American Wise perfects new trick to win freeski World Cup at Copper, one step closer to Pyeongchang | VailDaily.com

American Wise perfects new trick to win freeski World Cup at Copper, one step closer to Pyeongchang

Antonio Olivero
aolivero@summitdaily.com

Although Friday, Dec. 8's World Cup ski halfpipe champion David Wise was the only American to finish in the top four at the U.S. Grand Prix World Cup at Copper Mountain Resort, the 27-year-old and reigning Olympic halfpipe gold medalist believes his competition is the best he's ever seen. And that includes his fellow Americans who are also vying for a spot on Team USA as qualification progresses.

So right when he stepped up on the first-place podium at the base of the Woodward superpipe at Copper Mountain on Friday, he turned to his right to say two simple words to third place finisher Simon D'Artois, of Canada: "Great skiing."

"For me it's a huge honor to be a part of pipe skiing right now," Wise said after he won the Grand Prix event with a top score of 92.80 on his first run. "The level is so high. There are so many guys who can win contests from so many different places in the world. And as a competitor, as a professional skier, that's what you want.

"You want guys from all over the world competing well and seeing both (second place finisher) Noah (Bowman, of Canada) and Simon land runs that are brand new to them — new tricks — is amazing. It pushes me to another height. The last thing I want to do is come out here and have these victories be easy. I want to struggle for it. That's what makes it fun."

Team depth

After his title-winning performance, Wise reeled off a who's-who of his American teammates who are also vying for a spot on the Olympic team. Everyone from his next closest American finisher on Friday, Torin Yater-Wallace of Aspen (fifth place, 87.40), to high-profile teammates who failed to qualify for Friday's final, such as Gus Kenworthy (17th place).

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"I think maybe how the Americans are skiing didn't show on paper today other than myself, but the way that the team is riding is really at a high level," Wise said. "The Copper pipe is one of the most challenging pipes we ride because while the shape is good and the Copper crew have done a great job, this is a flatter pitch than we are used to riding, and it's hard to carry your speed. Whereas Torin Yater-Wallace, that's his strong suit. He let's his skis run. He goes bigger than everybody else."

"Other than myself, we had a challenging week," Wise added, "but we are looking strong moving forward."

At the end of the week, it was Wise who took the biggest leap toward Olympic qualification. And he did so at a place in Copper where he had a much different outcome at this exact same event at the exact same location four years ago leading up to Sochi.

The cure this time around was perfecting a new trick, one where he looks over his shoulder, takes off backwards, and spins "the hard way," before completing two flips and three spins. He nailed it as the first hit on all three of his runs Friday.

The road to South Korea

Wise is not yet officially qualified for the 2018 U.S. Olympic team as he had previously failed to podium at an Olympic qualifier in the lead up to Pyeongchang. Halfpipe skiers already had one Olympic qualifier last season and Yater Wallace, Kenworthy and Taylor Seaton, of Avon, entered this week with a podium spot previously.

Three spots on the Olympic team will be given to the athletes who meet the objective criteria, which is two podium finishes at qualifying events, such as the Grand Prix at Copper. Other qualifying events are scheduled for the Wednesday though Sunday, Dec. 14-17, Dew Tour in Breckenridge, Jan. 10-12, in Snowmass and Jan. 17-19, in Mammoth, California. A fourth Olympic team spot will likely — but not definitely — be given to a competitor of the coaches' choosing: it's totally subjective.

For the objective spots, if more than three athletes have two podium finishes, then the team will defer to the World Cup scoring system, which will give the American athlete with the best result 1000 points, the American with the second best result 800 points, the third best 600 points and so on. Those with the most points make the team.

Bowman scored a 91.00 on his second run to finish in second place while his fellow Canadian Artois strung together an 89.20 on his first run to clinch third. Another Canadian, Mike Riddle, scored an 88.20 on his final run to knock Yater-Wallace back to fifth after the 22-year-old from Aspen was awarded an 87.40 on his second run.

Americans Birk Irving (81.80) and Aaron Blunck (80.80) finished in seventh and eighth respectively.

"Dave's a machine," American skier Devin Logan said after she took second place in the ladies competition. "He's been training nonstop and he's a heavy competitor, so it was awesome that he could be on the podium in the top spot and it's a little pressure off our shoulders just for the Americans. So stoked to have another American up there."