Shaun White returns to halfpipe, qualifies 2nd behind Totsuka at Aspen Grand Prix |

Shaun White returns to halfpipe, qualifies 2nd behind Totsuka at Aspen Grand Prix

Austin Colbert
The Aspen Times

Summit locals Blackwell, Gold through to Sunday final at 2022 Olympic qualifier

Snowboard legend Shaun White prepares to drop into the halfpipe during qualifying of the U.S. Grand Prix men’s snowboard halfpipe contest on Thursday, March 18, 2021, at Buttermilk Ski Area in Aspen.
Photo by Mark Clavin / US Ski & Snowboard.

ASPEN — Apparently, Shaun White’s desire to compete in the 2022 Winter Olympics is more than just a marketing ploy for the savvy businessman. Turns out, the 34-year-old snowboarding legend still knows his way through a halfpipe.

“I was a little nervous. Obviously it’s been a minute,” White said. “Just shaking off the cobwebs of it all. The run came together perfectly, and I’m stoked.”

The three-time Olympic gold medalist competed Thursday in the men’s snowboard halfpipe qualifiers of the Land Rover U.S. Grand Prix and World Cup at Buttermilk Ski Area, his first official International Ski & Snowboard Federation competition since winning his more recent Olympic gold at the 2018 contest in South Korea. The Grand Prix is the first official Olympic team qualifier for the American athletes ahead of next year’s Olympic games in Beijing, China.

White’s return to snowboarding was originally going to be January’s X Games Aspen — he’s won 18 Winter X Games medals over his career, behind only Jamie Anderson (19) and Mark McMorris (20) — but was a late scratch after slightly injuring himself in practice. Two months later, he finally made his return to the Buttermilk superpipe, and it was like he never left.

White scored 91.50 on the first of his two runs — his second was a throwaway — and qualified second behind only 19-year-old Japan sensation Yuto Totsuka (94.25), who is fresh off both X Games and world championship titles this winter.

“The coaches are the guys I used to compete with,” White joked of being one of the oldest competitors. His first Winter X Games medal came in 2002, about four months after Totsuka was born. “Now it’s just about resting and giving it my all on Sunday. But I’m pumped. I just love snowboarding. It’s so much fun. It feels good to be back at it.”

Qualifying third on Thursday was Switzerland’s David Habluetzel (88), followed in fourth by Germany’s Andre Hoeflich (86.50) and in fifth by Steamboat Springs native and Breckenridge resident Taylor Gold (84.50).

Rounding out the qualifiers are Switzerland’s Jan Scherrer (81), Japan’s Raibu Katayama (79), Longmont native and Dillon resident Chase Blackwell (76.25), Telluride’s Lucas Foster (72) and Japan’s Ikko Anai (67.50).

“The first run felt good. I was stoked to put it down,” Gold said. “I’ve had some challenging practices the last few days. Just not really flowing, so it felt good to land one. Maybe it was a bit wilder than I’m accustomed to, but landed it, and I’m in a decent spot.”

Ryan Wachendorfer, who lives near Vail, was 11th and Idaho’s Chase Josey 12th as the first two non-qualifiers into Sunday’s final.

Two notable names not competing Thursday are Australia’s Scotty James, who finished second to Totsuka at both X Games and world championships, and Japan’s Ayumu Hirano. Like White, Hirano hadn’t competed since winning silver for the second time behind White at the 2018 Olympics prior to a surprise Rev Tour win at Buttermilk in February.

No surprise, Chloe Kim leads women’s halfpipe qualifying

The women’s snowboard halfpipe qualifier was business as usual with California’s Chloe Kim again leading the way. The reigning X Games and world champion scored 93.25 on her first and only necessary run Thursday to make it into Sunday’s final.

Kim is the reigning Olympic gold medalist and the overwhelming favorite to repeat next year in China.

“I took a good chunk of time off,” Kim said of her the days since world championships, where she tweaked her ankle prior to competition but still won. “This is my first time riding since world champs finals, so I’m really happy I was able to put a run down here and qualify. I think I’m just going to let my ankle heal.”

Qualifying second behind Kim on Thursday was Spain’s Queralt Castellet (91.50), followed in third by California’s Maddie Mastro (86.50). Mastro was second and Castellet third behind Kim at the world championships.

Japan’s Sena Tomita (85.50), Haruna Matsumoto (81.25) and Kurumi Imai (79.50), who went 4-5-6, respectively in qualifying, while Canada’s Elizabeth Hosking was seventh (78.75) and Japan’s Mitsuki Ono was eighth (76.75) to round out the field for finals.

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