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Gravity Games kick off today

Devon O'Neil

COPPER MOUNTAIN ” Perhaps from a satellite, Copper Mountain would look the same as it always has this week.

Up close, however, the resort has been transformed into the host of the biggest winter event to hit Summit County in years. From the monstrous cross course jumps at the Center Village base area to thousands of blue posters and banners throughout the resort, one thing is obvious ” this isn’t just another winter event.

After a full day of practice sessions on Wednesday, the Outdoor Life Network’s (OLN) Winter Gravity Games kick off for real today with four of the 11 medal competitions ” men’s and women’s boardercross, women’s ski superpipe and women’s snowboard slopestyle.



“We’ve been planning for a long, long time, and now we’re ready to execute,” event director Kevin O’Grady said.

The opening day marks the return of what once seemed like it would go down as the winter sports world’s version of Chumbawamba, a one-hit wonder. Before this week’s event, the Winter Gravity Games had been held just once, in January 2000 at Mammoth Mountain, Calif.



Then OLN bought the Gravity Games franchise ” which includes the warm-weather games that have taken place each summer since 1999 ” from NBC in January 2004. The network decided to revive the winter games soon after announcing the purchase, and along with its promotion engine ” marketing giant Octagon ” sent out requests for proposals to 10 ski resorts across the U.S.

Copper shot to the top immediately, according to O’Grady, and made the cut down to five, then three resorts. Eventually, OLN selected Copper over runner-up Park City, Utah, and announced the one-year deal in October. (Intrawest Colorado vice president Dave Barry said last week that the resort and OLN are waiting until after the games to decide whether they want to negotiate a multi-year contract.)

With a marquee event on their hands, O’Grady said he and the rest of the organizers were looking for open arms to steer their decision.



“Copper was just really willing to get behind it. Frisco was willing to get behind it,” he said. “We wanted somewhere that would feel like home, and we got it.”

Although a complete list of competitors has been tough to come by due to last-minute confirmations, it appears the field for this week’s games will be second only to the ESPN-produced Winter X Games ” the only other comprehensive winter action sports competition in existence.

Tanner Hall and Shaun White won’t be competing, but otherwise the field looks stacked in every event. From breakout stars Charles Gagnier (skiing) and Antti Autti (snowboarding) ” each of whom won X Games gold medals last month in Aspen ” the best of the best have come to play.

There’s a reason. Or rather, a number.

The Winter Gravity Games are giving away a prize purse of $374,500 across the 11 medal events. Six of the gold medalists will get $20,000 (snowboarding: men’s and women’s pipe and slopestyle; and skiing: men’s pipe and slopestyle). The other five gold medalists will go home with $10,000 (men’s and women’s boardercross and skiercross, and women’s ski pipe).

“Anytime there’s at least a $10,000 purse, I’m psyched to go try and claim it,” said Aspen’s Casey Puckett, a four-time Olympian as an alpine racer and last year’s X Games skiercross gold medalist. “If they didn’t have big prize money, they wouldn’t have me here.”

Led by Puckett, the men’s skiercross features perhaps the most accomplished group of competitors. A majority of the racers boast U.S. Ski Team backgrounds, including X Games gold medalists Zach and Reggie Crist of Sun Valley, Idaho, and recently retired World Cup speed skier Jake Fiala of Frisco.

“It was definitely one of the big races on the schedule this year,” said Boulder’s Tyler Shephard, another skiercross competitor with national team experience. “Everyone knew it.”

In contrast to the primetime, live TV broadcast holes ESPN gives the X Games, OLN is taking a different approach to the Winter Gravity Games. The network won’t air its coverage for three weeks, and when the Gravity Games are broadcast on March 27-30, it will be in more of a feature film format than viewers are used to seeing for sporting events.

OLN is calling its unique approach the advent of an “action-mentary.” Cameramen will shoot the action from nontraditional angles, attempting to capture images as they would for the big screen.

Today’s first event, the men’s boardercross, begins at 10 a.m. The women’s ski superpipe final also kicks off this morning, at 10:30 a.m.

All competitions are staged as finals. Because the Gravity Games are by invitation only, there are no qualifying rounds. Fields range from 10 to 25 athletes per event.

For more stories on the Gravity Games, visit http://www.vaildaily.com

Devon O’Neil can be contacted at (970) 668-3998, ext. 231, or at doneil@summitdaily.com.

Vail, Colorado


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