Questions remain for snowboard, freeski season after International Ski Federation cancels North American Alpine events
Local snowboarders hopeful for season, wonder about COVID changes
FRISCO — On Friday, U.S. Snowboard athletes Chase Blackwell and Jason Wolle were as far away from the icy walls of an Olympic-sized superpipe as they could get. The U.S. Pro Halfpipe Team rider Blackwell and Rookie Team rider Wolle worked for Blackwell’s father’s commercial framing business erecting the skeleton of a future Wendy’s.
“It’s been really good to hang out and work with him all summer long,” Wolle said. “It’s more like a vacation, but we also happen to work a lot.”
In the midst of Colorado’s current dry heat, this winter’s competitive snowboard and freeski season may seem a world away for many. But just a week from now, Blackwell, Wolle and other U.S. athletes will travel to the U.S. Center of Excellence in Park City, Utah to enter into a bubble-like format for dryland training.
Next month, members of the team will travel to Austria for a 10-day quarantine before traveling into Switzerland for a training camp at the Saas-Fee Stomping Grounds Park. The opportunity, the Longmont native and part-time Dillon resident Blackwell said, comes thanks to special permission for the team to travel to Europe.
So after five months out of the halfpipe — a period Blackwell said was the longest many of the riders had been off terrain-park snow — the preliminary stages of the season aren’t far off. The ski and snowboard world was reminded of that Thursday when the International Ski Federation announced the Alpine skiing World Cup season will be exclusive to Europe this winter.
With that announcement — and with all of the ongoing uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 globally — it remains to be seen what the upcoming World Cup freeski and snowboard seasons will look like. That’s especially the case considering so many of the world’s top park and pipe athletes live and are based out of North America, especially the High Country of Colorado.
On Friday, International Ski Federation spokeswoman Jenny Wiedeke said U.S. Ski & Snowboard and Canadian associations are currently “fully” focusing their efforts on hosting this season’s North American freeski and snowboard events as planned. Wiedeke added the federation will finalize the season calendar at meetings which will conclude on Oct. 2.
The preliminary calendar treks all across the globe. It has the freeski slopestyle season beginning in Stubai, Austria Nov. 20-21, the snowboard and freeski big air season beginning in Beijing, China Nov. 26-28 and the freeski and snowboard halfpipe season beginning at Copper Mountain Resort Dec. 10-12. The World Cup snowboard slopestyle season is slated to start in Seiseralm, Italy Jan. 13-15, 2021.
But to a rider like the Winter Park native and part-time Frisco resident Wolle, he’s unsure if all of that globetrotting will be possible. He and Blackwell said they think a season of some sort is possible considering the facial coverings snowboarders wear and the amount of physical distancing that takes place at the top of outdoor terrain parks at resorts. Traditional crowds in a corral at the bottom of the courses may not be possible though.
Wolle added he currently feels a World Cup season is especially doable if it were condensed to a handful of successive weekends in the United States. Speaking hypothetically, he believes it would not only be easier to monitor athletes’ testing and tracing, but it would also be easier for international athletes to compete. Blackwell said he’s more worried about bigger events like X Games in Aspen and Dew Tour at Copper Mountain, which traditionally feature festival and concert elements with their competitions.
U.S. Ski & Snowboard spokesman Andrew Gauthier said Friday the association has seen “tremendous success in running training camps at such official training sites as Copper Mountain and Timberline Lodge and Ski Area (at Mount Hood in Oregon) this summer.”
“Which gives us hope that domestic World Cup and elite-level events in those disciplines are feasible this season,” Gauthier said.
Gauthier added that strong Canadian and American fields in the disciplines as well as the possibilities of travel efficiencies in the United States — similar to Alpine in Europe — are further reasons American World Cup events may make the most sense.
Gauthier also said some kind of a “bubble concept” — similar to what other sports associations are doing in an effort to prevent COVID-19 from spreading at athletic competitions — could be looked into on home snow. He added planning is still underway for the Copper Mountain, Mammoth Mountain and Deer Valley World Cup events.
Copper Resort spokeswoman Taylor Prather said Friday the resort doesn’t have an update on the December World Cup or the Dew Tour at this time because the resort’s top focus remains preparing for the public ski season amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Dew Tour vice president and general manager Courtney Gresik said in a statement Friday the event is in ongoing discussions with Copper and POWDR corporation about bringing the Dew Tour back to Copper in 2021, at a date yet to be announced. She added the priority is to do so “in a manner that is safe for all involved.”
In May, Burton announced an event similar in scope to Dew Tour, the March 2021 Burton US Open at Vail Mountain Resort, was canceled due to COVID-19 concerns.