American team has a strong snowboard contingent at Copper Mountain Grand Prix

Antonio Olivero
Summit Daily

COPPER MOUNTAIN RESORT — Despite 2018 American Olympic stars Shaun White and Ben Ferguson not competing, the U.S. Snowboard Team has a loaded contingent of veteran and rookie halfpipe riders looking to make a statement at this week’s Land Rover U.S. Grand Prix at Copper Mountain Resort.

There are veterans of top competitions like Breckenridge resident and Steamboat Springs born-and-raised rider Taylor Gold, who has added a double Michalchuk 1080 to his trick list. If he lands it Thursday, he’d be the first snowboarder to land it in a World Cup competition.

Then there’s Chase Josey of Idaho, last year’s third-place Grand Prix finisher who figures to again bring his stylish approach to the pipe.

The U.S. team is loaded with talented younger snowboarders, as well, including riders like Jake Pates of Eagle, who won the 2017 Dew Tour superpipe competition in the midst of the pressure-packed 2018 Olympic qualifying cycle. Chase Blackwell of Dillon is another up-and-coming pro team rider revered for the versatility and style of his 1080s. And Toby Miller of California took the halfpipe circuit by storm last season with his ease in landing 1440s.

Those are just some of the American names — nevermind international stars — that Jason Wolle of Frisco will be competing against during Thursday’s qualifying round at Copper Mountain Resort. Only the top 10 will make it to Saturday’s final round.

After spending extended time in Switzerland and Austria this autumn training with U.S. pro and rookie team riders, the second-year snowboarder Wolle knows it will take his best to make it through to Saturday.

“I know Taylor and Chase (Josey) have been in the game a long time,” Wolle said, “but we are all hungry, and we all want it. The vibe within the team right now is all positive. With the U.S. team, you can’t count anybody out. Chase Blackwell has some of the best runs I’ve seen. Toby’s got those 14(40)s, and he’s so consistent. Ryan Wachendorfer (of Vail), I saw him put down one of the best 1260s that I’ve ever seen him do today in practice. … You can’t count anybody out from the U.S. team. They are all shredders.”

A day after six American men qualified through to Friday’s 10-skier Grand Prix freeski final, the strong American contingent will be challenged to meet that number for snowboard. Defending Grand Prix champion and the consensus best halfpipe snowboarder in the world last year, Scotty James of Australia, is back in Copper Mountain to remind the world of what greatness looks like in a 22-foot high superpipe. Beyond James, the list of international heavy hitters includes Japanese high-flyers Yuto Totsuka and Raibu Katayama and Swiss stars Patrick Burgener and Iouri Podladtchikov, among others.

“Scotty is shredding,” Wolle said about practice runs this week. “I saw him do a bunch of really good runs today. Yuto and a lot of the Japanese riders, those guys are dialed in, and they know what they are doing when it comes to competing. So definitely keep an eye on those guys.”

Heading into this season, Wolle said his goal is to make as many World Cup finals as possible. With that goal in mind this week, Wolle has worked with U.S. halfpipe coaches JJ Thomas, Rick Shimpeno and Ricky Bower to finalize his run for Thursday. With the finals in mind, Wolle said he likely will do a five-hit run through the extra-long pipe that features a double Michalchuk to a frontside 900 to a backside 540 with a double grab for more style. Wolle then hopes to punctuate the run with a frontside double cork 1080 and a cab double cork 1080. With eyes toward next year, Wolle is working off snow on airbags to bump those 1080s up to 1260s, but for now, he hopes his plan for Thursday is good enough to get through.

“This is the season to throw down and have a good time,” Wolle said.

On the women’s side, without 2018 Pyeongchang gold medalist Chloe Kim competing, 2018 Burton U.S. Open superpipe champion Maddie Mastro is the face of this week’s competition. Mastro is plastered all over Copper Mountain this week as the primary featured athlete in promotional posters. To improve on her runner-up finish at the Grand Prix last December, Mastro will have to fend off several top challengers, including Steamboat Springs native and Breckenridge resident Arielle Gold, who won the bronze medal in the halfpipe at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games.

Thursday’s qualifying rounds are scheduled to take place between 8:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. at Copper Mountain’s Center Village.