Summit’s Taylor Gold advances to halfpipe final during day 1 of the US Grand Prix at Copper Mountain
It is officially competition season again at Copper Mountain Resort. On Wednesday, Dec. 14, the Toyota U.S. Grand Prix and Visa Big Air snowboard and skiing competitions kicked off.
Before starting qualifiers, athletes arrived at the “athlete’s mountain” earlier in the week in order to get their first practice runs in on Copper Mountain’s 22-foot superpipe and 70-foot big air jump. Qualifiers began on Wednesday with frigid conditions and a few fresh inches of snow, but that did not inhibit them from putting down impressive runs.
Women’s snowboard halfpipe
The women’s halfpipe competition started off slow, but grew more intense as 23 women vied for one of the eight qualifying spots for the finals on Friday.
Among the field of 23 women was two-time American Olympian Maddie Mastro, 2022 Olympian and Vail native Zoe Kalapos, and 16-year-old American Sonora Alba.
Mastro wasted no time getting back up to speed in her first competition of the season. She executed on several huge tricks to complete a near-perfect run. Mastro earned a first run score of 81.25, which automatically gravitated her towards the top of the competition.
Tweaking a few things from her first run, Mastro earned a score of 86.25 on her second run of the day. The score put Mastro in third place to safely qualify her to the halfpipe final.
Kalapos did not have the same level of success as Mastro. She performed a decently clean run on her first attempt, but fell on her second to finish in 10th place overall with a best score of 59.25.
Showing that the future of American women’s snowboarding is in good hands, Alba and fellow American Bea Kim were the two youngest competitors to punch their ticket to finals. Kim, 15, went massive on her first run of the day, scoring 75.50 to finish in sixth place overall and make the final. Alba scored a respectable 65 on her first run after successfully landing a huge method air.
On her second run, Alba scored 61 and was forced to watch the final few competitors to find out if she made the final or not. After several tense minutes at the bottom of the superpipe, Alba found out that she indeed was advancing to finals, finishing eighth place overall.
“I was literally biting my nails,” Alba said. “I was excited and thankful when I found out. My first World Cup was last year and on my first run I dislocated my shoulder so this was my first time competing again. I had to redeem myself from last year.”
Canada’s Elizabeth Hosking posted the highest score in qualifiers with a 93.25 while Japan’s Mitsuki Ono finished in second with a score of 92.
Women’s freeski big air
The women’s freeski big air qualifiers was spearheaded by France’s Tess Ledeux. Ledeux has competed at the last two winter Olympics and her experience on the global stage showed at Copper.
Ledeux warmed up with a score of 75 on her first run and then went huge with a 1260 jump to score 94.25 on her second run of the day.
The score was enough for Ledeux to finish in first place overall in qualifiers with Kirsty Muir of Great Britain placing in a nearby second with a top score of 92.00.
New Hampshire native Grace Henderson nabbed the final qualifying spot, scoring 79.25 for eighth place.
Men’s freeski big air
The men’s freeski big air qualifiers saw four Americans advance to Friday’s 10-man final.
Among the five Americans to advance to the final, was Grace Henderson’s brother, Hunter Henderson.
Hunter Henderson impressed the judges by flawlessly spinning himself five times in a row while hurtling toward the hard ground beneath him. The 1800 jump earned Henderson a score of 89.25 to secure fourth place in the second qualifying heat.
Park City’s Troy Podmilsak finished right in front of Henderson with a score of 89.50, while Alex Hall placed fifth in the heat to advance to finals with a score of 88.75.
The first qualifying heat was more competitive than the first, with France’s Timothe Sivignon and Norway’s Birk Ruud driving each other to massive scores. Sivignon laid down a huge 1980 jump to place first in the heat with a score of 94.50, and Ruud placed second with a score of 93.00.
American Mac Forehand scored a 90.00 to place fourth in the heat and successfully advance to finals.
Men’s snowboard halfpipe
The men’s snowboard halfpipe qualifiers featured several seasoned veterans and Summit locals.
Leading the charge for the 42-man, two-heat field was Steamboat Springs product and current Summit County local Taylor Gold.
Gold — a two-time Olypmpian — is fresh off a massive 2021-22 season which ended with him placing fifth at the 2022 Olympics in Beijing. He attempted to start the new season on a good note. Unfortunately while trying to perform his signature double Michalchuk, Gold lost his footing and only scored 22.75 on his first attempt.
Gold got redemption on his second run, however, putting down a clean run to score a 80.00 and place third in the first heat to advance to the 10-man final on Friday.
Also in the first heat was 17-year-old Australian Valentino Guseli. Like Gold, Guseli capped last season off at the 2022 Olympics, placing right behind his American counterpart in sixth place.
Guseli spent most of the summer and fall fine-tuning his skills, and on his first run in the Copper superpipe the training showed. Guseli stomped his first run of the day to score a 84.00 and bettered the run on his second to end the day with a 84.25.
“Qualies were great, I was super hyped,” Guseli said. “I was happy to put my runs down. Last year I didn’t have such fortunate qualifications here and I actually didn’t make it to finals so I am happy to start this grand prix a little bit better.”
Guseli placed second overall in the first heat to easily advance to the final.
“This pipe is so nice so I am looking forward to riding the pipe a little bit more,” Guseli said. “It has been cut to perfection and I have been having a lot of fun riding it.”
Switzerland’s Jan Scherrer placed first in the first heat with a score of 89.50 and Idaho’s Chase Josey placed fourth in the heat with a score of 77.00.
The second heat of qualifiers saw two American riders advance to the final. Telluride’s Lucas Foster placed second in the heat with two massive runs and a top score of 88.25 and Connecticut’s Joey Okesson placed third with a score of 79.00.
Dillon’s Chase Blackwell had two clean runs, but was not able to score high enough to advance to finals. Blackwell placed 14th overall with a top score of 71.
Despite not advancing, Blackwell was pleased and is hopeful for the rest of the season.
“I was super stoked to land two super clean runs and that’s all I was really asking for,” Blackwell said. “It boosts my confidence to land runs when it counts. I already landed two (this season) so I can only build from there.It should just get better and better as it goes.”
The second day of the Toyota U.S Grand Prix and VISA Big Air will feature Summit’s Chris Corning and Kaitlyn Adams in the big air snowboard qualifiers.
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