USASA Nationals at Copper Mountain Resort canceled for second straight year

Antonio Olivero, Summit Daily
The halfpipe at Copper Mountain Resort is pictured in Center Village during the 2018 USASA Nationals.
Photo from Copper Mountain Resort

The United States of America Snowboard and Freeski Association announced Friday that USASA Nationals — the largest snowboarding and freeskiing competition in the world — is canceled for the second straight year.

The event, originally slated for March 26 through April 8 at Copper Mountain Resort, was canceled “in support of COVID-19 safety regulations and guidelines,” according to USASA officials.

USASA Nationals brings 1,000 to 2,000 athletes and their families and support staff to Summit County annually. Competitions include skicross, snowboardcross, halfpipe, slopestyle and rail jam for freeskiers and snowboarders as well as giant slalom and slalom for snowboarders.

USASA executive director Michael Mallon said in a statement that the cancellation came after the organization “looked at a multitude of options” to try to keep the event viable for the season. Mallon added that the organization “weighed heavily the impact” of bringing thousands of athletes, staff and families from all parts of the country to Copper.

Dustin Lyman, Copper’s president and general manager, said in the statement that the resort “will welcome the event back in the future.”

Despite the cancellation, many local youth athletes returned to competitions this week at Copper. Amy McKibbin of Dillon, mother of two Team Summit skiers, said she was impressed Copper hosted the contests. She commended the resort, USASA and Team Summit for being creative in manifesting ways to host the youth contests under COVID-19 protocols, namely physical distancing. But she wondered whether the USASA Nationals cancellation was the right decision and whether it was fair to athletes and their families considering so many people are allowed to ski and ride at resorts.

Beyond that, McKibbin questioned what she described as the seemingly arbitrary nature of COVID-19 regulations. Cancellations take place for some things while other things are permitted to take place, she said, pointing to the ski resort allowing enclosed public transit buses to shuttle skiers and riders to the hill but not allowing parents to stand physically distanced from one another at the bottom of the halfpipe. She said she feels that way about much of what’s permitted or not permitted in the county right now, describing the “cherry-picking” as “very odd.”

“In all of this, there’s really no right or wrong answer, but it’s the arbitrary (nature) where things don’t make sense,” McKibbin said. “… It does feel very arbitrary with nationals — especially with the vaccine out, and we will have some (more) vaccines in April — that they are making this decision now. I’m sure it has to do with money and sponsors.”

Team Summit executive director CB Bechtel said Friday that the club and resort’s creative approaches to hosting this past week’s contests included shifting competitions from weekends to weekdays to avoid mixing with larger ski resort crowds, canceling overnight trips and having boys and girls compete on specific days to mitigate physical contact between athletes and coaches. As of Friday, Bechtel said the sports club had yet to experience an internal outbreak of the virus.

As for nationals, Bechtel said he’s disappointed for Team Summit athletes but thinks the decision is “prudent” and made out of an abundance of caution to avoid mixing many travelers from around the country.

As of Friday, Team Summit’s Alpine ski team had competed in Steamboat Springs and Vail, moguls competed in Steamboat, and most snowboard and freeski teams had competitions at Copper. Team Summit big mountain, skicross and ski mountaineering teams are the only teams yet to compete. Bechtel said Team Summit will compete at Breckenridge for the first time next week and has events slated for Keystone Resort and Arapahoe Basin Ski Area later in the winter.

McKibbin and Valerie Thisted both expressed disappointment that a USASA slopestyle event their kids were scheduled to compete in at Keystone Resort from Jan. 20-21 was canceled. Thisted said she was especially disheartened by that decision because she received the notification email the same day that Vail Resorts announced increased capacity at local resorts.

Vail Resorts spokesperson Sara Lococo wrote in an email Friday that the Jan. 20-21 event was canceled due to “unseasonably warm temperatures in the early season, which impacted Keystone’s large feature park build required for the USASA event.”

Despite the cancellations, Thisted commended Team Summit for its COVID-19 measures and said she believes youth skiing and snowboarding can take place safely, nationals included.

“It’s really sad, and it’s a detriment to our community and economy we’re canceling nationals,” Thisted said.