Copper’s Winter Dew Tour is up next in US Olympic team ski, snowboard qualifiers
Qualifying takes place Wednesday and Thursday for slopestyle and halfpipe, with finals beginning on Friday and going through Sunday
Aaron Blunck has one goal for this week’s contest at Dew Tour, and that’s to land a single, measly run.
After a dreadful finals performance at the Copper Mountain Grand Prix on Friday, the Crested Butte halfpipe skier is looking to rebound as Dew Tour makes its return to Copper after last winter’s event was canceled amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“Fun is obviously in the air. It’s Dew Tour. It’s always one of the best events of the year, for sure,” Blunck said Tuesday during a Dew Tour press conference from Copper Mountain. “But my other goal is to just land a run. Last week I went 0 for 3 and took some pretty nasty crashes. Even just making it down the halfpipe in one piece, I think I’d be pretty thankful for that. That’s about all I want this week is just land one run. I can fall the other two.”
Like it was ahead of the 2018 Winter Games, and like the Copper Grand Prix was last week, this year’s Dew Tour is an official U.S. Ski & Snowboard Olympic team qualifier ahead of February’s trip to Beijing. Unlike the Copper Grand Prix and last spring’s Aspen Grand Prix — the first of the U.S. Olympic team qualifiers — Dew Tour is not a World Cup event.
Blunck, a 2014 and 2018 Olympian, leads a deep pack of halfpipe skiers looking to make it to the Beijing Games. He won the Grand Prix in Aspen back in March and is effectively a lock at this point, along with Aspen’s own Alex Ferreira — a two-time Dew Tour champion — who won the Olympic qualifier last week at Copper Mountain.
“In 2018 I put so much pressure and got so serious about the event and did not end up performing the way I had wanted to,” the 25-year-old Blunck said about his past Olympic appearances. He finished seventh in both 2014 and 2018. “I really learned from that experience because I went home and I was like, ‘I do not want to ever ski without having fun again.’ So, it was really nice to go into this season and go back to that.”
Blunck, who got married over the summer, certainly seems to be having fun. He laughed off his three crashes during the Copper Grand Prix finals last week and wants to approach this year’s Olympics with a bit of that naivety that came when he went to Sochi in 2014 as a 17-year-old, a mindset shared by many of his American teammates.
“I haven’t really been thinking about it that much. To be honest, I try to go day by day. I’m sure maybe once it gets to that time it might be a little bit different,” said 21-year-old Silverthorne snowboarder Red Gerard about being the reigning Olympic gold medalist in slopestyle. “I’m more looking just to go and go with the U.S. team and that’s the coolest part about the Olympics, is you are not just representing yourself. You are representing the country where you are from and born. That’s what I’m looking forward to about it.”
Also taking part in Tuesday’s press conference ahead of Dew Tour were Californians Maddie Mastro and Brita Sigourney. Sigourney, the 31-year-old reigning Olympic bronze medalist in women’s halfpipe skiing, is seeking her third trip to the Games after also taking sixth in 2014. She led the American women by finishing fourth last week in the Copper Grand Prix and was third last March in Aspen, so her Olympic spot is all but locked up.
“This qualifying season is grueling and the U.S. team really puts us through it leading up to the Olympics, but I really think it pays off and allows us to be at the top of our game when we do get to the Olympics,” Sigourney said. “I just want to be smooth, go big and stay healthy and be able to enjoy the holidays after this.”
Doubling up on progression
The Olympic seasons tend to be the ones where the most progression is seen in skiing and snowboarding, and Dew Tour will certainly be prime for athletes trying tricks that have never been landed before in major competitions.
Mastro, the 21-year-old halfpipe snowboarder who finished 12th in her only Olympic appearance in 2018, has long been at the forefront in pushing her sport forward. She’s at the top of the list of women who can consistently put down double corks — her double crippler has made a lot of noise in recent years — and she now has a frontside double-cork 1080 that no other female rider has.
“My career has always been wanting to do what the boys are doing and progress it that way,” Mastro said. “Naturally, that path was doubles. I’m stoked I was able to make that happen and do them consistently. I think it’s just important overall to have doubles included in women’s snowboarding, because I feel like they belong. It’s one of those things where if the boys can do it, why can’t we? That was my whole mindset with it, and I just want to keep pushing it in that direction.”
For the men’s halfpipe snowboarders, Japan’s Ayumu Hirano and American legend Shaun White reset the bar with their back-to-back 1440s during the 2018 Olympics. There is belief a 1620 — that’s another half rotation — might be needed to win this February, and everyone is waiting for the seemingly inevitable triple cork at some point.
In men’s snowboard slopestyle, Gerard says to expect a lot more 1620s. Otherwise, don’t expect to contend for an Olympic podium.
“Right now, in slopestyle, the name of the game is the 16s,” he said. “Putting that into your run and trying to flow it together with other creative ways.”
Colorado halfpipe skiing talent
Among the most competitive U.S. Olympic team battles is in men’s halfpipe skiing, led by Blunck and Ferreira. But Winter Park’s Birk Irving is knocking on the door of his first Olympic appearance, and Aspen’s own Cassidy Jarrell and Tristan Feinberg are both one good run away from knocking the door off its hinges.
Boulder’s Lyman Currier seems to be back to his 2014 form when he made that Olympic team, just another name on a near endless list of Colorado halfpipe skiers currently at the forefront of the sport.
This list at one point also included the since retired Torin Yater-Wallace, a Roaring Fork Valley skiing icon who represented the U.S. in both the 2014 and 2018 Olympics, and now has added Basalt teenager Hanna Faulhaber, who could possibly lock up her first Olympic team spot this week at Dew Tour.
“One thing that us Colorado kids have been very fortunate about with halfpipe is the fact there are so many halfpipes here. You have X Games over in Aspen, you have Copper Grand Prix here, you have Dew Tour here,” Blunck said of why the state is so deep in halfpipe skiers. “We were just super fortunate to have places like Copper Mountain that had a great halfpipe that we could come and make our home stomping grounds.”
Dew Tour schedule
Dew Tour gets underway Wednesday with men’s and women’s snowboard slopestyle qualifying and men’s and women’s ski halfpipe qualifying. Ferreira and Co. will drop in beginning at 10:30 a.m., while Faulhaber and the women will drop in starting at 1:30 p.m.
Thursday includes men’s and women’s ski slopestyle qualifying as well as the men’s and women’s snowboard halfpipe qualifying.
The first finals are scheduled for Friday with men’s and women’s ski slopestyle.
Saturday’s lineup includes finals for men’s and women’s snowboard slopestyle and men’s and women’s ski halfpipe. There is also a men’s ski and snowboard streetstyle event that evening.
Dew Tour wraps up Sunday with the men’s and women’s snowboard halfpipe finals.
Spectators are allowed to attend for free beginning with Thursday’s qualifiers. Events will also be livestreamed through http://www.dewtour.com and its various social media channels.
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