Copper Mountain: U.S. Grand Prix heats up with final rounds under the lights |

Copper Mountain: U.S. Grand Prix heats up with final rounds under the lights

Olympic medalist and Aspen resident Gretchen Bleiler gets set to drop into the halfpipe during Wednesday night's Sprint U.S. Grand Prix qualifying round. Bleiler earned a spot in Saturday night's finals, scoring and 83.75 in her first run. Finals in skier and snowboarder halfpipe and slopestyle run through the weekend at Copper Mountain, starting with Freeski pipe friday night.
Tripp Fay / Copper Mountain |

The competition at the Sprint U.S. Grand Prix is heating up as this weekend’s final rounds approach.

Some U.S. athletes will take another step closer to punching a ticket to Sochi and a trip to the Winter Olympics. Final-round competition gets rolling with men’s and women’s freeski superpipe finals under the lights Friday night, in the Olympic-sized half-pipe above Center Village at Copper Mountain Resort. Snowboard pipe finals will be settled Saturday night.

“Competing at night is one of the coolest times to compete,” said Dew Tour women’s superpipe winner Maddie Bowman. “It makes it more exciting. Everything’s perfect. It feels like you’re a kid in the backyard again, at night goofing off with your friend.”

Bowman will be looking to solidify her top spot in the race to make the first U.S. freeski Olympic team.

“Under the lights it’s really cool,” dual-threat skier slopestyle and pipe contender Devin Logan said. “It kind of reminds me of X Games.”

Logan hopes to build on her Dew Tour win in slopestyle and fourth-place finish in half-pipe.

As to a benefit to competing at night, athlete responses were mixed.

“If it’s sunny and it’s nice, I like competing in the day way more,” men’s half-pipe skier Simon Dumont said after his second run in qualifiers Thursday afternoon.

But he added a major benefit to competing at night that both Bowman and Logan also mentioned: “The variable of light doesn’t come in to play.”

“Sometimes during the day the light’s not really prime,” Logan explained.

Flat light can make it difficult for competitors to adjust their landings. All three said that night lighting is an advantage.

“You can distinguish the sky from the ground (better)” at night, Bowman said.

Colder conditions typically also mean a faster course.

“More speed, more amplitudes,” Logan said with a smile.

More consistent conditions and a faster course were a common theme, along with an emphasis on the vibe at night.

Spectators can certainly expect final-round competition to ramp up under the lights.

“The atmosphere is definitely different,” Bowman said, explaining the typical scene, and saying it can often draw larger crowds.

“Competing at night gets you excited,” Logan said. “You don’t get to do it very often.”

The drawback is that athletes have to wait all day to compete.

“You’ve got to ignore it,” Bowman said of the pressure of waiting all day, “So you don’t get too nervous.”

For better or worse, it will be good practice for those lucky enough to make the U.S. Olympic team. Half-pipe events are also scheduled for nighttime during the winter games.

The Grand Prix slopestyle finals are set for Saturday and Sunday starting at 11 a.m. both days. A spokesperson for the U.S. ski team said it wouldn’t be feasible to have slopestyle at night, on account of safety and the logistics involved in lighting a full course.

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