Wise wins freeski Grand Prix at Copper, Aspen’s Torin Yater-Wallace is fifth
COPPER MOUNTAIN — Although Friday’s Freeski World Cup ski halfpipe champion David Wise was the only American to finish in the top four at the U.S. Grand Prix at Copper Mountain Resort, the 27-year-old and reigning Olympic halfpipe gold medalist believes his competition is the best he’s ever seen. And that includes his fellow Americans who are also vying for a spot on Team USA as qualification progresses.
So right when he stepped up on the first-place podium at the base of the Woodward Superpipe at Copper Mountain on Friday, he turned to his right to say two simple words to third-place finisher Simon D’Artois of Canada: “Great skiing.”
“For me it’s a huge honor to be a part of pipe skiing right now,” Wise said after he won the Grand Prix event with a top score of 92.80 on his first run. “The level is so high. There are so many guys who can win contests from so many different places in the world. And as a competitor, as a professional skier, that’s what you want.
“You want guys from all over the world competing well and seeing both (second-place finisher) Noah (Bowman of Canada) and Simon land runs that are brand new to them — new tricks — is amazing. It pushes me to another height. The last thing I want to do is come out here and have these victories be easy. I want to struggle for it. That’s what makes it fun.”
After his title-winning performance, Wise reeled off a who’s-who of his American teammates who are also vying for a spot on the Olympic team. Everyone from his next closest American finisher on Friday, Aspen’s Torin Yater-Wallace (fifth place, 87.40), to high-profile teammates who failed to qualify for Friday’s final, like Gus Kenworthy (17th place).
“I think maybe how the Americans are skiing didn’t show on paper today other than myself, but the way that the team is riding is really at a high level,” Wise said. “The Copper pipe is one of the most challenging pipes we ride because while the shape is good and the Copper crew have done a great job, this is a flatter pitch than we are used to riding, and it’s hard to carry your speed. Whereas Torin Yater-Wallace, that’s his strong suit. He lets his skis run. He goes bigger than everybody else.”
“Other than myself, we had a challenging week,” Wise added, “but we are looking strong moving forward.”
At the end of the week, it was Wise who took the biggest leap toward Olympic qualification. And he did so at a place in Copper where he had a much different outcome at this exact same event at the exact same location four years ago leading up to Sochi.
The cure this time around was perfecting a new trick, one where he looks over his shoulder, takes off backwards, and spins “the hard way” before completing two flips and three spins. He nailed it as the first hit on all three of his runs Friday.
Wise credited his ski tech, Chris Lightner, for his ability to run fast, as Wise said he was able to achieve all five of his hits and “still go big.” The championship came on a brand new pair of Moment “Transition” skis after he recently signed a new deal with the company.
“I had a couple contests last year toward the end of the season I didn’t event make finals,” Wise said. “And I got to watch contests from a different perspective than I’ve ever had. I think the last time I didn’t make a final was 2014 going into Sochi — in Copper actually. And so I was sitting there at top of the pipe watching the field, and I had this inspiration for a new trick I wanted to do. I wanted to do a ‘Switch Ride Dub Ten.’
“And basically since March of last year,” Wise continued, “I’ve been working on that. So, I did it quite a few times this summer. I really struggled with it at first, but it got better and better. And that’s what I started my run out with today. So to do that today first run, land it to the bolts, it felt really good. And beyond that, the rest of my run was just kind of what I’ve been doing for a long time, so it was really nice to come out of the gate, land the hardest trick first and just cruise.”
Wise is not yet officially qualified for the 2018 U.S. Olympic team as he had previously failed to podium at an Olympic qualifier in the lead up to PyeongChang. Halfpipe skiers already had one Olympic qualifier last season and Yater-Wallace, Kenworthy and Taylor Seaton of Avon entered this week with a podium spot previously. Three spots on the Olympic team will be given to the athletes who meet the objective criteria, which is two podium finishes at qualifying events, such as the Grand Prix at Copper. Other qualifying events are scheduled for next week’s Dew Tour in Breckenridge, Jan. 10-14 Grand Prix in Snowmass and Jan. 17-21 Grand Prix in Mammoth, California. A fourth Olympic team spot will likely — but not definitely — be given to a competitor of the coaches’ choosing: It’s totally subjective.
For the objective spots, if more than three athletes have two podium finishes, then the team will defer to the World Cup scoring system, which will give the American athlete with the best result 1000 points, the American with the second best result 800 points, the third best 600 points and so on. Those with the most points make the team.
“Olympic (qualification) is looking a lot better for sure,” a smiling Wise said after the event. “Last time around going into Sochi, I was able to win two out of three cup qualifiers and then my ticket was punched and I got to go.”
Bowman scored a 91.00 on his second run to finish in second place while his fellow Canadian Artois strung together an 89.20 on his first run to clinch third. Another Canadian, Mike Riddle, scored an 88.20 on his final run to knock Yater-Wallace back to fifth after the 22-year-old from Aspen was awarded an 87.40 on his second run.
Americans Birk Irving (81.80) and Aaron Blunck (80.80) finished in seventh and eighth, respectively.
“Dave’s a machine,” American skier Devin Logan said after she took second place in the ladies competition. “He’s been training nonstop and he’s a heavy competitor, so it was awesome that he could be on the podium in the top spot and it’s a little pressure off our shoulders just for the Americans. So stoked to have another American up there.”
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Buttermilk Ski Area already is scheduled to host the world’s best at ESPN’s X Games this coming week, while it was recently announced Aspen Highlands will host alpine skiing’s NorAm finals later this spring.