Dillon halfpipe snowboarder Chase Blackwell realizing X Games dream
FRISCO — For Chase Blackwell and the active members of the U.S. halfpipe team, this past weekend in Laax, Switzerland, was a dream experience.
Five American snowboarders made Laax Open finals. Steamboat Springs native and Breckenridge resident Taylor Gold landed a never-before-done trick to make his first World Cup podium in five years after battling health problems. And Blackwell, a 20-year-old from Longmont who now lives in Dillon, rode maybe the best halfpipe run of his young career to a strong sixth place.
To boot, the Laax Open superpipe itself was the stuff halfpipe riders dream of. Blackwell said the pipe walls felt 24-feet tall because of how steep and fast they were and because the pipe was “super dished out,” meaning it didn’t have as much of a flat bottom as, say, the Copper Grand Prix pipe last month or the X Games pipe this week.
After it rode “almost-scary-fast” in practice, as Blackwell put it, light snowfall gave the pipe just enough fresh snow to allow riders to let it rip. You didn’t have to be as exact on your lines. You didn’t have to worry about slowing down in the flat bottom or losing an edge with too much speed. You could confidently put down the exact run you wanted.
Blackwell did just that, following up a pair of 1080-degree rotations high up on the pipe with a front-side 1260 and then a third and final 1080. Blackwell said he’d only landed that back-side 1080 maybe five times before. To attempt it after two 1080s and the 1260 was unprecedented for him. But on a night like that, when all the stars aligned over the Laax Open pipe, he’d be cheating himself not to try it.
“My coach was like, ‘What’s your plan?’” Blackwell said. “And I was kind of just like, ‘We’re going to go all-in. There’s no reason to hold back.’”
Blackwell earned a sixth-place 70.25 for the run. It came in an over-arching moment where Gold shocked even his teammate Blackwell by attempting and landing the never-before-landed double Michalchuk 1080, which earned him a third-place score of 87.00. That moment of glory for Gold was the climax of a special night for a tight-knit U.S. halfpipe team that Blackwell said has emphasized the team element of togetherness heading into this week’s X Games in Aspen.
“We are trying to make it a different vibe with the team,” Blackwell said. “Even though it’s an individual sport, we can be connected and feel the vibe off of everyone else.”
Blackwell arrived in Aspen for his first X Games on Monday, in time to drop into the pipe he idolized as a kid. Years ago, X Games Aspen was the first snowboarding event Blackwell ever attended. Beginning at the age of 4, he joined his father in staying with a family friend in Carbondale to watch stars like Shaun White. It became a father-son tradition for several years.
More than a decade later, Blackwell has a goal of making it out of Wednesday’s elimination round, where five of 13 snowboarders will join three automatic qualifiers in Thursday evening’s finals (8 p.m. on ESPN).
Coming off Laax, Blackwell said the X Games pipe feels smaller, with more of a traditional flat bottom. On top of that, there’s a new scoring system this year that takes into account a jam format. Blackwell said this means riders will lap the pipe for 45 minutes. In the end, judges will focus on each rider’s best singular run for 80% of influence on their score. Then, Blackwell said, they’ll factor in the final 20% based on a rider’s creativity throughout the jam.
“This is going to be a little bit different, nothing that any of us have ever worked with,” Blackwell said. “But it should be fun.”
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Keegan Swirbul was set to carry on with his nomadic career this summer with Ljubljana Gusto Santic, a professional cycling team based out of Slovenia