Despite World Cup cancellation, Copper Mountain opens superpipe training to pros

Aaron Blunck of Crested Butte competes in the freeski finals at the Land Rover U.S. Grand Prix World Cup at Copper Mountain Resort in December 2019. Though this month’s event was canceled due to COVID-19, American and international athletes are currently training at the Copper pipe.
Photo from U.S. Ski & Snowboard

Despite the cancellation of this coming week’s U.S. Grand Prix World Cup events at Copper Mountain Resort due to concerns amid the novel coronavirus, Copper Mountain is hosting athlete training on the Woodward Superpipe through Dec. 23.

U.S. pro and rookie team halfpipe snowboarders and skiers began dropping into the only Olympic-sized superpipe currently open on the continent on Monday, Dec. 7. Copper Mountain Resort spokesperson Taylor Prather said in an email Saturday afternoon that the resort continued with training in the superpipe but not the annual Grand Prix World Cup competition because the resort “remains committed to athlete progression and development through training.”

She added the resort knows “that we can safely host training because we’ve been doing it since last spring.”

Prather said the resort started hosting the halfpipe training after working with the Summit County Public Health Department on health and safety standards. She said athletes must also follow their team’s COVID-19 testing protocols and Copper Mountain’s “Operation Stay Safe” protocols.

Dillon resident and U.S. Pro Halfpipe Team snowboarder Chase Blackwell said U.S. snowboarders like him are currently doing three sessions a day where the sessions are exclusive to U.S. athletes. Blackwell said the exclusive sessions enable the team to maintain the “bubble” they’ve done their best to keep within at Copper. Blackwell said U.S. team sessions consisting of about 20 people take place while they maintain physical distance.

Blackwell said while he is able to stay at his home in Dillon, other athletes, like his good friend and fellow pro team rider Toby Miller of California, stay at condos at Copper Mountain. All U.S. Team athletes are instructed to have no contact indoors with anyone outside of their team bubbles regardless of where they are spending their nights, Blackwell said.

“We are all just kind of cooking on our own, or getting takeout, no outside dining or inside dining,” Blackwell said. “We’re here to snowboard and focus on snowboarding and that’s basically what they are making the point to be. They are making it the best it can be, the best camp, that way it’s safe for us to keep on going for the rest of the season.”

Blackwell said athletes like him and Frisco resident and U.S. Rookie Team halfpipe rider Jason Wolle are tested every three days, and receive their test results one to two days after their tests are sent to a lab. As of Friday afternoon, Blackwell said he wasn’t aware of any U.S. team athletes or personnel who had tested positive.

In an email, Wolle described the COVID-19 regulations as a “solid system.” When he’s at the top of the superpipe with friends like Blackwell, Ryan Wachendorfer of Vail or with Olympic gold medalists Chloe Kim and Shaun White, masks are worn at all times. He added the riders are doing virtual recovery sessions to limit exposure to each other, rather than having riders being together for rehab.

Talking about training continuing amid the Grand Prix’s cancellation, Wolle said though he’s not sure of all the details but is thankful to be riding the pipe with his friends and believes the cancellations were in the best interest for everyone involved.

That said, he added he personally would feel comfortable competing right now.

“I think that we have good rules and safeguards in place for when a contest does happen. Especially a World Cup since (the International Ski Federation) is involved,” Wolle said.

Skiers and snowboarders like Wolle are currently looking forward to the Laax Open in Switzerland in mid-January, which is expected to be the first halfpipe competition of the season after the Copper cancellation. Blackwell and Wolle said they are confident the competition will happen, though they understand that could change in the next month.

Along with the U.S. athletes, Blackwell said he’s seen some German and Japanese athletes — like 2020 Burton U.S. Open champion Yuto Totsuka — training in the pipe at Copper. Prather said athletes from New Zealand, Australia and Europe also are training at Copper.

She said the Copper pipe is tentatively scheduled to open to the public on Dec. 24.

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