Blunck, Wise tame powdery Copper pipe
COPPER MOUNTAIN — Even though he had a U.S. Grand Prix halfpipe championship to defend later in the morning, U.S. pro freeskier Aaron Blunck of Crested Butte woke up Friday at Copper Mountain Resort with the same desire as so many in Summit County: to ski powder.
Blunck rose at 5:45 a.m., looked out his window and saw it nuking.
“‘All right, I’ve got to get to the hill ASAP,’” Blunck said he thought to himself.
Blunck tried to get up the hill with a crew of officials at 7:30 a.m. When that idea failed, he waited until first chair at 9 a.m. to be one of the first skiers to rip a couple of laps on the 10 inches of powder off the American Eagle lift.
He then proceeded to drop into the 22-foot-tall Woodward Copper superpipe and win the Land Rover U.S. Grand Prix men’s freeski halfpipe event for the second year in a row. No big deal.
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Battling slow, snowy and low-visibility conditions, the 23-year-old former Ski & Snowboard Club Vail athlete earned an 87.00 to win the Grand Prix.
“I think the last time we had this much snow in the pipe was maybe two or three years ago,” Blunck said. “I think it was about three years ago it snowed about 13 inches — very similar conditions to today. But the snow was a little bit lighter then, so I think most people were able to get two doubles in rather than barely getting one (inversion) around.”
Despite the powder, Blunck began his championship run with a massive switch alley-oop double-cork 900 — skiing backward and rotating to the left with two inversions and three rotations — with a Japan grab. Continuing his five-hit run through the pipe, Blunck landed a switch rightside 1080 with a tail grab before setting up the final two tricks down the pipe with a leftside flat-spin 540 with a safety grab. Those final two tricks were a rightside 900 with a tail grab and a leftside 1080 with a tail grab.
Blunck said the challenge to his run Friday was keeping speed through the pipe despite starting out with two switch tricks. The first trick was especially tricky to navigate, as the switch alley-oop double is blind until you put skis to snow.
“It more or less came down to having a down-the-pipe line,” Blunck said. “That rather than going as big as possible, just trying to maintain speed as you went down.”
Blunck was joined on the podium by multi Olympic and X Games halfpipe gold medalist David Wise of Reno, Nevada. Coming back from a broken femur he suffered just months ago, the veteran Wise said Friday’s conditions forced him and the other competitors to use all the torque they had to get tricks around, namely doubles, despite not being able to soar as high out of the pipe.
At the end of his 85.25-point second run, Wise skied to a stop at the bottom of the corral before saying, “That took everything I had.” He was referring to the sheer strength necessary to get his leftside double cork 1260 with a mute grab around as his first hit at the top of the pipe. Wise followed that up with a rightside 1080 with a tail grab, a switch leftside 720 with a Japan grab, a rightside 900 with a tail grab and a leftside 900 with a Cuban grab.
“If I’m being totally honest,” Wise said, “I was lucky with the weather. Because I haven’t done a lot of my normal tricks yet ’cause I’m still coming back from this pretty big injury.”
“All of us like to do doubles 12 to 15 feet out, not 8 to 10,” Wise added. “So it was definitely a ‘Who can do the smallest doubles and still get the grabs and make ’em look good’ game today. In terms of power and strength, I don’t have as much snap as I normally do. … I think it’s kind of fascinating seeing how everybody’s strategy has to change so much.”
Canadian Noah Bowman took third place with a run Blunck described as the “most stylish” of the day: a rightside 360 with a stalefish grab, a switch leftside 540 with a high safety grab, a switch leftside alley-oop double cork 900 with a safety grab, a switch leftside 720 with a tail grab and a rightside 1080 with a tail grab.
Those three ended up on the podium after dodging a brave take to the pipe by 20-year-old U.S. pro team halfpipe skier Birk Irving of Winter Park. Coming off a win at last winter’s season-ending World Cup halfpipe event at Mammoth and a win earlier this season in Cardrona, New Zealand, Irving was going for the “turkey,” or three World Cup wins in a row. Irving might have earned it if he were able to hold an edge skiing backward through the pipe’s powdery flat bottom after landing his huge double-cork 1440.
U.S. women’s freeskier Brita Sigourney, who took second place in Friday’s women’s competition, put Irving’s fearless attempt at the 1440 in perspective.
“That trick is insane,” Sigourney said. “There is a lot of snow in the flat bottom, and dropping last out of the field, it doesn’t help because that pipe is getting choppy. … It’s accumulating like crazy out there in between every run.”
Irving finished fourth with a score of 84.50, followed by Americans Taylor Seaton of Avon (fifth, 80.35), Alex Ferreira of Aspen (seventh, 70.00) and Jaxin Hoerter of Breckenridge (eighth, 66.25).
Sigourney’s score of 85.00 in the women’s comp came on the strength of a leftside alley-oop with a Japan grab, a leftside 900 with a tail grab, a leftside alley-oop 540, a leftside 540 with a mute grab and a rightside 720. She, like Wise, also podiumed after bouncing back from an injury — in her case a tibula-fibula spiral fracture suffered in May.
On Friday, though, she was bested by Park City native and Great Britain skier Zoe Atkin. In just her fourth World Cup competition, the 16-year-old Atkin won with a leftside 720 with a mute grab, a switch rightside 540 with a safety grab, a switch leftside 540 with a mute grab, a switch rightside 360, a straight air with a double seatbelt grab, a rightside 720 with a safety grab and a switch leftside 360 with an octo grab.
Afterward, Atkin took a page out of fellow champion Blunck’s book and executed the plan she set with her mother over coffee at Copper’s Camp Hale on Wednesday, when they looked ahead at the forecast.
“I want to ski pow,” she said with a laugh. “I’m really excited to get out there after the win.”
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Jeff Shiffrin, with his wife, Eileen, made the Vail area their home decades ago, and together raised Mikaela and Taylor Shiffrin, who was a member of the two-time NCAA Champion University of Denver Ski Team.