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Grand Prix brings world’s best to Breck

DEVON O'NEIL
Summit Daily/Brad Odekirk
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BRECKENRIDGE – It doesn’t get much better than this for fans of snowboarding. The Chevrolet U.S. Snowboard Grand Prix kicks off the major competition season in North America over the next five days at Breckenridge, beginning with halfpipe training today and culminating with the parallel giant slalom (PGS) finals Monday afternoon.It should be a whirlwind 100 hours, during which time a purse of $120,000 will be doled out to those who fare well. Not surprisingly, considering that number, this year’s Grand Prix opener has brought some of the sport’s biggest names and hottest talent into town.Local halfpipe favorites like Steve Fisher, JJ Johnson and Brent Meyer will go up against riders such as California’s Shaun White, Vermont’s Ross Powers and a host of Germans on the men’s side, while Vermonters Hannah Teter, Kelly Clark and the versatile Lindsey Jacobellis will battle it out on the women’s side with Aspen’s Gretchen Bleiler, among others.In Monday’s PGS competitions, Colorado stars Chris Klug (Aspen), Justin Reiter (Silverthorne), Lisa Kosglow (Boulder) and Stacia Hookom (Edwards) will chase the cash with some of Europe’s best.In addition to the pipe and PGS events – both of which are sanctioned by U.S. Snowboarding – an invitation-only exhibition rail jam, the Paul Mitchell Progression Session, will be held Saturday night in downtown Breckenridge. The rail jam, which will take place at the Riverwalk Center, was designed to merge the mountain competitions with the extracurricular festivities going on in town.And while there is certainly no lack of storylines, the fact that Breckenridge this year is celebrating its 20th anniversary of snowboarding at the resort adds an extra dash of spice to the weekend.

Pipe ready to goDespite the rail jam’s night lights and the blinding speed of the PGS, the weekend’s sexiest event remains the pipe competition.This is what will draw the biggest crowds. This is where the jaws drop.According to Breck Freeride Team member Fisher, who won the Winter X Games pipe contest on ESPN in February, the 18 1/2-foot walls of vertical are ready to go.”I always love competing here, because you know the pipe’s going to be perfect,” Fisher said. “It’s a lot better than I anticipated for this time of year, firm, but still soft. And huge.”One the the best in the business, Breck’s own Brad Hoerter, cut the pipe for the first time last week, and Pat Melondow-ski has been manicuring it since it opened on Friday.The men’s pipe event, in particular, is filled to the brim with riders who could stand atop the podium after Sunday’s finals. Fisher won the World Cup opener in Switzerland by more than six points in October, and is certainly one of the favorites. But White, another X Games champ and one of the action sports world’s most recognized names, is as talented as they come. As is Powers, the 2002 Olympic gold medalist.Then there’s the foreigners, including the German national team, which is making somewhat of an unexpected appearance this week.”A lot of times they don’t really come over, unless it’s the year of the Olympics,” said Fisher. “This is a little rare.”

With a World Cup pipe contest in France canceled last week, however, the Germans came. And they could win just as easily as any of the Americans. This is specifically true for Xaver Hoffman and Jan Michaelis, two proven World Cup victors.In fact, Fisher estimated there are about 15-20 riders on the men’s side with a “legitimate chance” at winning.On the women’s side of the draw, it should be equally as tight, though perhaps not as far down the standings. Teter is riding better than any other woman in the world, having won the World Cup opener, like Fisher, by a whopping margin. She’s probably the favorite to win here as well.But the 2002 gold medalist Clark and World Cup pipe winner Jacobellis have done it before, and shouldn’t be counted out. It should also be interesting to watch Bleiler, who is competing in her first major contest since tearing her ACL while training at Breck last December for the then-still-alive Vans Triple Crown. The Triple Crown was dissolved this fall in a decision made by Vans to move away from winter sports, basically leaving the Grand Prix as the premier snowboard series in North America.Rail jam under the lightsThe Paul Mitchell Progression Session has about 20 riders lined up to compete, according to U.S. Snowboarding spokesperson Juliann Fritz, including at least six Breck athletes.Organizers trucked in a stairstep rail, among other facets, from California for the occasion, Breck marketing manager Amy Sabreen said. And town public works officials are helping transport tons of snow to the Riverwalk Center for the competition, which starts at 7 p.m. Saturday night.

How much cash?The men’s and women’s winners of the halfpipe and PGS competitions each get $10,000, with runners-up receiving $5,000. “That’s one thing that’s really great about the Grand Prix, is that men and women get paid the same,” said Fritz. “It’s different in a lot of events.”The winner of the rail jam gets $5,000 of the competiton’s $15,000 overall purse.If you can’t make it to the pipe and PGS events in person, NBC is slated to broadcast the Grand Prix on Dec. 26 at 1 p.m. Mountain Time.Admission to all events is free.Devon O’Neil can be contacted at (970) 668-3998, ext. 231, or at doneil@summitdaily.com.


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