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U.S. taking full advantage of success

Jason Starr

All the stress, glory and obligation that came with their sweep of the halfpipe contest at Salt Lake City has turned into a sort of snowboarding carte blanche. And the trio – Ross Powers, Danny Kass and J.J. Thomas – is taking full advantage.

For them, the medals mean not having to do every U.S Grand Prix event, not having to travel to each stop on the Vans Triple Crown of Snowboarding, not having to ride the pipe every day.

They are proven, and now they are proving that snowboarding is about having fun.

“I’ve just been riding with my friends and working on more jumps and stuff like that,” said Thomas Friday between runs at the X Games halfpipe competition. “I’m not doing too many contests.”

Last year, Thomas was at every Grand Prix event, using the series to prove he belonged on the Olympic team. This season, he’s reserving the right to back out of competitions, even the day of the event, something he did at the Grand Prix stop in Breckenridge. He didn’t like the way the pipe was riding, he said.

“I was fully planning on it, but the pipe just wasn’t that fun.”

Powers was nowhere to be seen at either this year’s Breck Vans stop or at the Grand Prix. Kass did the Grand Prix but not the Vans.

“It’s definitely a lot mellower than last year,” Powers said. “Last year we had all the Grand Prix’s. We were doing a few contests a week trying to make the Olympics. Now it’s just hanging out.”

But if there’s one contest they all planned on, it was the X Games. Between the raucous crowd, the elite competition, the prestige and the exposure, even proven riders on a semi-hiatus from competition don’t want to miss it.

“I think that’s how we’re all kind of feeling,” Thomas said.

But the X Games mean a return to the spotlight and a re-connection with the fans, who were out in force during Friday’s halfpipe event.

Between runs, Powers spent time with about two dozen screaming (literally) teen-agers who were lining the pipe. After taking sixth Friday, Thomas sat at the booth of one of his sponsors and signed posters and clothing for an expanding line of fans.

They understand, it’s part of the territory, even if it’s not something they planned on. After all, snowboarding didn’t always have this high of a profile, especially not when the 23-year-old Powers was growing up in Vermont.

“It’s pretty crazy,” he said. “When I started snowboarding, it wasn’t that big of a sport, and now it’s an Olympic sport, it’s all over TV, the X Games, everything. So, definitely, it’s huge.”

Huge is Powers, Kass and Thomas – the biggest names in a rock star sport, inextricably linked by what happened 12 months ago in a halfpipe in Utah.

“We were all friends before,” Powers said. “And after (the Olympic sweep) we did so many things together. A big sweep doesn’t always happen, so they’ll definitely always tie us together.”

Jason Starr is the sports editor for the Summit Daily News.


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