Vail-area athletes make finals at Mammoth World Cup in California
Eagle County well represented in halfpipe, slopestyle events
Ski & Snowboard Club Vail athlete David Retzlaff and Vail Mountain School graduate Rakai Tait both made finals for the first time at World Cup-level competition over the weekend. They were among a large group of athletes with Vail ties who made it through the preliminary rounds.
The athletes were competing in the 2020 Land Rover U.S. Grand Prix at Mammoth Mountain; Tait is a halfpipe snowboarder while Retzlaff’s discipline is slopestyle. Avon local Taylor Seaton also made finals in the ski halfpipe competition, and Ryan Wachendorfer, of Edwards, made finals in the snowboard halfpipe competition. Ski halfpipe winner Aaron Blunck, of Crested Butte, is also a Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy graduate.
Head freeski judge Steele Spence described Blunck’s runs as three of the best ski halfpipe runs of all time.
“They were the hardest runs and he executed them perfectly,” Spence said.
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Blunck said he was feeling good after his first run.
“I just thought to myself, why not give it everything I got,” he said. “I am feeling really good right now.”
Led by Blunck, there are currently seven U.S. Freeski Team athletes in the top-10 of the FIS Freeski Halfpipe Cup Standings, including Seaton.
Seaton said competition has been heavy at recent events.
“There’s been lots of discussion about where our sport is going, which is really good to see,” Seaton said. “There’s room for lots of different styles.”
Retzlaff, 20, said slopestyle snowboarding in the U.S. is also quite competitive at the moment.
“It’s so difficult right now,” he said. “The U.S. has so much depth.”
With the American team chock full of high-level slopestyle riders, Retzlaff has found himself on the outside looking in this season, hoping for a shot on the team next year. In the meantime, he has found a good support system through his family and Ski & Snowboard Club Vail, where he works directly with Snowboard Program Director Chris Laske.
Checking goals off the list
Making finals at a Grand Prix event checks off yet another important goal on Retzlaff’s list. During the 2018-19 season, he earned his first North America Cup podium (the North America Cup is a level below the World Cup). Last season, he made it to the Burton U.S. Open in Vail and received his first-ever World Cup invite, and this season, he earned his first North America Cup win on Jan. 16 before making finals in Mammoth.
“I’m moving forward, finishing better and better at each event, and that really motivates me to keep pushing,” Retzlaff said.
Retzlaff and Laske also have a plan to keep pushing even if there still isn’t room for him on the U.S. Team next year.
“If I can win the (North America Cup), I’ll have invites to all the World Cups next season,” Retzlaff said. “So that’s our goal for the rest of this year.”
Seaton, 29, also competed without being a member of the U.S. Team for many years. He was finally named at age 26.
“It’s not easy, but it can be done,” Seaton said. “But you always have to be setting goals, looking ahead and grinding.”
—This story contains material from a U.S. Ski & Snowboard press release
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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.