Colorado snowboarder Chase Blackwell earns final spot on U.S. halfpipe team for Park City World Championships
Of all things, a relative glitch in a computer system left Chase Blackwell unsure if he’d compete in the biggest event of his 19-year-old life.
During last week’s Winter X Games in Aspen, the Dillon resident joined many of his U.S. teammates at Buttermilk Mountain. Though he was not competing at the X Games, Blackwell chatted with his U.S. Snowboard team coaches about whether or not he would be one of the top four American riders selected for next week’s 2019 World Championships in Park City, Utah.
By their own calculations, they thought Blackwell performed and scored well at events earlier this season to earn the requisite World Snowboarding Tour points to make the cut for Worlds. But the only hiccup was the official points list had yet to update, leaving Blackwell’s fate unofficial. It was due to a delay in the process of the International Ski & Snowboard Federation taking charge of the oversight of the World Snowboard Points List.
In the end, U.S. Ski & Snowboard announced on Tuesday that Blackwell was the fourth and final American snowboarder selected to compete in the Feb. 8 halfpipe final at the Park City Worlds. For Blackwell, it was an achievement he earned on the strength of his top-15 finishes at the U.S. Grand Prix at Copper Mountain Resort in December and at the Laax Open last month.
The event is being hailed as the grandest Park City has hosted since the 2002 Winter Olympics. That expectation isn’t lost on Blackwell, who said he thinks the halfpipe competition could prove to be “anybody’s game” once the riders get fired up on the large crowds expected to attend.
“I definitely want to qualify for finals,” Blackwell said. “That’s a huge goal for me. And to stomp one of the best runs of my life in finals, hopefully.”
Blackwell will be joined by fellow Summit County snowboarders Chris Corning and Red Gerard in Park City. Corning is likely to compete in both slopestyle and big air while Gerard will likely compete in slopestyle after he finished in a strong fourth place at the X Games last week.
Before Blackwell was set to arrive in Park City on Sunday, though, he was dialing in his riding at Copper Mountain. Copper is familiar terrain for Blackwell, a part-time Dillon and a part-time Longmont resident. He not only takes rides the mountain’s Olympic-standard superpipe, but terrain outside of the pipe as well. He feels the ability to ride all-mountain improves his halfpipe snowboarding.
On Wednesday and Thursday, Blackwell took to Copper’s Central Park jumps as a respite from all of the halfpipe riding he’s done on the homefront and in Europe over the past two months. Blackwell is candid in saying he’s felt like this season has flown by, and this week was an opportunity to try “something unique” on the slopestyle jumps. Who knows, maybe he’d find something he could ultimately take to the pipe next week in Park City.
The much more likely scenario is that Blackwell sticks to the tricks he’s been practicing and executing in recent competitions. In Laax, Blackwell landed a run that consisted of a cab flat-spin with a 1,080-degree rotation, a frontside double-cork 1080, a switch-crippler, a pop tart with a Japan grab, a backside 540 and a frontside flat-spin 1080.
That’s the run Blackwell has on lockdown, able to land it almost any time, any event and in any conditions. For his second run in Laax, Blackwell slid out on his frontside double 1080 on the second hit, resulting in just missing the cut for the top 12 for the finals.
As for Park City, Blackwell said he expects to attempt a frontside, flat-spin 1260 during the hit at the end of his halfpipe run where he typically executes that flat-spin 1080. Blackwell hopes it will be enough to book him through to the final where he may try some of the other switch-1260s he’s been working on.
That said, Blackwell doesn’t want his riding to evolve into the “spin to win” style where riders are rewarded specifically for increasing the number of inversions or rotations they execute on a trick in the halfpipe. Rather, Blackwell said he’s trying to find the “happy medium” in his competition riding between executing bigger rotational tricks and more atypical, stylish maneuvers. He points to Danny Davis’ bronze medal success at last week’s X Games superpipe competition as evidence that halfpipe judges are open to rewarding riders for soaring high above the pipe on tricks that don’t require multiple corked-out inversions, 1260- or 1440-degrees of rotation.
Blackwell has also been influenced by the three other American riders that will join him in the halfpipe in Park City: Chase Josey of Idaho, Toby Miller of California and Jake Pates of Eagle. Josey is a veteran rider adept at the kind of switch tricks Blackwell looks to for inspiration. Pates is a fellow High Country local Blackwell admires in terms of championship success. Miller is almost like a brother to Blackwell.
When Miller is competing in Summit, he stays with Blackwell. It’s a friendly rivalry that has helped each rider improve over the five-plus years they’ve known each other and been practicing and competing as two of the U.S.’ rising teen halfpipe stars. Miller, 18, has gotten off to a dynamite start this season, finishing on the podium at the Copper Grand Prix and at Dew Tour at Breckenridge Ski Resort before competing at last week’s X Games.
“I feel like our progression grew so fast because we were right there butting heads,” Blackwell said. “I’ve always said he’s probably my biggest competition.”
Before Blackwell makes it out to Park City with the U.S. halfpipe quartet, though, he may take one more of his typical “dream” laps at Copper. He likes the line so much because it allows for a snowboarder like him to hit powder, hit the halfpipe and hit the park all in one run. When the snow is dumping, Blackwell and his friend and fellow professional snowboarder Ryan Wachendorfer of Vail like to ride powder through Copper’s Upper and Lower Enchanted Forest. They’ll then ride over to the resort’s Central Park terrain before heading back east across the mountain to conclude with the superpipe. When other top riders like Miller, Pates and Josey are in town, Blackwell sometimes shows them the lap during practice for events like Grand Prix.
As for how it reflects Blackwell’s snowboarding approach, he feels it speaks to how he doesn’t want to be pigeon-holed to one event as a rider.
“Halfpipe snowboarding isn’t the only way to be a pro snowboarder — you can ride everything,” Blackwell said. “I want to be a dude that is always down to go ride other stuff.”
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