Vail-area halfpipe field isn’t as big as it once was, but there’s still a lot to watch
Taylor Seaton and Jack Coyne are injured, but Ryan Wachendorfer is more ready than he ever has been
VAIL — Vail-area athletes are a common sight at any top-level halfpipe competition, but when World Cup action begins this week at Copper Mountain, several of Eagle County’s frequent flyers will be missing.
U.S. ski team athletes Taylor Seaton and Jack Coyne are on opposite sides of the halfpipe spectrum — Seaton is in his 30s and skis the pipe, while Coyne is a snowboarding teenager. But the two Eagle County locals share a similar story this season as both were injured around the same time at a camp in Austria in November.
They both flew back to Vail and had surgery on the same day and from the same surgeon, Dr. Tom Hackett of The Steadman Clinic.
While the injuries will leave both competitors sidelined for the Copper Mountain event this week, Coyne will have a much faster recovery and is expected to compete yet this season.
“I’m looking at about a month of recovery until I’m on snow,” Coyne said. “It looks like I’ll be able to compete in Mammoth (Jan. 6-9) and Laax (Jan. 11-15).”
Coyne said he was working on a new trick and didn’t pop hard enough off the halfpipe wall, hitting the top deck of the venue with his hindquarters and falling forward 22 feet to the bottom.
“I basically just dove into the pipe straight to my shoulder,” he said.
Seaton said he was trying a common trick and had the opposite problem, popping too hard off the wall and absorbing all of the impact on his right knee.
“I had to have an ACL, MCL and meniscus reconstruction,” he said.
Seaton’s timetable for recovery will put him out for the remainder of this season, but he’s hoping to ski and ski hard again next season. Seaton said in recent years he has branched out his skiing into both competition and filming; in recent weeks he celebrated the release of his new film, “Must Be Nice,” an independent production which is currently available for viewing on Teton Gravity Research’s YouTube page.
“The film has a storyline about John Spriggs suffering a knee injury, but I was the one showing up to the premieres on crutches,” Seaton said with a laugh.
The film also has a storyline about halfpipe competition, in which Seaton presciently foreshadowed the struggles Coyne and he would have with halfpipe’s “very small margins for error,” in which not enough pop leads to the top deck, while too much means missing the wall and hitting the bottom.
Seaton and Coyne said leading up to their injuries, they were having some of the best training runs of their lives. Both said the halfpipe in Saas-Fee, Switzerland, where they had just wrapped up a training block before heading to Austria, was a dream-like training venue.
“The level of skiing and snowboarding we were seeing up there was insane,” Seaton said. “I’m stoked to watch Ryan Wachendorfer this year.”
Watch for Wachendorfer
Wachendorfer, of Edwards, said he also had an amazing training session in Saas-Fee, and as a result he’s more excited for this season than any of his life.
Wachendorfer will be the Vaiil local to watch at Copper Mountain this week.
“As far as my situation, qualifying for the U.S. team and going to Bejing, I don’t know if the door for men’s halfpipe has ever been more open, honestly, which is really exciting,” Wachendorfer said.
A wave of American halfpipe snowboarders have recently retired or semi-retired from competition since the last Olympic qualifiers, including Matt Ladley, Greg Bretz, Gabe Ferguson, Ben Ferguson, Jake Pates, Louie Vito and Danny Davis.
“Before the last Olympics, I was a little younger, trying to chase all those guys who have moved on,” Wachendorfer said.
Now older and, with that, wiser as well, Wachendorfer, 25, decided to go back to the drawing board with his training this year and look at some film. He noticed he might stand to improve in the area from which the sport derives much of its meaning; he decided to focus on his style.
On one of his standard tricks, a frontside 1260, “it’s always been that trick that I can do pretty consistently, but it wasn’t always the best looking 12,” Wachendorfer said. “It’s a big trick, it’s a big rotation trick, but I think I lost out on some points because of the way it looked. So this summer in Mt. Hood I reworked the whole 12 and relearned it in a completely different way.”
Wachendorfer will compete in Thursday’s Grand Prix qualifiers at noon at Copper Mountain, where he hopes to qualify on to Saturday’s final, which will be streamed live at 2 p.m. on NBCSN and Peacock.
“I think it’s going to take at least one 12 to make finals,” Wachendorfer said. “And I think you’re going to see 12s and 14s consistently.”