Grand Prix back at Copper Mountain | SummitDaily.com

Grand Prix back at Copper Mountain

BRYCE EVANS
summit daily news
Summit County, Colorado

Gretchen Bleiler flies through the air during her first run in the Womens' Halfpipe competition at the U.S. Snowboarding Grand Prix at Copper Mountain, Colo., on Saturday, Dec. 12, 2009.(AP Photo/Chris Schneider)

With a bit of a name change and a monumental addition to the competition, the U.S. Halfpipe Grand Prix will once again kick off its season at Copper Mountain. Although, in addition to the usual array of the world’s best snowboarders, the Dec. 10 event will also feature freeskiers for the first time.

“Copper is ideally suited for this event, having made a major commitment as the first Colorado resort to build a 22-foot halfpipe making Copper the early season home for both top snowboarders and skiers,” said USSA’s snowboarding and freeride director Jeremy Forster. “Given the diversity of snowboarding and skiing in the pipe at Copper, it was a natural progression to be able to showcase both events at the Grand Prix.”

The Grand Prix series started 14 years ago by USSA in order to showcase the budding sport of competitive snowboarding. When the sport was added to the Olympic rotation for the 1998 Nagano Olympics, the Grand Prix served as the qualifying series for the U.S. Team. It has remained that for each of the three Games since, including last year’s in Vancouver.

This season, though, the Grand Prix – which used to be call the U.S. Snowboarding Grand Prix – will have skiers for the first time.

“Over 14 seasons the Grand Prix has always been focused on providing athletes the highest quality competition venues and a legacy of one of the best series in our sport,” Grand Prix tour manager Eric Webster said in a press release. “We’re excited to welcome skiers and to provide them to our Grand Prix brand with that same high level of competition quality.”

All the competition will take place in Copper’s 22-foot halfpipe, which is expected to be even better this season after the resort purchased a new pipe cutter.

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The freeskiing finals are slated for Friday, Dec. 10, while the boarders will duke it out the following day.

Last year’s Grand Prix was the start of an exciting Olympic season with snowboarding superstar Shaun White taking the title at Copper by debuting his double-cork maneuver that eventually landed him both an X Games and Olympic gold medal.

Many of the sport’s top athletes are expected to take part in this year’s competition, and the addition of the top skiers should give fans a good show.

“Ski halfpipe has become a major international event with a strong following of athletes worldwide,” Forster said. “Fans can expect to see some amazing performances, which is one of the reasons the IOC is taking a look at the event for the 2014 (Olympic) Games.”

This year’s Grand Prix will serve as qualifying for this winter’s freeski World Championships.