Competitors gearing up for the U.S. Grand Prix, Olympic qualifier at Copper Mountain
FRISCO — Starting Wednesday, Copper Mountain Resort will serve as host for the 2021 Toyota U.S. Grand Prix. The four-day competition will bring competitive snowboarders and skiers from all over the world to Copper as they try out new tricks in the halfpipe competition.
This year, the Grand Prix serves as one of four U.S. Olympic halfpipe snowboard qualifying events and one of six U.S. freeski qualifying events for the 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing.
At the Olympic qualifying event, athletes try to gain points in the FIS ranking system by finishing high at competitions. It is then up to the U.S. Ski & Snowboard association to discern whether an individual should be named to the U.S. Olympic team.
The Grand Prix is open to the public and will start off with freeski halfpipe qualifications taking place Wednesday.
The snowboarders will get their chance to compete Thursday as they try to seal their spot in the finals. The event will conclude with freeski halfpipe finals on Friday and snowboarding finals on Saturday.
Some of the names scheduled to compete at the event include Olympians Maddie Mastro and Brita Sigourney. Freeskier Sigourney was a bronze medalist in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.
Aspen native Alex Ferreira and Winter Park native Birk Irving will be two Coloradans who will look to put themselves in contention in the freeski competition.
In terms of Summit County talent, one can expect snowboarders Taylor Gold, Chase Blackwell and Chris Corning, as well as freeskier Jaxin Hoerter to try to make their mark in the halfpipe competition.
Chase Blackwell, who is originally from Longmont but now lives and trains in Dillon, will be looking to knock off some rust. His last competition was the U.S. Grand Prix in March at Buttermilk Ski Area.
Blackwell has been busy training since then at camps in Saas-Fee, Switzerland, and Kitzsteinhorn, Austria.
“It’s been going great,” Blackwell said about training. “I went over to Austria for one week and after that came home and have been waiting for it to snow.”
It was at the U.S. Grand Prix last season when Blackwell finished fifth overall, one spot shy of Shaun White, who was the top American finisher in fourth.
Blackwell will be eager to challenge the competition again this week and hopefully stand atop the podium at the end of the event. Doing so would give him a good chance at being named to his first Olympic team at age 22, something he said has been a lifelong goal. Despite that goal, Blackwell is trying to focus on one competition at a time.
“I’m trying to take it slow and take it step by step,” Blackwell said. “The first step is making finals at the Grand Prix. You have to do that before you can do anything else. That is kind of where my head is at right now.”
Blackwell is hoping to get in a good rhythm once he starts training in the Copper halfpipe in order to be able to nail some good runs in competition and advance to the finals.
“My goal more long term is to get named to the Olympic team and keep doing it in order to hopefully get to two,” Blackwell said. “Making (the Olympic team) this year would be making that contest I’ve never been able to go to. Making it would allow me to be able to reflect and realize I’ve made every competition, which not everyone gets to do.”
Blackwell will get the opportunity to compete for an Olympic team and a second consecutive national title in front of a proud Summit County crowd, and his girlfriend and family will be watching, as well.
“Everyone will be up for Copper, and a lot of my friends will make it up for the Winter Dew Tour, as well, so that will definitely be a fun weekend,” Blackwell said.