Scotty Lago, second place finalist. Photo Courtesy: Rob Mathis
Park City Mountain Resort was aglow this past weekend, from Jan. 31-Feb. 2, as it hosted the prestigious U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association’s Grand Prix halfpipe finals and the Paul Mitchell Progression Big Air Session. Aimed to qualify the best of the best for the U.S. Olympic Team, the Grand Prix focuses on both slopestyle and halfpipe disciplines for ski and snowboard. To make the event a little more interesting, U.S. athletes also simultaneously competed against riders from around the world for the World Cup Title. The 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia, will be the end game for a lot of the Grand Prix athletes. Other competitions will span in-between, like the X Games and Dew Tour, that help to give riders more practice, but for the most part, the Grand Prix is a foreshadowing to what may come in Russia. Besides the sincere anticipation of the event, spectators and riders alike were stoked on the fact that after such miserable smog and weather conditions in the Salt Lake Valley, Park City had blue skies and fresh air.
Some of the biggest names in the industry were there, including Shaun White, Kelly Clark, Simon Dumont, David Wise and Scotty Lago. Obviously, not every athlete performed as their fans had hoped. Female Olympic veteran and superpipe queen, Kelly Clark, took a less than high score that put her in the sixth and last place standing. “Kelly’s always great to watch and I really wish she would have landed a run. It’s a bummer, but we all have our off moments,” said teammate Ellery Hollingsworth, who placed fifth overall. Clark definitely still killed it on the pipe, regardless of crashing two separate times while possibly attempting her famous 1080.
Ultimate victory for the Men’s Snowboard halfpipe went to the legendary Shaun White who had a shaky first run, but threw down in the second to give him the top podium standing. “Standing on the podium next to Shaun is pretty cool. We’re just getting so much closer … maybe one day we’ll beat him,” said third place winner Luke Mitrani. Though Shaun and Luke got a lot of attention for their wins, you can’t forget the second place middle child---the dedicated Scotty Lago. Sandwiched between the veteran and young gun, Lago always exudes a calm and secure vibe. One of his most solid tricks was his frontside 900. “The halfpipe is something I’ve never concentrated on before for the Olympics. I hope to progress my tricks in a more fun way,” said Lago.
First place title for the females went to Chinese rider, Jiayu Liu, whose spins were high and landings were clean, but second place was Colorado’s own Arielle Gold. “Everyone rode really well today and put down some good runs. I’m really happy with how things went,” said Gold. The eager rookie athlete took some aggressive backside airs that gave her a competitive edge. Third place female winner was Kaitlyn Farrington from Idaho. Gold and Mitrani were both honored with the contest’s National Champion Award.
The freeski Men’s superpipe winner David Wise led fellow teammate Torin Yater-Wallace to second by less than one point. With Wallace and Wise finishing so close in the standings, as a spectator, it was hard to tell who looked better grabbing their frontside 900 switch landings. Third place podium stander was awarded to Kevin Rolland of France. Long-time champion men’s skier Simon Dumont had a less favorable place, but was still in the top 10 overall. “What I put down was alright. I didn’t have much training here, and this pipe was a bit different than what I am used to,” said Dumont. Recently claiming Salt Lake City as her local town, Maddie Bowman took first followed by second place Japanese rider, Ayana Onozuka, and third place was titled by Swiss skier Virginie Faivre. “I’m pretty excited about my win,” says Bowman. “It’s nice to do well here in Utah since I recently just moved to Salt Lake. I’m also really excited about Russia---I’ve never been there before.” Bowman carved her win with back to back front and backside twists with no hesitation.
It was touching to see the entire female U.S. Ski Team donne “Sarah” on their helmets. Every rider wore the late skier’s name in different fonts and places, but each lady honored the Canadian hero, who passed away after an accident on PCMR’s superpipe in late January of last year. “We all have Sarah on our helmets because we still carry her with us,” said skier Angeli Vissel.
The Paul Mitchell Progression Big Air Session was also a momentous occasion two days prior to the finals. Conditions were not prime, as the windy and overcast air made for icy slopes and sketchy landings. Regardless of the feats, the athletes gave the crowd good reason to stick out the adverse weather and cheer on their favorites. This event does not nearly get the attention of slopestyle, but the riders who choose to compete must have the confidence, panache and style it takes to soar 20-plus feet of big air. Placing first for the men was USSA rider Kyle Mack, followed by second place Ryan Stassel, and third place went to Mark Hoyt. The one and only female winner was Stephanie Sue Feld.
Most of the athletes are now in Russia training for what winter will be like for them in 2014 during the Olympics. With the X Games soon at hand, though, you can get a peek at some of the tricks the competitors will use in Sochi to keep the U.S. on top.