Totsuka and Kim again win snowboard halfpipe contests, White fourth in return

Japan's Yuto Totsuka celebrates with his nation's flag after winning the men's snowboard halfpipe competition at the U.S. Grand Prix and World Cup on Sunday, March 21, 2021, at Buttermilk Ski Area.
Photo by Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

Shaun White returned, Yuto Totsuka and Chloe Kim again dominated and the season came to an end for the halfpipe snowboarders Sunday in the finals of the U.S. Grand Prix and World Cup at Buttermilk Ski Area in Aspen.

California’s Kim scored 90.50 on her first run and didn’t need much else as she capped off an undefeated season that included both X Games and world championship titles, all after taking a year off of competing to focus on her Princeton studies.

“I’m very surprised at how the season went. It went a lot better than I thought it would, so I’m really stoked,” Kim said. “I was in a really bad mental place when I left, so I think just giving myself the time off and letting myself take a step back and have fun again was really important for me. Honestly, I’m so happy I took the year off, and I’m so grateful to be here right now.”

Gallery caption: Photos: Women’s Snowboard Halfpipe Final

Sunday’s Grand Prix was the first official U.S. Olympic team qualifier ahead of the 2022 Games in China. Kim’s spot on that team is all but assured at this point as she’ll head to Beijing looking to defend her Olympic gold won in 2018, the only Olympic appearance to date for the 20-year-old Mammoth rider.

“Now I think it will be a much more enjoyable experience, but I’m really looking forward to it,” Kim said of returning to the Olympics. “It feels really good. Qualifying for the Olympics is always a pretty nerve-wracking situation to be in. Really happy right now. I think it’s a good start.”

Finishing second Sunday was Spain’s Queralt Castellet, who scored 86 on the second of her three finals runs. The 31-year-old has had a strong stretch the past few years, finishing third at world championships only last week and taking home her first X Games Aspen title in 2020 when Kim did not compete.

The four-time Olympian is all but assured a fifth trip to the Olympics in 2022. Her best Olympic finish came in South Korea four years ago, when she finished seventh.

“Unfortunately I couldn’t put down the run I wanted today, but I was lucky enough to land a solid run that gave me second place, so I’m really stoked about that,” Castellet said. “It’s been amazing to finally be doing some contests. It was really great to have the world champs here and follow it up with this amazing World Cup.”

Rounding out the women’s snowboard halfpipe podium Sunday was Japan’s Sena Tomita, who scored 82.50 on her first run. The 21-year-old finished just off the podium in fourth at world championships last week in Aspen. She’s a 2018 Olympian, having finished right behind Castellet in eighth that year.

In fourth Sunday was Japan’s Mitsuki Ono (73.50), followed in fifth by Canada’s Elizabeth Hosking (72). In sixth was Japan’s Kurumi Imai (67.25) and in seventh was Japan’s Haruna Matsumoto (61.75).

Officially finishing eighth was California’s Maddie Mastro, who did not start. The 21-year-old withdrew after slamming her face during a practice run Saturday. The X Games Aspen silver medalist from January, Mastro also was a 2018 Olympian, where she finished 12th.

Totsuka continues dominance, White fourth

The men’s snowboard halfpipe contest Sunday was all about the return of American legend Shaun White. The three-time Olympic gold medalist hadn’t competed since the 2018 Olympics, where he dramatically beat Japan’s Ayumu Hirano on the final run for gold.

Shaun White competes in the men's snowboard halfpipe competition at the U.S. Grand Prix and World Cup on Sunday, March 21, 2021, at Buttermilk Ski Area in Aspen.
Photo by Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

Prior to that, White’s last World Cup final had been at the Snowmass Grand Prix in January 2018, the second-to-last qualifier ahead of the 2018 Games. He scored a perfect 100 that day to make the U.S. Olympic team.

While he put down a strong third run Sunday, White only scored 81.50 and finished just off the podium in fourth place. In third was Germany’s Andre Hoeflich (84) and in second Japan’s Raibu Katayama (86.75), while 19-year-old Japanese superstar Yuto Totsuka joined Kim in completing the season sweep of events this winter with a first-run score of 91.75 for the victory.

Australia’s Scotty James, who battled with Totsuka for first in most contests the past two seasons, did not compete at the Aspen World Cup this weekend. James finished second to Totsuka at both X Games Aspen and the world championships this winter.

For the 23-year-old Hoeflich, Sunday’s results were big as it was his first career World Cup podium. He was seventh at worlds last week.

“I didn’t think it would happen today. But in the end it actually happened,” Hoeflich said of his podium finish. “I’m so happy I can’t even tell you. I’ve been working so hard for the last couple of years, and I always want to go higher, better. I just want to send it and today I finally had the chance to really go high and show what I’m actually capable of. I’m proud of myself that I was able to do that.”

Gallery caption: Photos: Men’s Snowboard Halfpipe Final

It was the fourth career podium for the 25-year-old Katayama, a 2018 Olympian, but his first since December 2017 in China.

While White led the Americans on Sunday in fourth, Longmont’s Chase Blackwell was only a spot back in fifth with 78.75. It’s a big step for the 22-year-old to possibly make his first Olympic team. He’s never had a World Cup podium in his career.

“This year, my riding I feel like really progressed quite a bit,” Blackwell said. “I’m really pumped on how everything turned out for me this year. Making the finals and putting down a run is all I really could ask for. So it was a really good day.”

Telluride’s Lucas Foster was sixth (75.25) on Sunday, while Steamboat native Taylor Gold was seventh (74.25) to round out the American riders who made finals. Switzerland’s David Habluetzel was eighth (71.25), Japan’s Ikko Anai was ninth (69.75) and Switzerland’s Jan Scherrer was 10th (22.25). Scherrer won worlds bronze last week in Aspen.

The U.S. Olympic team qualifiers will continue with more Grand Prix events next season, although where and when those will take place has yet to be announced.