Snowmass Grand Prix is an important stop on the road to 2018 Winter Olympics |

Snowmass Grand Prix is an important stop on the road to 2018 Winter Olympics

The medals handed out at this week's Toyota U.S. Grand Prix were designed by Ridgway artist Lisa Issenberg, who designed the medals for last year's FIS World Cup Finals in Aspen and other events. For the Grand Prix, Issenberg said she used a mix of handcrafted and industrial techniques and no two medals are the same. In celebration of Snowmass's 50th anniversary season, Issenberg incorporated the "Snowmass 50" logo as the bib.
Photo courtesy of Kiitella |

The 2018 Toyota U.S. Grand Prix in Snowmass is much more than a competition. It’s a chance for skiers and snowboarders to achieve a dream many have probably had since they were children.

Making the Olympics is often seen as the pinnacle of the sport, and for the Americans, to get to next month’s Winter Games in South Korea they must first go through Snowmass.

This week’s contests mark the second to last of the Olympic qualifiers, with a trip to Mammoth in California next week being the finale.

In Snowmass, men and women will take to the mountain in halfpipe and slopestyle contests for skiing and snowboarding. The biggest names in winter sports are here, such as Shaun White, Danny Davis, Chloe Kim, Jamie Anderson, Torin Yater-Wallace, David Wise, Gus Kenworthy, Maddie Bowman and more.

Each discipline has slightly different criteria for making the Olympic team, but for the most part it’s all about getting on the podium. Only a handful of athletes enter the week having already locked up an Olympic spot: Kim, Anderson and Chris Corning. For everyone else, it’s a dogfight for the rare chance to represent his or her country next month in South Korea.

Qualifying takes place today and Thursday, with dozens of athletes vying to be among the few to sneak into the finals, which are Friday and Saturday. On Sunday, there will be a second ski slopestyle competition to make up for an event that was canceled due to weather last year in Mammoth.

Most of these same athletes will return to Aspen in two weeks when Buttermilk hosts the Winter X Games, which is not an Olympic qualifier. By then, the Olympic rosters will have been announced.

The 2018 Winter Olympics, which features the debut of big air snowboarding as an Olympic sport, begins Feb. 9 in South Korea.