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Olympic berths at stake in Jersey

David Porter
The Associated Press
Published: Kristin Skvorc/ Summit Daily
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VERNON, N.J. ” At the ripe old age of 27, Ross Powers sounds almost wistful when he recalls the early days of competitive snowboarding.

“Back then you’d get to ride a halfpipe maybe once a year, and it was usually a Snowcat pushing snow into a pile,” Powers said Thursday as he prepared for this weekend’s Olympic snowboarding trials at Mountain Creek. “If you could get in the air and grab your board, it was an accomplishment.”

Powers, a Vermont native, really is speaking about the fairly distant past: he has been riding snowboards competitively since he was 9 and competing around the world since he was 15.

Since then, as snowboarding has infiltrated the mainstream ” it became an official Olympic sport in 1998 ” the stunts have become more elaborate and the Q rating has zoomed, along with purses and endorsements.

On Saturday night, the U.S. Olympic halfpipe team will be decided at Mountain Creek at the last of three Grand Prix qualifying events. The first two were held at Breckenridge, Colo., and Bend, Ore.

The overall winners of the men’s and women’s Grand Prix also will receive new trucks from Chevrolet, the tour’s sponsor. Twenty-five men and 13 women have qualified to compete in the halfpipe this weekend.

A weather forecast that includes rain and 50-degree temperatures on Saturday raised concerns about the mountain’s ability to make enough snow for the halfpipe, but organizers said the event was going ahead as scheduled.

“The pipe is hard as a rock,” said Shannon McSweeney, a spokeswoman for Mountain Creek. “They were able to practice on it [Wednesday] even after all the rain.”

For Powers, who won the gold and led an American medal sweep at the 2002 Olympics, the burgeoning popularity of the sport has made it that much more difficult to stay on top.

“I have to work harder to keep up with the younger guys,” Powers said.

On the women’s side, one of the more compelling stories belongs to Gretchen Bleiler, 24, of Snowmass Village. At the Olympic trials four years ago, Bleiler was tied for the final spot but lost out on a triple tiebreaker. She dominated the international scene for most of 2002 and 2003, then hurt her knee and missed most of 2004.

Bleiler leads the women’s standings heading into this weekend, ahead of Hannah Teter, Elena Hight and Tricia Byrnes.


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