Eileen Gu’s run continues as she leads ski slopestyle qualifying at U.S. Grand Prix
There doesn’t seem to be any stopping Eileen Gu in Aspen. The 17-year-old phenom continues to lead the charge as she topped yet another event, this time Thursday’s women’s freeski slopestyle qualifier at the World Cup and U.S. Grand Prix competition at Buttermilk Ski Area.
“Now is the time I’m really grateful for the seven years of competitive cross-country running I did. All that long-distance endurance work is really carrying me through this week,” Gu said. “This is the fourth event of the week and if you think about it, there are qualifiers and finals, so this is the seventh day of competing I’ve had, which is tiring, physically, but more so mentally, to be able to have that adrenaline, up and down.”
The Grand Prix kicked off Thursday after Buttermilk had just hosted the world championships on the same courses that ended with Tuesday’s big air finals. The competition is effectively a make up for the canceled Mammoth Mountain Grand Prix and serves as the first official Olympic qualifier for American athletes ahead of the 2022 Winter Games in China.
While Gu is from California, she currently competes for her mother’s homeland of China in competition so is not necessarily using this World Cup as an Olympic qualifier. She shouldn’t need it considering her recent dominance at Buttermilk, which includes six medals in six events (four gold, two bronze) going back to January’s X Games.
Gu scored 86.50 on the first of her two qualifying runs Thursday on a warm and sunny day, with Great Britain’s Kirsty Muir qualifying second with 81.94 and Russia’s Anastasia Tatalina qualifying third with 78.83. Tatalina was the surprise winner of Tuesday’s women’s ski big air contest at worlds.
While there have been a few change-ups in terms of the athletes competing in the World Cup compared to world championships, the core of the athletes dropping in for the second competition in less than two weeks remains relatively the same.
“I’m holding up good,” Utah’s Rell Harwood said. “It’s kind of nice to have two events before this to really get comfortable with the course and everything. I think it makes it a lot easier to keep skiing now.”
Harwood qualified fourth Thursday with a score of 77.81. She did not make finals in big air nor slopestyle at worlds, but did win the two events at the U.S. Revolution Tour stop Buttermilk hosted only a couple of weeks before the world championships.
Fellow Park City skier Marin Hamill qualified fifth on Thursday with 76.63. In sixth was Russia’s Lana Prusakova (75.28), in seventh Montana’s Maggie Voisin (74.78) and in eighth France’s Tess Ledeux (74.44).
Finland’s Anni Karava (70.51) and Switzerland’s Sarah Hoefflin (69.58) finished ninth and 10th, respectively, with only the top eight making Saturday’s final.
“Did not expect to be this consistent,” said Gu, who won slopestyle gold at both X Games and the world championships. “Definitely it’s helped me out a bunch competing on the same course, because it’s taken off some of that pressure knowing I’ve already been able to land this run, or similar run, on this course.”
Forehand, Harle top men’s qualifiers
In the men’s ski slopestyle qualifier Thursday, Connecticut’s Mac Forehand (95) and Canada’s Teal Harle (93.25) led their respective qualifiers and will compete in the weekend’s final.
Forehand, 19, finished just off the podium in fourth in Tuesday’s big air competition at worlds after not qualifying for slopestyle finals. Harle finished in the middle of the pack in both of his worlds events.
“It feels great. I was hoping to get redemption on this course,” Harle said. “The vibes are high for everyone today. It’s such a beautiful day. It’s like the most perfect slopestyle day ever. It’s so nice.”
Qualifying for Saturday’s final behind Forehand in Heat 1 were Norway’s Ferdinand Dahl (93.50), Switzerland’s Colin Wili (92.25), Norway’s Sebastian Schjerve (91.25), Utah’s Alex Hall (90.75) and Sweden’s Jesper Tjader (90.25).
Qualifying behind Harle in Heat 2 were Utah’s Colby Stevenson (88.25), Canada’s Evan McEachran (87.50), Sweden’s Henrik Harlaut (87), Canada’s Mark Hendrickson (86.25) and California’s Cody LaPlante (85.50).
“My first run was a little bit sloppy and I just knew I had to clean my second run up and put it down,” Forehand said. “I’m beyond hyped. I can’t even put into words how hyped I am right now.”
Switzerland’s Andri Ragettli won ski slopestyle at worlds but was hurt in big air and did not compete Thursday, although it’s unknown whether the injury was the reason for his absence. Stevenson won worlds silver and Hall worlds bronze in slopestyle.
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Warm and dry conditions to start the winter have kept all but the higher elevation slopes free of snow. That is expected to change by the end of the week and the avalanche hazard could start to climb, according to Colorado Avalanche Information Center.