age. Kim was joined by Kelly Clark and Taylor Gold’s sister, Arielle. Arielle Gold is second behind Clark among Americans. Olympic medalist and Aspen resident Gretchen Bleiler failed to make the cut. She is currently third among U.S. women and will need another strong performance in the final two events to stay in contention.
Breckenridge’s Bobby Brown and Keri Herman kept their Olympic hopes alive by qualifying for the skier slopestyle finals along with Telluride’s Gus Kenworthy, who is attempting to qualify or the U.S. team in both pipe and slope.
Women’s freeskier Devin Logan is also competing in both disciplines and qualified for the slopestyle finals.
Competition continues today with qualifying rounds in snowboarding slopestyle and skier halfpipe.
Crested Butte’s Aaron Blunck will be looking to hold onto his top spot in skier pipe. White, Logan and Kenworthy will all continue their quest to qualify in both slope and pipe.
The final rounds of the Grand Prix will start Friday with men’s and women’s slopestyle finals. Snowboard halfpipe concludes Saturday; skier pipe finishes on Sunday.
This weekend’s Grand Prix at Breckenridge was originally scheduled for Northstar, Calif. The decision to move the event came last month when officials from the U.S. Skiing and Snowboarding Association and the International Skiing Federation decided the weather there would make it difficult to make enough snow for an Olympic-sized venue. Breckenridge, which had just hosted the Dew Tour, became the logical alternative.
“We couldn’t be happier,” Breckenridge spokeswoman Kristen Petitt Stuart said Wednesday. “It’s such a huge event for us. It’s a testament to our park and pipe crew, and it’s great for our guests, who will get to see these guys again before they head to Sochi.”