White on in whiteout
BRECKENRIDGE – Not even a whiteout is strong enough to stop Shaun White these days.Living up to his status as favorite Tuesday morning, the 19-year-old Californian used a shockingly clean run despite blinding conditions to finish atop the list of 24 men’s qualifiers who advanced to today’s Chevy Trucks U.S. Snowboard Grand Prix halfpipe final at Breckenridge’s famed Freeway pipe. White soared high through the flakes and landed every trick cleanly to post a first-run score of 41.9 points, half a point better than defending Olympic gold medalist Ross Powers.The most telling part of White’s performance – and his current level of riding – came after his run.Tomorrow I have a whole new run planned and it’s way better than this,” he said.Seventeen-year-old upstart Danny Davis, who took the pipe circuit by surprise last year while finishing second at the Winter Gravity Games, put together a late-day beauty to claim third on Tuesday. He fell on his first trip down the pipe, but didn’t let the do-or-die pressure influence his second attempt, when he landed back-to-back 720s sandwiched between a pair of 900s. He scored an even 40 points.Local favorite Chad Otterstrom tied reigning Olympic silver medalist Danny Kass for fourth (39.5), which was something of a surprise considering the veteran Otterstrom is not known as a pipe specialist. Still, despite using his “safety” run, the Breckenridge resident said he did “exactly what I wanted to do.” It was enough to win the third heat of the day.”I knew if I landed it I’d at least qualify top five [in my heat],” he said of his run.The top five riders in each of the day’s four heats earned automatic berths into today’s final, which starts at noon. The final four qualifiers were determined by the highest remaining scores among riders who finished lower than fifth in their respective heats.
Another Breck rider, Steve Fisher, was one of those. He qualified with the 19th highest overall score, a second-run 32.8. As a whole, the weather forced many riders in the field to abandon the runs they’d planned going into the day, because the soft snow rendered what is normally one of the fastest [and iciest] pipes in the world little more than average on this day.Spinning as usual became nearly impossible with the change in conditions; whereas 1080s decide most pipe competitions, the trick was virtually absent Tuesday.
As sixth-place qualifier Andy Finch pointed out, this gave veterans like him an advantage.”A lot of the kids are still trying to throw their tricks, but they’re just not getting the amplitude,” he said. “You’ve got to be smart about it. It’s all about knowing when to play your cards and how to play ’em.”
White concurred – but he still managed to complete a string of spins, and land them without a bobble in sight.”When you can’t get any speed to go up the wall, it’s the hardest thing ever,” he said. “You can’t get out of the pipe, you can’t spin your trick. And right now, it’s almost like a whiteout. So you’re spinning but you can’t see where you are. You’ve got to guess half the time.”
The day began with 117 riders gunning for the 24 spots in today’s final. Eighteen of the 24 who made the cut are Americans, with Switzerland’s Frederik Kalbermatten, in eighth, the top foreign qualifier. Three other Swiss riders will join him in today’s men’s field, including 1998 Olympic gold medalist Gian Simmen, who qualified 21st.Tuesday’s qualifying heats kicked off a full week of Grand Prix action at the Freeway pipe. The women will endure their own cutdown round this morning, then they’ll join the men for the back-to-back finals at noon. The process begins anew on Friday with men’s qualifying, followed by another set of finals Saturday afternoon.With Olympic berths on the line, the qualifying rounds can’t be overlooked.”You have to make the cut to make it till tomorrow,” said California’s Tommy Czeschin, the reigning Breck Grand Prix champ who qualified 11th Tuesday. “And you have to make it till tomorrow to make the Olympic team.”
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Skico CEO Mike Kaplan emphasized in a virtual address that this upcoming skiing season will be as spread out as possible with limited personal interaction in order to avoid potential COVID-19 infections and keep the mountains open.