Finals for snowboard halfpipe set at Copper Mountain Grand Prix
COPPER MOUNTAIN — As Scotty James returns to international halfpipe competition this winter, it feels as though every top American and foreign snowboarder is chasing the Australian star’s ongoing mastery of each superpipe he drops into. Thursday at the Land Rover U.S. Grand Prix at Copper Mountain Resort was no different.
A year after James won every halfpipe event he entered — 6 for 6 — the reigning Copper Grand Prix, Dew Tour and Burton U.S. Open men’s snowboard halfpipe champion posted the top score during Thursday’s qualifying round. James earned a 93.25 on the strength of a five-hit run through the pipe that featured massive amplitude and landing high up on the superpipe wall to keep necessary speed despite the slow nature of the powdery conditions.
The run included a frontside double cork 1080 (two inversions and three rotations while rotating to the board’s front side), a cab 900, a switch backside double cork 1080, a backside 900 and a frontside double cork 1260.
“That’s going to be the best run of today,” U.S. pro big air and slpestyle snowboarder Jake Canter of Silverthorne said in the finish corral after James’ run. “That was psycho.”
James will be joined in Saturday’s final round, scheduled for noon to 1:45 p.m., by second-place qualifier Yuto Totsuka of Japan (87.50) and third-place rider Andre Hoeflich of Germany (83.75). The fourth-place qualifier was the top American on the day: rising star Toby Miller out of California. A year after he finished runner-up to James at this competition, Miller landed a first run score of 81.75 to get through to the finals.
Miller said though Thursday’s powdery conditions were a challenge, especially in terms of keeping speed, the competitors benefited from similar conditions during Monday’s first practice day. Miller’s run, during which he opted for six hits instead of five due to the slow pipe, consisted of a frontside double cork 1080, a cab double cork 1080, a frontside 900, a backside 540, a flat-spin frontside 1080 and a switch 720.
Looking ahead to Saturday, Miller said that depending on weather conditions and if the speed is there, he expects podium placers to land one, if not two, 1260s. At last year’s Copper Grand Prix, Miller made a statement with back-to-back 1260s. He’s been working on landing those and a 1440 in one run, something he’s never done in competition. That said, Saturday’s powder-filled forecast could prevent him from attempting it.
After missing out on last year’s final, Dillon resident Chase Blackwell qualified on the strength of three 1080s in one five-hit run. Miller commended Blackwell for soaring high above the pipe, a skill Blackwell is able to maintain in powdery conditions thanks to his prowess riding powder off piste. Blackwell’s full 73.00 run consisted of a massive frontside double cork 1080, a cab 1080, a frontside air, a backside 900 and one last frontside 1080.
“Chase Blackwell is one of my best friends,” Miller said. “He’s the man. Seeing him put down that first run and make it into finals made me just as happy as I was when I saw I made finals. He was riding absolutely phenomenal going just as big as everybody else if not setting the standard for amplitude. Everyone in here has unique style, but Chase definitely takes that as a big factor in his riding.”
American veteran Chase Josey was the third and final U.S. rider to qualify. He placed seventh on the day with a score of 74.25.
In the women’s competition, Maddie Mastro picked up where she left off last year, when she became the first female to land a double crippler in a halfpipe competition at the Burton U.S. Open in Vail. That earned her a win over previously dominant U.S. teammate Chloe Kim.
With Kim in attendance — the 2018 Olympic gold medalist is taking a break from competition this season to focus on college — the Californian Mastro posted the highest qualifying score Thursday, a 92.00. She’s the only American who made it through to Saturday’s final, as Spaniard Queralt Castellet (85.75) and Jiayu Liu of China (85.25) rounded out the top three.
“I’m pretty happy, and it feels good to lay two runs down at the first contest of the year,” Mastro said. “There is a lot of anticipation and nerves that build up throughout the offseason, but finally things are moving, and it feels great. We had a great set of training camps leading into the Grand Prix, and I feel that work paid off today with some fresh snow causing some challenging conditions. I’m looking forward to finals.”
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Oregon’s Laurenne Ross and New Castle’s Alice McKennis Duran both announced their retirement in recent days and celebrated together during Saturday’s downhill. McKennis Duran is a local namesake who grew up skiing at Sunlight in Glenwood and formerly trained with the AVSC.