Slopestyle athletes ready for unique and sudden world championships in Aspen
This week’s International Ski & Snowboard Federation Freeski and Snowboard World Championships in Aspen will usher in the yearlong contest lead-up to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics for a deep American team.
Many in the American freeski and snowboard community have said that being named to one of the few Olympic team spots can be more difficult than qualifying for the finals once at the Olympics. The U.S. had four riders — Chris Corning, Olympic slopestyle gold medalist Red Gerard and big air silver medalist Kyle Mack, as well as Ryan Stassel — compete for the country in slopestyle and big air at the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
“The U.S. team, Canada and Norway are the hardest teams to make,” Canadian star Mark McMorris said during Monday’s virtual press conference. “All seven (team members) can do well at the games, but only four get to go.”
Before the Olympic qualifying process begins next week, Corning and Gerard are two of five Americans selected to represent the U.S. at Wednesday’s world championship men’s snowboard slopestyle qualifying round at Buttermilk Ski Area in Aspen. The Colorado shredders are part of a 35-athlete team that will compete at the world championships among 300 athletes from 37 nations.
Competing in what might be the most competitive winter sports discipline at the Olympics — men’s snowboard slopestyle — Corning and Gerard are contenders to make Friday’s World Championships final and to medal. An Olympic, Burton Open and Dew Tour slopestyle champion, Gerard has medaled at all major competitions except the biennial world championships.
The slopestyle world champion from two years ago in Park City is Corning, who won the gold medal for having the highest score in the qualifying round after the final was canceled due to weather. Corning won the Revolution Tour slopestyle competition in Aspen two weeks ago, though the course has been modified since that competition took place.
“Seven of us (Americans) are in the top 10 (rankings internationally),” Gerard said about the discipline. “And we’re all so similar in age. For me, at least, it’s a friendship and pushing each other. … It’s pretty exciting to be dropping in, and that’s your homie right there. He’s really a competitor. And, oh, he’s No. 2 in the world. I’m proud of us Americans.”
Wednesday’s men’s snowboard slopestyle qualifiers will take place from 1 to 3 p.m. Then on Friday, the final will be broadcast live at 11:30 a.m. on the Olympic Channel. Riders will then compete Sunday afternoon in a big air qualifying round before Tuesday’s live broadcast of the men’s snowboard big air finals on NBC Sports Network, also streaming on Peacock, at 3:30 p.m.
The big air event also serves as the second annual Visa Big Air presented by Land Rover, which originally was scheduled Dec. 18-19 at Copper Mountain Resort but was postponed in response to COVID-19.
At the world championships, Corning, Gerard and the other members of the American contingent — 18-year-old X Games champion Dusty Henricksen, Californian Judd Henkes and Hawaiian Lyon Farrell — will be going against close friends and Canadian athletes like McMorris, who are primed for the podium. The Canadian side includes such forces as Sebastien Toutant, Darcy Sharpe and Max Parrot, who is extra hungry after COVID-19 precautions kept him out of X Games along with McMorris.
“Being a world champion is a pretty neat thing,” said McMorris, now 27, who won Olympic bronze to Gerard’s gold in 2018. “I have yet to get that title, and it would be nice to do so.”
The athletes then will hang around for the Land Rover U.S. Grand Prix World Cup slopestyle and halfpipe competition March 18 to 21, which will serve as the first snowboard and freeski Olympic tryout events.
With how many events have been postponed or canceled this season due to COVID-19, McMorris said he was worried he might not be able to earn an Olympic spot. He and other Canadian and American riders did not compete at the first slopestyle competition of the season, the Laax Open, due to COVID-19 contact tracing.
“To be a part of this, I’m grateful,” McMorris said. “Everyone behind the scenes is working tirelessly.”
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