Bleiler sixth in Grand Prix opener |

Bleiler sixth in Grand Prix opener

Aspen Times Staff Report
Aspen, CO Colorado
Eric Drummond/Summit DailyLouie Vito executes a 1080 over Copper Mountain's superpipe on his way to clinching victory in the U.S. Snowboarding Grand Prix final on Saturday.

COPPER MOUNTAIN, Colo. ” Aspen’s Gretchen Bleiler admitted earlier this week that she was excited to get back to competing in the halfpipe after spending the latter half of last winter traveling the globe for film and photo shoots.

She also admitted she was a bit rusty. It showed Saturday.

The defending Winter X Games superpipe champion finished sixth in the season-opening Grand Prix at Copper Mountain.

Reigning women’s series champion Kelly Clark of Vermont, a good friend and rival of Bleiler, took the gold in the women’s final, while Louie Vito of Utah claimed the gold among the men.

Clark won with an overall score of 43.20, easily topping runner-up Soko Yamaoka of Japan ( 37.60) and bronze medalist Hannah Teter of Vermont (37.50).

Madeline Schaffrick, a 14-year-old from Steamboat Springs, just missed the podium with her fourth-place score of 36.60. Elena Hight of California was fifth (32.30), followed by Bleiler (29.30).

Clark said in a U.S. Snowboarding news release that her focus this season is to reflect on her riding as a whole, not strictly competition, but she was unbeatable Saturday. The 2002 Olympic medalist had the two highest-scoring runs of the day.

“It’s really encouraging. I didn’t know how my approach was going to go today. My focus has really been on the fundamentals these last few months and I’m really excited to have done so well just focusing on the basics,” she said. “I know once I get more into the technical aspects, it will be a really big strength to me.”

Teter made a successful return to competition after taking a majority of last sea­son off.

“It was really fun,” she said. “It was the first time for Copper hosting it and it’s going to be here for the next couple years. They do a really good job. Right in the beginning it was super good so I’m just stoked to be here.”

The day was a standout for the freestyle rookies who sent four of their own into the halfpipe finals and came out more successful than they could have hoped.

Schaffrick’s run included a frontside 720, a cab 720, a frontside 540 and a back­side 720.

“It’s amazing,” she said afterward. “I mean, Gretchen Bleiler is standing next to me. To be at the same competition level riding I can’t believe it. Just being in the same pipe as them is amazing.”

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