Grand surprise? Copper comp should provide excitement
summit daily news
Summit County, Colorado
Steve Fisher doesn’t have to strain to remember the first time he felt he had a chance to make a living carving up a halfpipe: As a virtually unknown teenager from Minnesota, Fisher competed in his first-ever U.S. Snowboarding Grand Prix in the late 1990s.
“It was the contest riders of the whole 90s, and here I made finals with them at like 17 years old or 16 years old,” he said. “At that point, I was like, ‘Holy s@#t, maybe this is going to work out.'”
And it did, to the tune of two X Games gold medals in the pipe and a slew of other impressive titles for the Breckenridge snowboard veteran.
But it was the Grand Prix that first helped Fisher launch his career as a pro, which actually seems to be a pretty big trend in the event.
“It’s an event that a lot of amateur riders, guys who go through the USASA for a few years, get to compete in,” Fisher said. “It’s high-level event but also an open class, where they can have the ability to make the finals. It just allows for that type of thing.”
As competitors get ready to kick off the 2009-10 Grand Prix season at Copper Mountain today, most of the talk has centered around Olympic gold medalist Shaun White and his new trick – the Double McTwist 1260 – and all its imitators.
By the time the finals wrap up on Saturday, though, don’t be surprised if it’s a lesser-known rider that everyone is talking about.
Last year, it was Steamboat Springs rider Madeline Schafferick that stole the show at Copper. As a 14-year-old competing in her first major competition, Schafferick not only made the finals but finished in fourth place.
“It was huge, it was the first big contest I was ever in,” Schafferick said Wednesday. ” … It definitely helped my confidence out.”
And in case you were wondering, Schafferick’s astounding finish wasn’t a fluke. She went on to finish ninth and third in the final two Grand Prix stops of the season last year.
On the men’s side of the competition, Fisher said a lot of the young riders have been looking “really good” in training. It wouldn’t be a surprise to Fisher to see a few of the U.S. Snowboarding Team’s teenagers make a splash this week. His picks: Copper’s Dylan Bidez, Zack Black of Breckenridge, Steamboat’s Matt Ladley and Vail’s Broc Waring.
“I think those guys will be the new wave as far as giving Shaun a run for his money,” Fisher said of his U.S. teammates. “Maybe not this year, but in the next few years, they’ll be a dominant force on this circuit.”
Regardless of the young names that step up this week, those who come out to Copper will be treated to some serious action.
The Grand Prix series, which also has stops at Mammoth Mountain in California and in Park City, Utah, is the official qualifying series for the U.S. Olympic team.
Only four American men and four American women will end up making the squad, and with so many of the top riders hailing from the U.S., the competition will be fierce.
“It’s definitely very serious,” said Elena Hight, who is one of the top American female riders. ” … There are so many good riders, and people are riding so well. It will be intense.”
The action starts today with women’s qualifying heats. Then the men qualify on Friday with both finals coming Saturday.
Fisher said his first major win was at the Grand Prix in 2003.
Schafferick hopes that she can do the same.
“A lot of it is whether you can pull out a run at the right moment,” she said of topping a podium. “You don’t have to be consistent, just do it when it counts.”
Bryce Evans can be reached at (970) 668-4634 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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