James, Kim cruise to top of leaderboard during worlds snowboard pipe qualifying

Chloe Kim competes in the qualifying round of the women’s snowboard halfpipe competition of the world championships on Thursday, March 11, 2021, at Buttermilk Ski Area in Aspen. Courtesy of U.S. Ski & Snowboard.

Scotty James and Chloe Kim again led the way in Buttermilk’s famed superpipe on Thursday by finishing atop their respective snowboard qualifiers on Day 2 of the world championships in Aspen.

James, the dominant Australian with three X Games Aspen gold medals, lapped the field in the men’s snowboard halfpipe qualifier with a score of 94.25 on his second of two runs. He scored 93 on his first run, which also would have easily led the way.

“I always love competing here. I’m super stoked that world champs is able to happen this year and to be here in Aspen,” James said. “It’s pretty special to all of us. The weather has been amazing, the pipe’s riding fantastic and feels like springtime, so no complaints.”

In second was Japan’s Yuto Totsuka, who scored 89.75 on his second run. Totsuka is the only rider in recent years to have proven capable of beating James in the halfpipe, including narrowly edging him for his first X Games gold back in January.

Saturday’s final is likely to be another showdown between the two stars. James is the three-time reigning world champion, having also won in 2015, 2017 and 2019. Totsuka took second to James in the 2019 world championships in Park City, Utah. Switzerland’s Patrick Burgener was third.

Qualifying third on Thursday was Steamboat Springs native Taylor Gold with 88.50, followed in fourth by Switzerland’s Jan Scherrer and in fifth by Idaho’s Chase Josey, who had to withdraw from X Games this year after getting hurt in training.

“Some of the first landed contest runs of the year,” Josey said. “Just a really good feeling here at world champs to make it through with some of the boys.”

The other five qualifiers include Germany’s Andre Hoeflich (sixth, 82.50), Switzerland’s David Habluetzel (seventh, 80.75), Japan’s Raibu Katayama (eighth, 78.75), Colorado’s Chase Blackwell (ninth, 78.50) and Canada’s Derek Livingston (10th, 78.25).

A total of 27 athletes competed in the qualifier, a list that did not include 2018 Olympic gold medalist Shaun White nor silver medalist Ayumu Hirano. James is the reigning Olympic bronze medalist.

Kim in position for worlds repeat

Like James, Kim was dominant in her runs, putting down the two best scores in the 18-woman qualifier. The Californian superstar, who has come to dominate the sport, scored 89.25 on her first run only to up it to 93.75 on her second.

Spain’s Queralt Castellet, who won her lone X Games gold in 2020 when Kim did not compete, was second with 86.50. In third was Kim’s Mammoth counterpart in Maddie Mastro, who scored 80.75 on her first run and took a fun lap on her second.

“Kind of crazy because we are normally done competing at this time of year, but I feel super grateful that we were able to pull together the last few contests of the season, and I’m really having fun at this point,” Kim said.

Japan owned most of the contest Thursday, qualifying all four of its female riders into Saturday’s final. Sena Tomita qualified fourth (73), Haruna Matsumoto in fifth (72), Mitsuki Ono in seventh (66.50) and Kurumi Imai in eighth (63). Canada’s Elizabeth Hosking took the other spot, qualifying sixth with 71.75.

The three other American women competing — Alexandria Simsovits, Zoe Kalapos and Tessa Maud — did not make the finals cut.

“I’m over the moon to land my run and my tricks and just get that taken care of,” Mastro said. “Over this past season we’ve gotten pretty comfortable in this halfpipe, so it’s nice to come back here.”

Kim is the reigning world champion, the only time she has competed in the event. Winning worlds silver in 2019 was China’s Xuetong Cai, while Mastro won bronze and Castellet was the first off the podium. Cai, who did not compete this year, won worlds in both 2015 and 2017. Steamboat’s Arielle Gold, the 2013 world champion, also did not compete this year.