Birk at work: Winter Park’s Birk Irving claims first place at U.S. Grand Prix in Mammoth, his first-ever world cup podium finish
Winter Park native and freeskiing athlete Birk Irving had a good weekend.
On Saturday, 19-year-old Irving secured a first-place finish at the U.S. Grand Prix at Mammoth Mountain in California in the men’s half-pipe event where he received a score of 95.20.
It was Irving’s first-ever world cup victory and a feather in the cap for the young man, who has been a perennial contender at world cup events but had not previously managed to break into the top three finishers.
He has come frustratingly close multiple times in his career, placing fourth or fifth, such as during his mid-December outing at the Dew Tour in Breckenridge when he was just barely edged out of a third-place finish by the final competitor.
It was earlier this year when Irving professed to Sky-Hi News that his goal for the season was a podium finish at a world cup event.
Now it’s reality.
“It feels really cool, really special,” Irving said during a Tuesday morning interview with Sky-Hi News from Mammoth. “It doesn’t feel real to be honest. I haven’t ever gotten on a podium before, so to go from no podium to first, it is crazy.”
Despite securing first place, Irving’s half-pipe performance over the weekend got off to a rough start.
The Middle Park High School graduate noted that practices prior to the competition “didn’t go great” and that heading into the event he wanted to perform a safer set of tricks on his first run of the competition.
“I was able to do that on the first one and realized I didn’t have much to lose,” Irving told officials from U.S. Ski and Snowboard. “I stepped it up and did a run I thought would get me on the podium and it ended up working out.”
Irving noted that he watched the performances of his friends and fellow competitors, Simon D’Artois and David Wise, with some apprehension, fearing they might unseat him from his first-place spot on their final runs late in the competition. It would be the Dew Tour all over again, he thought.
“It ended up working out in my favor and I couldn’t be more stoked,” Irving said.
But it wasn’t luck that got him to the podium — it was, not only his skills, but a different approach he took to the competition.
Previously, Irving has tried to pull out his most extreme tricks at events in hopes of securing a podium finish. Though his aggressive trick selection has sometimes led to stumbles and missteps that may have kept him out of the top three slots at other events.
This weekend, Irving decided to dial things back just a bit and performed tricks that he felt were more solidly part of his repertoire, still impressive yet less aggressive than he has attempted at other competitions.
“I did a more mellow run,” Irving said. “But I did it way better and way smoother.”
His first-place finish represents a big mental hurdle that he has now passed and, in future competitions, Irving said he feels he will be more able to base his trick and run selection on current conditions.
Irving remains in California this week as he prepares for his final competition of the season, a Revolution Tour event at Mammoth. His performance last weekend came a few short weeks after Irving wrapped up a filming session with Teton Gravity Research, taking his skis to the bike jumps at Winter Park Resort.
Following his final competition this week, Irving said his plans are to return to Winter Park and spend his time skiing for fun and taking things easy. This summer he plans to head south to either New Zealand or Australia for some training.
“Otherwise, I’m just going to hang out at home and float the river,” he said.
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Lately, when Winter Park resident Gene Palumbo and his wife head to Winter Park Resort, they park in one of the lots and walk to the base.