Olympic superpipe snowboarders, freeskiers still in town for U.S. Grand Prix at Copper Dec. 14-17 | SummitDaily.com

Olympic superpipe snowboarders, freeskiers still in town for U.S. Grand Prix at Copper Dec. 14-17

Olympic medalist and Aspen resident Gretchen Bleiler gets set to drop into the halfpipe during the 2013 U.S. Grand Prix qualifying round. The competition returns to Copper Mountain from Dec. 14-17 with freeski and snowboard superpipe and snowboard big air.
Tripp Fay / Copper Mountain Resort |

Athletes from around the world go head-to-head at Copper Mountain this week for the 2017 U.S. Grand Prix. Freeski and snowboard athletes take to the Main Vein superpipe beginning Dec. 14 for the first North American pipe contest of the season, followed by the first snowboard-only big-air event on Dec. 17 to close things out.

Why so many firsts? Two reasons: the Dew Tour halfpipe was canceled in early December, meaning Olympians like Iouri “I-Pod” Podladtchikov and Ayumu Hirano are on the U.S. Grand Prix start list, and big air makes its Olympic debut in 2018, meaning other Olympians like American Chas Guldemond and X Games champ Torstein Horgmo need to brush up on triples and 1440s before the first Olympic medals in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Big points, big names

The freeski event will be a FIS World Cup and Association of Freeride Professionals Platinum-level event. The snowboard events are FIS World Cup and TTR World Snowboard Tour International-level competitions. Thanks to these high-level rankings — winners in all disciplines earn much-needed points en route to the Olympics and other elite contests — the U.S. Grand Prix is drawing hundreds of amateur and professional competitors from across the world.

The AFP and the TTR World Snowboard Tour serve as global rider ranking systems and are based off of top-level events. Each association crowns world champions in their respective sports. Dual sanctioning for both freeskiing and snowboarding creates additional value for athletes, again, as they accrue the necessary points needed to secure spots at international competitions.

This also means all eyes will be on the U.S. Grand Prix big air. NBC features live coverage of the competition on Dec. 17 at 12:30 p.m. local time, plus additional coverage on Dec. 18 from noon to 4 p.m.

Big air debut

New this season, the U.S. Olympic Committee joins in on the U.S. Grand Prix weekend with the big-air competition, one of three Olympic sports to be showcased as part of Team USA’s Winter Champions Series. This first installment in the series is broadcast live on Dec. 17, and the broadcast serves as the official kick-off to the team’s Road to Pyeongchang initiative.

But big air isn’t the only thing on the roster. The U.S. Grand Prix begins on Dec. 14 with snowboard superpipe qualifiers and continues through the weekend with snowboard pipe finals on Dec. 16 and freeski halfpipe finals before snowboard big air finals on Dec. 17. The best part: all contests are held within eyeshot of Center Villge. Check out all the action for free from the base of the Main Vein superpipe or nearby Burning Stones plaza, home to plenty of bars with decks overlooking the competition venues.

Burning Stones Plaza transforms into the U.S. Grand Prix vendor village on Dec. 16 and Dec. 17 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Brands such as Paul Mitchell and U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association will be on site to interact with guests. On the afternoon of big air, check out Après Alley, located next to Burning Stones Plaza. This outdoor space provides a variety of life-size lawn games, fire pits and free live music throughout the afternoon.

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