Bleiler third in Grand Prix qualifying |

Bleiler third in Grand Prix qualifying

Bryce Evans
Summit Daily News
Aspen, CO, Colorado

COPPER MOUNTAIN, Colo. ” The rider list for the first women’s heat of the U.S. Snowboarding Grand Prix read like a who’s-who of female riders: Kelly Clark, Gretchen Bleiler, Hannah Teter and … Madeline Schaffrick?

OK, so Schaffrick may not exactly be on that level right now, but the 14-year-old Steamboat Springs native showed Thursday morning at Copper Mountain that she’s well on her way.

Schaffrick pulled off back-to-back 720s ” the only rider of the day to stick that combination ” in her second qualifying run and tied with Teter, an Olympic gold medalist, for fourth in the star-studded heat. After waiting out 26 more riders in Heat 2, Schaffrick’s ticket was punched for Saturday’s halfpipe final.

“I fell on my first run,” Schaffrick said. “So I figured I might as well have fun and just go for it. … I’m just so happy it came together.”

Clark led the list of qualifiers after a solid first-run score of 44.8. Elena Hight, competing in the second heat, turned in the day’s second-best score with a 43.5, and defending champ Bleiler rounded out the top three with a 43.20

The stomach-churning qualifying session consisted of 52 international riders, all competing for eight spots in the finals. The top-three scores from each heat automatically moved on. The final two spots were given to the highest remaining overall scores, and in Thursday’s case, that was Schaffrick and Teter.

“Qualifying is more stressful than the finals,” Teter said. “You have to try to hold back a little but still go for it. … We’re at such a high level now with women’s snowboarding that qualifyings are super hard.”

Though Teter was the 14th rider of the first heat, it seemed as though the event officially kicked off when she cut into the halfpipe. With huge, sustaining amplitude on each of her tricks, Teter easily landed a frontside 540 and posted a 37.5 in the first round.

Bleiler began her title defense four riders later with a crippler and a frontside 720. She said that she felt relieved to get her first competitive run of the season under her belt.

“I feel like the first contest of the season, we’ve had a few months off, so it’s more of a mental game for everyone more than everything,” she said. “That kind of adds a bit more pressure for everyone trying to get into the finals, because it is the first contest of the season.”

Clark then passed Bleiler’s mark to claim top honors, and Soko Yamaoka of Japan finished third.

Teter and Schaffrick used their solid second runs to tie for fourth at 40.4.

Heat 2 may not have had the star power of the first, but the level of riding wasn’t too far off.

Hight, in her first run, landed the only frontside 900 of either heat, easily moving on to Saturday’s final.

Kaitlyn Farrington finished second in the group at 42.20, and local Copper rider Clair Bidez earned the third automatic spot.

“I ride this pipe all the time in the winter,” Bidez said. “So, if anyone has the advantage, it’s probably me.”

With the eight-person field set, most people will likely look at Bleiler as the favorite when the finals begin at 11 a.m. Saturday. But the Aspen rider said she feels no extra pressure, and, honestly, didn’t realize why she should.

“I didn’t even remember that I was defending,” she said with a laugh. ” … I’m always hoping to do well, though. … Winning is always good.”

Schaffrick, on the other hand, isn’t sure what to expect, as she’s competing in her first Grand Prix. Whatever happens Saturday, she won’t likely forget about her first time riding against Olympians.

“It’s incredible,” she said. “I can’t even believe that I’m on the same pipe as them.”

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