While the winds died down and powder hounds got to enjoy blue skies and 8 inches of fresh snow at Breckenridge Saturday, for the international field of slopestyle and halfpipe athletes competing in the U.S. Grand Prix — the third of five U.S. Olympic team qualifying events for snowboarding and freeskiing — the damage had been done. Weather overnight eroded the halfpipe to a point where it could not be fixed in time for Saturday’s freeskiing and snowboarding finals competitions. Winds were also a factor, blowing strong enough in the morning to where they would have created dangerous conditions for the athletes airing out of the pipe or hitting features on the slopestyle course.
“My coach was out there, he said it was gnarly,” U.S. Olympic snowboarding hopeful Taylor Gold of Steamboat Springs said.
With more snow and wind in the forecast for Sunday, U.S. Grand Prix officials made the decision Saturday afternoon to cancel snowboarding halfpipe and slopestyle finals.
“We weren’t going to put athletes on a course that wasn’t ready,” Breckenridge spokeswoman Kristen Petitt Stuart said of the decision.
“I’m glad they didn’t run the contest in conditions that weren’t adequate and weren’t safe,” Gold said. While athletes agreed with the cancelation, the ruling on how to handle results was met with controversy.
Skier halfpipe finals have tentatively been rescheduled for Sunday morning. But with another storm coming, weather may continue to affect competition. The snowboarding events will not be rescheduled. While skier slopestyle qualifiying round standings were used as finals results Friday, a panel of three competition officials and a technical delegate from the International Ski Federation (FIS) decided not to use Wednesday and Thursday’s snowboard pipe and slopestyle qualifying round standings as final results, instead nullifying the entire competition. A spokesperson from the U.S. Ski Team said an FIS rule was in place for skiing to use qualifying results, but no such rule exists for snowboarding making the panel decision necessary.
The decision to cancel the competition further complicates the U.S. Olympic snowboarding team picture headed into the final two selection events.
The response by athletes to the decision was mixed. Gold — who placed 13th in qualifiers and is coming off a No. 1 finish at last month’s Copper Grand Prix — agreed with the eventual decision to not count results and explained his stance.
“The top guys aren’t throwing down their hardest stuff (in qualifiers),” Gold said. “A lot of guys save stuff for finals. For me, I qualified with a run that I knew wasn’t going to win qualifiers. That was my plan — to just do something that was just going to get me in there — then in finals obviously pull out my tricks. I think for people like me it’s a little bit unfair to cancel the event and still count the results.”
Former Olympian Louie Vito disagreed with the decision and was noticeably upset at the announcement. He finished second in qualifiers behind fellow Olympian Greg Bretz and in front of two-time gold medalist Shaun White. If the decision to use qualifiers as finals had been made, all three would have benefited greatly headed into the final two U.S. team selection events. But instead of arguing in favor of using qualifying results at the cancelation announcement, Vito was advocating having a make-up finals just for Americans in order to maintain five Olympic selection results. While that may be an option going forward, that decision will have to be made by the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association.
FIS officials announced at the meeting that athletes have 48 hours to appeal the decision and that a decision on any appeals would be made within 72 hours.
USSA can make a ruling independent of FIS with regard to U.S. team qualification requirements and acknowledge qualifying results or potentially have an additional make-up qualifier for U.S. athletes. USSA officials are expected to make a decision on how they will handle qualifiers going forward. The final two snowboarding selection events are scheduled for Mammoth Mountain, Calif., later this month. Freesking’s final grand prix events will be in Park City, Utah.