Despite World Cup cancellation, Copper Mountain opens pipe training to pros |

Despite World Cup cancellation, Copper Mountain opens pipe training to pros

Antonio Olivero/Summit Daily
Aaron Blunck of Crested Butte competes in the freeski finals at the Land Rover U.S. Grand Prix World Cup at Copper Mountain Resort in December 2019. Though this month’s event was canceled due to COVID-19 response, American and international athletes are currently training at the Copper pipe.
Photo from U.S. Ski & Snowboard

Despite the cancellation of this coming week’s U.S. Grand Prix World Cup events at Copper Mountain Resort due to novel coronavirus response, Copper Mountain is hosting athlete training on the Woodward Superpipe through Dec. 23.

U.S. pro and rookie team halfpipe snowboarders and skiers are some of the youth and adult athletes from home snow and international borders who on Monday, Dec. 7 began dropping into the only Olympic-sized superpipe currently open on the continent.

Copper Mountain Resort spokeswoman Taylor Prather said in an email Saturday afternoon that the resort continued with training in the superpipe but not the annual Grand Prix World Cup competition because the resort “remains committed to athlete progression and development through training” and knows “that we can safely host training because we’ve been doing it since last spring.”

Prather said the resort is hosting the halfpipe training after working with the Summit County Public Health Department on health and safety standards specific to COVID-19. Prather added athletes must also follow their team’s COVID-19 testing protocols and Copper Mountain’s “Operation Stay Safe” protocols.

Dillon resident and U.S. pro halfpipe team snowboarder Chase Blackwell said U.S. snowboarders like him are currently doing three sessions a day where the sessions are exclusive to U.S. athletes. Blackwell said the exclusive sessions enable the team to maintain to the best of their ability the “bubble” they’ve manifested at Copper. Blackwell said for the U.S. team sessions about 20 people take part while maintaining physical distance.

Blackwell said while he is able to stay at his home in Dillon, other athletes, like his good friend and fellow pro team rider Toby Miller of California, stay at condos at Copper Mountain. Wherever they are spending their nights, Blackwell said all U.S. team athletes are instructed to have no contact indoors with anyone outside of their team bubbles.

“We are all just kind of cooking on our own, or getting takeout, no outside dining or inside dining,” Blackwell said. “We’re here to snowboard and focus on snowboarding and that’s basically what they are making the point to be. They are making it the best it can be, the best camp, that way it’s safe for us to keep on going for the rest of the season.”

Blackwell said athletes like him and Frisco resident and U.S. rookie team halfpipe rider Jason Wolle are tested every three days, and received their test results one to two days after their spit tests are sent to a lab. As of Friday afternoon, Blackwell said he wasn’t aware of any U.S. team athletes or personnel who had tested positive.

Wolle in an email described the COVID-19 regulations as a “solid system,” one where when Wolle’s at the top of the superpipe with friends like Blackwell, Ryan Wachendorfer of Vail or Olympic gold medalists Chloe Kim and Shaun White, masks are worn at all times. Wolle added the riders are doing virtual recovery sessions to limit exposure to each other, rather than riders being together for rehab.

As for the Copper contest being canceled but training continuing, Wolle said though he’s not sure of all the details about holding a training event but not the Copper contest, he said he is thankful to be riding the pipe with his friends and believes the cancellation was in the best interest for everyone involved. That said, he added personally he would feel comfortable competing right now.

“I think that we have good rules and safeguards in place for when a contest does happen. Especially a World Cup since (the International Ski Federation) is involved,” Wolle said.

Skiers and snowboarders like Wolle are currently looking forward to the Laax Open in Switzerland in mid-January to be the first halfpipe competition of the season after the Copper cancellation. Blackwell and Wolle said they are confident the competition will happen, though they understand COVID-19 decision making could change in the next month.

Along with the U.S. athletes, Blackwell said he’s seen some German and Japanese athletes — like 2020 Burton U.S. Open champion Yuto Totsuka — at Copper training in the pipe. Prather added athletes from New Zealand, Australia and other elements of Europe are also training at Copper.

Prather said the Copper pipe is tentatively scheduled to open to the public on Dec. 24.


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