Freeskiing’s big event opens at Copper | AspenTimes.com

Freeskiing’s big event opens at Copper

Devon O'Neil
Summit County correspondent

Freeskier Bobby Brown soars through the air Tuesday during a slopestyle training run while preparing for the 10th annual U.S. Freeskiing Open taking place this week at Copper Mountain. (Summit Daily photo)

Aspen, CO Colorado

COPPER MOUNTAIN, Colo. ” This is where the nobodys meet the somebodys; where some of the nobodys become somebodys; and where the somebodys show why they are, indeed, somebodys.

The 10th annual U.S. Freeskiing Open, literally the largest event in the freeskiing world, kicks off today at Copper Mountain. It is the first time Copper has hosted the high-flying soiree ” which features slopestyle, superpipe and big air competitions ” since it was announced that the Open’s long stay in Vail had ended.

According to the latest list of registered athletes, this week’s event will include 63 female skiers and 323 males, the largest number in the Open’s 10-year history.

Despite those gawdy numbers, however, the same “open” principle remains:

“Anybody can show up and win the contest; you don’t have to be a famous skier to win,” said Charles Gagnier, a 21-year-old from Quebec who did exactly that in the slopestyle competition two years ago.

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The week kicks off with the first two of five men’s slopestyle qualifying heats today and doesn’t stop entertaining Copper’s crowd until Sunday afternoon, when the men’s and women’s pipe champions will be decided just above the Burning Stones Plaza base area.

One of those vying for the pipe crown will be Greg Tuffelmire, a Copper Freeride Team veteran who will be competing in his seventh U.S. Freeskiing Open.

Tuffelmire, 30, was runner-up in the pipe competition four years ago, but he’s looking forward to this year’s event because it will be the first major competition to be held in the Main Vein pipe since the massive “U” was constructed last winter.

“It’ll be way cooler than the alternative of a few diehard fans” making the trek up to the pipe’s old location halfway up the mountain, he said. “It’ll bring it into the spotlight. It’ll showcase the event and the discipline a little more.”

One of the week’s highlights ” and the competition with the biggest winner’s prize, $10,000 ” should be the invite-only big air competition on Saturday night, which culminates with a head-to-head showdown on the hefty kicker just below the pipe.

It’s impossible to predict outcomes in an event with a field this large, but the names on the registration list promise that spectators will get their attentions’ worth. Just to mention a few: Simon Dumont, Jon Olsson, Tanner Hall, Sammy Carlson, Sarah Burke, Grete Eliassen, Kristi Leskinen, Laurent Favre, Candide Thovex, TJ Schiller ” and that’s omitting plenty of accomplished competitors.

Yet while the massive field and awaiting fame and fortune might intimidate some, the ones who will do well are the ones who are able to ignore whatever nerves are making their knees shake inside their baggy snowpants.

“I don’t like to feel pressure,” said Michelle Parker, a 19-year-old pro from Squaw Valley who surprised many by taking third in last year’s slopestyle competition. “I just come out and have fun and ski the park with my friends.”

The U.S. Open attracts competitors from across the world, many of whom haven’t hit jumps like the ones at Copper in months due to the snow shortage the rest of the globe is enduring this winter. The disparity in training time will show itself soon enough, but it mattered little Tuesday afternoon, when hundreds of competitors gathered in a small lounge at Copper’s Center Village for the daily athletes meeting.

There they were reminded to control their speed, to treat those around them with respect ” and then, in not-so-subtle fashion, they were reminded that in this, the 10th year of the U.S. Freeskiing Open, the goal may remain the same, but the event as a whole is off to a week’s worth of fresh starts.

“We’re just psyched to steal this event from the evil empire,” Copper’s director of mountain operations, Mike Unruh, told the crowd of athletes with a smirk, after explaining how much he respects what they do.

Copper Freeride Team member Nick Mercon, a 2003 podium finisher in the Open’s slopestyle competition and one of approximately 30 locals in this week’s field, echoed Unruh in a separate interview.

“To be able to train here and ski here and watch it all go down right here in the county is awesome,” he said. “I think it’s gonna be a great change for the Open, and I think the athletes are gonna like it a lot more.”

9:15-11:30 a.m. ” Men’s Slopestyle Heat 1

12:45-3 p.m. ” Men’s Slopestyle Heat 2

9:15-11:30 a.m. ” Men’s Slopestyle Heat 3

12:45-3 p.m. ” Men’s Slopestyle Heat 4

3-4:30 p.m. ” Women’s Slopestyle Semis

9:15-11:30 a.m. ” Men’s Slopestyle Heat 5

12-12:30 p.m. ” Women’s Slopestyle Finals

1-2:15 p.m. ” Men’s Slopestyle Semi 1

2:30-3:45 p.m. ” Men’s Slopestyle Semi 2

3:45-4:15 p.m. ” Men’s Slopestyle Finals

9:15 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. ” Men’s Pipe Qualifying

5:30-9 p.m. ” Big Air Invitational

9:30-10:30 a.m. ” Women’s Pipe Semis

11:45 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. ” Men’s Pipe Semis

2:15-3:30 p.m. ” Men’s/Women’s Pipe Finals

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