White makes return to halfpipe, qualifies second behind Totsuka in U.S. Grand Prix
Apparently, Shaun White’s desire to compete in the 2022 Winter Olympics is more than just a marketing ploy for the savvy businessman. Turns out, the 34-year-old snowboarding legend still knows his way through a halfpipe.
“I was a little nervous. Obviously it’s been a minute,” White said. “Just shaking off the cobwebs of it all. The run came together perfectly and I’m stoked.”
The three-time Olympic gold medalist competed Thursday in the men’s snowboard halfpipe qualifier of the Land Rover U.S. Grand Prix and World Cup at Buttermilk Ski Area, his first official FIS competition since winning his most recent Olympic gold at the 2018 contest in South Korea. The Grand Prix is the first official Olympic team qualifier for the American athletes ahead of next year’s games.
White’s return to snowboarding was originally going to be in January’s X Games Aspen — he’s won 18 Winter X Games medals over his career, behind only Jamie Anderson (19) and Mark McMorris (20) — but was a late scratch after slightly injuring himself in practice. But, not quite two months later, he finally made his return to the Buttermilk superpipe and it was like he never left.
White scored 91.50 on the first of his two runs — his second was a throwaway — and qualified second behind only 19-year-old Japanese sensation Yuto Totsuka (94.25), who is fresh off both X Games and world championship titles this winter.
“The coaches are the guys I used to compete with,” White joked of being one of the oldest competitors. His first Winter X Games medal came in 2002, about four months after Totsuka was born. “Now it’s just about resting and giving it my all on Sunday. But I’m pumped. I just love snowboarding. It’s so much fun. It feels good to be back at it.”
Qualifying third on Thursday was Switzerland’s David Habluetzel (88), followed in fourth by Germany’s Andre Hoeflich (86.50) and in fifth by Steamboat Springs native Taylor Gold (84.50).
Rounding out the finals qualifiers are Switzerland’s Jan Scherrer (81), Japan’s Raibu Katayama (79), Longmont’s Chase Blackwell (76.25), Telluride’s Lucas Foster (72) and Japan’s Ikko Anai (67.50).
“The first run felt good. I was stoked to put it down,” Gold said. “I’ve had some challenging practices the last few days. Just not really flowing, so it felt good to land one. Maybe it was a bit wilder than I’m accustomed to, but landed it and I’m in a decent spot.”
Ryan Wachendorfer, who lives near Vail, was 11th and Idaho’s Chase Josey was 12th as the first two non-qualifiers.
Two notable names who did not compete Thursday were Australia’s Scotty James, who finished second to Totsuka at both X Games and the world championships this year, and Japan’s Ayumu Hirano. Like White, Hirano hadn’t competed since winning Olympic silver for the second time at the 2018 Games prior to a surprise Rev Tour appearance — and easy win — at Buttermilk in February.
No surprise, Chloe Kim leads women’s halfpipe qualifying
The women’s snowboard halfpipe qualifier was business as usual with California’s Chloe Kim again leading the way. The reigning X Games and world champion scored 93.25 on her first and only necessary run Thursday to make it into Sunday’s final.
Kim also is the reigning Olympic gold medalist and the overwhelming favorite to repeat next year in China.
“I took a good chunk of time off,” Kim said of her days since world championships, where she tweaked her ankle prior to competition but still won. “This is my first time riding since world champs finals, so I’m really happy I was able to put a run down here and qualify. I think I’m just going to let my ankle heal.”
Qualifying second behind Kim on Thursday was Spain’s Queralt Castellet (91.50), followed in third by California’s Maddie Mastro (86.50). Mastro was second and Castellet third behind Kim at the world championships.
“Staying motivated can be hard when we are doing so much riding, but I think we all know what the end goal is and that’s easy when you are just focusing on that,” said the 21-year-old Mastro, who finished 12th in her only Olympic appearance back in 2018. “The halfpipe is pretty much as perfect as you can get it. It’s soft. Doesn’t get much better than this. I was stoked I was able to land my first run and give myself a little security.”
Japan’s Sena Tomita (85.50), Haruna Matsumoto (81.25) and Kurumi Imai (79.50), went 4-5-6, respectively, in qualifying, while Canada’s Elizabeth Hosking was seventh (78.75) and Japan’s Mitsuki Ono was eighth (76.75) to round out the field for finals.
“I feel like it is a pipe that it allows you to improve when you are having fun,” Castellet said of Buttermilk’s superpipe. “We got a lot of days riding here and we had a good opportunity to get used to the transitions very well.”
All told, 25 riders started the qualifier. A 26th rider, slopestyle star Jamie Anderson, had an interesting “did not start” on the final results. Anderson hasn’t competed in a FIS-level halfpipe contest since 2010, a simple NorAm Cup competition.