Athletes go big at Toyota U.S. Grad Prix and Visa Big Air competitions despite frigid conditions
Summit's Taylor Gold finishes 4th in competitive halfpipe final; Grace and Hunter Henderson finish as top Americans in freeski big air competition
Although temperatures stayed near zero degrees Fahrenheit for most of the day, competition really heated up on Friday, Dec. 16, the third day of the Toyota U.S. Grand Prix and Visa Big Air competitions at Copper Mountain Resort.
Competition consisted of four finals throughout the day, including the men’s and women’s freeski big air finals and the men’s and women’s snowboard halfpipe finals.
Women’s freeski big air
As the first event of the day, the frigid conditions played a role in the early parts of the women’s freeski big air final. At the beginning of the eight-women final, several competitors fell while trying to land on the hard, packed slope.
France’s 2022 Olympic silver medalist Tess Ledeux had an especially hard fall on her first of three runs. Once competitors knew what to expect upon landing, though, the field strung together several jaw-dropping runs.
Canada’s Megan Oldham had the best first run, successfully landing a left 1260 with a mute grab to score an 89. With only two of the three runs counting towards the final score, Oldham made sure to go big on her second run as well.
On her second run, Oldham performed a right 1260 with a mute grab to score an 87 and combine for a score of 176.
Oldham’s two runs were enough for her to win the women’s freeski big air title, but she was closely followed by Switzerland’s Mathilde Gremaud and Canadian teammate Olivia Asselin.
Gremaud placed second with a combined score of 172 and a top-run score of 88 from her first run, while Asselin placed third with a combined score of 169.
New Hampshire’s Grace Henderson was the top American with a combined score of 134 for seventh place overall.
Henderson had a shaky first run when she recorded a score of 20.25, but she went huge on the second and third run with 1080 and 900 spins.
“I was just super nervous going into today because all the best girls are here and I barely squeaked into the final,” Henderson said. “Practice was a little bit dicey, but I was able to put down two jumps, and I am super happy.”
Overall Henderson was pleased to compete next to her younger brother — Hunter Henderson — who competed in the men’s freeski big air final.
“We have been competing here at Copper since we were young,” Henderson said. “To be here in a World Cup final with our parents on the sideline is just so amazing. We give each other a good luck hug before every run, so it’s nice to just have him up there with me.”
Men’s freeski big air final
In the men’s freeski big air final, 2022 Norwegian Olympic gold medalist Birk Ruud, France’s Timothé Sivigon and Norway’s Sebastian Schjerve ran away with the competition.
Ruud was successful in capturing another first place finish at Copper, stringing together three clean runs to have a combined score of 192. Ruud scored the highest on his fist run of the day when he successfully completed a 1980 spin with the a mute grab.
The trick earned Ruud a score of 96.75, which he combined with his third run score of 95.25.
“I love my job,” Ruud said. “It is incredible that this is my job and that I have so much love for skiing. It is easy for me to keep going (bigger) and push myself to get better, and in the end I just do the best I can do.”
Ruud was challenged for his first place finish by Sivigon who was also able to stomp a 1980 while grabbing his skis. The trick earned Sivigon a score of 95, which he combined with his third-run score of 89.25 for a total of 184.25 points.
Sivigon’s performance put him just ahead of Schjerve in third place with a combined score of 182.50.
Like his sister, Hunter Henderson was the highest American to finish in the 10-man final. After scoring 19.25 on his first run, Henderson strung together two impressive jumps on his second and third attempt to combine for 169.75 points for fifth place.
Women’s snowboard halfpipe final
After nearly 20 years of being on the women’s snowboard halfpipe scene, five-time Olympian Queralt Castellet, 33, proved she is still at the top of her game.
Castellet displayed why she is one of the best female halfpipe riders in the world by having a massive first run. Castellet rocketed well out of the superpipe and spun in the air like a top, which earned her a score of 89.75 on her first run.
Castellet’s first-run score was just enough to top Elizabeth Hosking’s 88.75, adding another podium finish to her long resume of success.
Following Hosking was Japan’s Mitsuki Ono, who scored an 85 on her first run of the day.
American Olympian Maddie Mastro attempted to punch her way onto the podium, but she had trouble cleanly landing a double crippler on her second run. Mastro’s third run was without any major flaws, but it did not impress the judges enough to break into the top three.
Mastro finished in fifth with a best-run score of 72.75. American Bea Kim, 15, placed sixth while 16-year-old Sonora Alba finished in eighth.
Men’s snowboard halfpipe final
The men’s snowboard halfpipe final was bound to be electric. The field of 10 men featured four Americans, the reigning Olympic silver medalist and the record holder for highest halfpipe air.
The men did not use their first run of three to feel out the pipe. Rather, they flew high into the air while trying to add their own individual style.
Australian 2022 Olympic silver medalist Scotty James stunned the judges, announcers and the crowd with his performance in the Copper pipe.
James scored a 97 on his first run, but he went bigger on his second run to string together a switch McTwist and a double McTwist, earning a 99 from the judges.
James was untouchable after his earth-shattering run and easily topped the podium as the champion of the U.S. Grand Prix men’s snowboard halfpipe competition.
“I felt amazing,” James said. “Ninety-nine is definitely the highest score I have ever gotten so super thrilled about that. Today felt like everything was clicking, and my flow was in the right place. That run felt incredible to land.”
Behind James, Switzerland’s Jan Scherrer secured second place with a huge second run which earned him a score of 96.25. Japan’s Kaishu Hirano — the record holder for the highest halfpipe air — placed third with a top run score of 88.25.
Steamboat Springs product and Summit resident Taylor Gold was inches away from breaking onto the podium, but he was unsuccessful in putting together a better run than his first attempt.
Gold scored 86.75 on his first run in large part because of an air to fakie, a cab 1080 and a frontside 1260. Gold finished in fourth place with fellow American teammates Joey Okesson placing fifth, Chase Josey placing sixth and Telluride’s Lucas Foster finishing in ninth.
Gold was pleased with his performance, but he realized that a lot was needed in order to break onto the podium on Friday.
“It takes a unique approach. It takes a lot of hard work regardless,” Gold said. “I think it takes the right day for some people. For me, I feel like some days I am there, and some days I am not. Today was close, but I am not quite there yet.”
Gold is looking forward to spending Christmas and New Years in Steamboat Springs while enjoying the leftover powder from the recent string of storms. He will then head to Laax, Switzerland, for the next snowboard halfpipe World Cup competition.
On Saturday, Summit’s Chris Corning will attempt to make the podium in the Visa Big Air snowboard competition. The event is open to the public and is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. The event will be broadcast live on OutsideTV.com.
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