Shaun White-less Grand Prix begins today | AspenTimes.com

Shaun White-less Grand Prix begins today

Adam BoffeySummit County correspondent

Summit Daily/Kristin Skvorc

Aspen, CO ColoradoBRECKENRIDGE – All eyes in the snowboarding world will be on Breckenridge this weekend when the U.S. Snowboard Grand Prix returns to this local resort.Friday and Saturday’s competitions, which kick off this season’s three-stop series, seem to be highly anticipated by the pro riders who have been practicing on Breck’s Peak 8 superpipe for the last few days.”It’s always a big event,” said Breck Freeride Team member J.J. Thomas. “I think it’s pretty much the biggest one of the Grand Prixs, just because it’s here at Breck and it kind of sets the tone.”According to Breckenridge events manager Pete Isert, the resort, like many of the competing athletes, is looking forward to starting the season with a bang.”This is an event that will be nationally televised,” Isert said. “We’ll do the grass-roots spring events, but we want to hit it hard [early in the season].”

Isert, who initially anticipated a slight decline in the Grand Prix’s popularity one year after it served as an Olympic qualifier, has concluded that this year’s event will be as big as ever.”After what Shaun White did and the strong showing by the Americans in [Turin], I don’t think [interest] has dropped off'” he said. “There are just as many media credentials and just as many international competitors in the field.”White, who won all five of last season’s Grand Prixs before taking the gold medal home from the Turin Games, will be conspicuously absent this weekend.According to a source close to White, who spoke under the condition of anonymity, the snowboarding icon is filming with Mack Dawg productions and plans on entering only a few competitions this season.Thomas seemed unsurprised that snowboarding’s biggest name will be somewhere other than Summit County this weekend.

“Why would he [defend his Breck titles]?” Thomas said. “He’s the champ.”With White gone on other business, this year’s men’s competition seems up for grabs. Nineteen-year-old Mason Aguirre, who finished fourth at the Olympics, seems poised for a return trip to the Breckenridge podium after finishing one spot behind White in the second competition last winter (there will be one competition per gender this year). Aguirre followed that result with a runner-up finish in Oregon at Mt. Bachelor, which clinched his spot in the Olympics.”Last year was a lot of high stress coming into these first two Grand Prixs,” Aguirre said. “I hadn’t gotten much time to ride. After going to the Olympics and doing good in some contests, I definitely have a lot more confidence and a lot more focus in my riding.”Aguirre seems to like where he is, training-wise.”I feel good, I feel really good,” he said. “I got my back 9’s and I’ve done a front cab 10 already, so it’s just a matter of putting it all together.”

Like Aguirre, U.S. team veteran Tricia Byrnes seemed positive during a practice session on Wednesday. “I think everybody’s just kinda getting the cobwebs out,” said Byrnes, who finished fifth, then third, last year at Breck. “Everyone’s just stoked to be here, the pipe’s good – it just feels right, you know?”Byrnes will be trying to outperform fellow American standouts Gretchen Bleiler and Hannah Teter, each of whom picked up victories at last season’s two Breck events before claiming gold (Teter) and silver (Bleiler) at the Olympics.The men’s qualifying round is scheduled to begin Friday at 8:30 a.m., while the women’s opening round starts Saturday at 8:30 a.m. Event finals for both will take place Saturday beginning at noon.For the second straight year, the Breckenridge Grand Prix stop will culminate with a downtown quarterpipe showcase. Isert said this year’ quarterpipe will be constructed in the Miner’s Parking Lot. Riders will approach the feature being towed by snowmobiles, which can pull them as fast as 50 miles per hour.”I don’t think people expected last year’s event to have the size and energy that it did,” Isert said. “I think a lot of people who weren’t there know they don’t want to miss it again.”

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