Colorado’s Chase Blackwell clinches US men’s halfpipe national title in Aspen
Though it had a spring feel, last week’s U.S. Grand Prix at Buttermilk Ski Area in Aspen was replete with nerves, jitters and pressure for the skiers and riders in attendance.
For riders like Longmont’s Chase Blackwell, who now resides in Dillon, who also competed at the previous week’s world championships, there were several elements that contributed to a unique vibe for the contest weekend.
For one, the 34-rider event was the first American Olympic qualifier on the road to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. For Americans, more than one-third of the field — 12 riders — was on the Grand Prix start list representing the red, white and blue. And most of them arrived in Aspen hungry to prove they should have been invited to the world championships, which featured just a few American riders.
Blackwell entered the Grand Prix weekend as one of the U.S. snowboard team’s top three riders and having just finished sixth at the world championships, the second American behind Idaho’s Chase Josey. Throw in the Grand Prix — which was American legend Shaun White’s first competition back in the pipe since winning 2018 Olympic gold, with the express intent of qualifying through to Beijing — and the event had a Wild West feel.
“There were heavy hitters, more Americans going for blood to make that final, because it’s the first Olympic qualifier,” Blackwell said.
In the end, it was the 34-year-old White and 22-year-old Blackwell who were the top two Americans in Sunday’s halfpipe final, with White’s final run score of 81.50 just ahead of Blackwell’s second run score of 78.75. Though Blackwell said White is the greatest of all-time in halfpipe riding, he added that he was driven to beat the three-time Olympic gold medalist.
The American team — which also featured Telluride’s Lucas Foster in sixth (75.25) and Steamboat Springs native and Breckenridge resident Taylor Gold in seventh (74.25) — chased an international podium of Yuto Totsuka (91.75) and Raibu Katayama (86.75) of Japan and Andre Hoeflich of Germany (84.00).
Blackwell’s fifth place clinched him the 2021 U.S. National Championship as the top American season-long finisher on the World Cup circuit, an accomplishment he said exemplifies the hard work he’s been putting in to contend at the sport’s highest level.
“I haven’t gotten back up on the podium, but it kind of shows me I’m right there,” Blackwell said. “It’s just going to take a little bit more, and I will be knocking on the podium every single contest.”
Blackwell finished in the top five after grinding through the qualification round. On the variable Buttermilk pipe, Blackwell had to switch up his final qualification run in his last chance to make finals. On his second hit, he opted for a 720-degree rotation to his board’s back side after realizing he didn’t have the pop to land his originally planned 900. Landing the 720 with the opposite foot forward from his plan meant Blackwell had to improvise his final three hits in the pipe, landing a switch (riding opposite foot forward) backside 720 followed by a backside 900 and frontside double-cork (two inversions) 1080 to make it through to finals.
Come Sunday’s final, Blackwell’s mindset was to “basically go as big as I can.” In finals, Blackwell said he thinks the judges rewarded him for his ability to keep and push for speed, without speed checking despite the unpredictable surface conditions through the pipe.
With the landing of his cleanest run of the season through the tricky pipe, Blackwell showcased his ability to consistently put down his best tricks no matter the conditions. Blackwell laced together a frontside double-cork 1080, a cab (switch frontside) 1080, a frontside double-cork 1260, a backside 900 and a frontside 900 to earn fifth. It came soon after he showcased his backcountry riding ability in the “7 Days in Jackson” snowboard short film, which Blackwell teamed up with fellow U.S. pro snowboarder Ryan Wachendorfer of Vail to film before heading to Aspen.
“I was trying to ride with authority, put something down,” Blackwell said about his finals run. “Honestly, I feel like I ride better in those conditions. I grew up riding in snow and variable conditions. I feel like I can step up to the plate, especially when it gets like that. It’s always fun to land a run when the pipe is perfect, but I feel like it means more when you can land a run in those conditions when it all counts. Those are the moments you just have to fight through and get gritty, get your hands dirty, almost.”
Blackwell said it was “pretty rad” to share the national championship moment with his good friend and Olympic gold medalist Chloe Kim. Looking ahead, Blackwell said he’d like to add a 1260 or 1440 into his repertoire to progress his run through the 22-foot Olympic superpipe. Eleven months out from Beijing, that’ll come on air bags as well as on snow at Mammoth Mountain in California, Mount Hood in Oregon and Saas Fee in Switzerland.
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