Scotty James bests Yuto Totsuka in weather-affected Grand Prix snowboard final

Castellet wins women's comp ravaged by blowing snow, low visibility

Pumping his fist in the air, Australian Scotty James scores a 96.00 on his first run of the snowboarding halfpipe finals at the Land Rover U.S. Grand Prix at Copper Mountain, Colo. on Saturday, Dec. 14. For the third year in a row, James placed first in the competition.
Liz Copan /

COPPER MOUNTAIN – Inside the cozy confines of the Copper Mountain Resort Conference Center while a snowstorm continued to brew outside, Maddie Mastro put it perfectly in the post-competition press conference at Saturday’s Land Rover U.S. Grand Prix.

“It wasn’t my day, I guess,” the 2019 Burton U.S. Open champion said. “Mother Nature was a bit angry at me. That’s OK.”

What Mastro was referring to was the torrid, gusty snow squall that blew into the 22-foot Woodward Copper superpipe right before she was set to drop in for her third and final run. Sitting in third place, Mastro — the favorite heading into the competition — needed to improve her score to an 87.75 or better to top eventual women’s snowboard winner Queralt Castellet of Spain.

But the conditions Mastro was staring at through her goggles was blowing snow engulfing the 540-foot-long superpipe — so much snow that those at the bottom couldn’t see past halfway up the pipe and Mastro couldn’t see very far down it.

“I was like, ‘holy cow, this is windy. This is a lot of snow.'” Mastro recalled of her thoughts at the top of the pipe. “So I was just trying to stay in the right mindset to drop in when it did clear.”

The event officials at Copper Mountain Resort moved the competition to a weather hold — as Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ In the Wind” and The Doors’ “Riders on the Storm” played over the speaker system — until conditions improved. About 15 minutes later, though snow was still falling in clumps at Copper, the wind died down enough for officials to deem Mastro’s drop in to the pipe as safe. Mastro dropped into the pipe and attempted a trick on each wall of the pipe before calling it a day.

Mastro finished third behind Castellet and runner-up Jiayu Liu of China (80.00) to a large degree because she had the misfortune of dropping into the pipe when the wind and snow kicked up. It’s not normally the case the top qualifier for finals has a disadvantage by dropping in last, but it was the case Saturday.

“I was hoping to put down the run that I wanted,” Mastro said. “Obviously that didn’t happen, weather effected it. But I definitely had a run that I wanted to put down and tricks I wanted to do. But it wasn’t my day, I guess, for that.”

Castellet won the women’s competition with a 5-hit run through the pipe that featured a backside air, a frontside 900 (three 360-degree rotations) with a Lien grab, a backside 540 with a mute grab, a frontside 360 with an Indy grab and a cab 720. Mastro’s third-place run, which took place earlier in the competition, included a backside air, a Crippler 540 with an Indy grab, a backside 540 with a mute grab, a frontside 720 with an Indy grab, a Haakon 720 with a stalefish grab and a frontside 540 with a melon grab.

Weather also effected the men’s competition, particularly the third and final round of runs for the 10 competitors through the pipe. Before the weather really socked in though, the heavy favorite, Scotty James of Australia, capped a thrilling first round of runs with his eventual championship score of 96.00. The run consisted of a frontside double cork 1080 with a stalefish grab, a cab 900 with a melon grab, a switch backside double cork 1080 with an Indy grab, a backside 1260 with a mute grab and a frontside double cork 1260 with a stalefish grab.

On that final 1260 at the bottom of the pipe, James was able to keep his balance and ride the landing out despite landing deep on the back of his board. In the post-event press conference, James said before the competition he thought the weather would be inclement through each of his three runs. As such, the strategy was to go for his biggest and boldest run out of the gates rather than wait to see what the other competitors were landing. When the weather wasn’t that bad for his first drop-in, he knew what he needed to do.

“I definitely did take the opportunity because the weather was nicer for the first run,” James said. “That was good that everyone got to put a run down. And, yeah, that was the run I wanted to do whether it was snowing a blizzard or sunny. I was really happy that I got to put it down.”

Not every competitor put down their best run on Saturday. The top-scoring American, Toby Miller of Mammoth Lakes, California, scored an 87.75 on his first run. That eventually placed him fourth but also put him in contention after the first round of runs. On his second and third runs through the worsening conditions, Miller opted for safety, choosing not to huck big tricks.

It all led up to the third and final go-round for the men after Mastro’s final run through the pipe. Though conditions were certainly better than when Mastro dropped in, they were substantially worse than the second round of men’s runs. James said he hadn’t seen conditions that bad since X Games three years ago when after each snowboarder’s first run through the pipe they cancelled the competition. At a point on Saturday, James wondered if there would be the same end result at Copper.

“That today — I must admit,” James said, “there was definitely a point there where I thought it was starting to get unsafe. And it would have been on the third runs when people were riding, it might have been better to pull the pin, but it is what it is.”

Before James dropped in for his victory lap, he had one snowboarder to dodge: eventual runner-up Yuto Totsuka of Japan. On the second round of runs, Totsuka showed he wasn’t scared of the gradually worsening conditions, going big to see if he could best James.

Despite the conditions on his third run, Totsuka said he dropped in with the intention of laying down a run to beat James. At the top of the pipe he bested the conditions and landed a 1260, but on his second hit he lost speed in the pipe’s flat bottom and pulled up and resorted to a 360, signaling he was waving the white flag to James.

Totsuka’s best run of the day ended up being his first: a 94.50-point run that included a frontside double cork 1440 with an Indy grab, a cab 1080 with a nose grab, a frontside double cork 1260 with an Indy grab, a backside 900 with a mute grab, and a frontside 1080 with a tail grab. 

James then proceeded to take one hit on his victory lap before riding up onto the top of the halfpipe sidewall where a few intrepid fans remained. Their reward was a high-5 from the man who picked up his seventh win in seven contests.

Chase Blackwell of Dillon finished in ninth place with a score of 70.50.

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