U.S. Halfpipe Grand Prix kicks off at Copper | SkyHiNews.com

U.S. Halfpipe Grand Prix kicks off at Copper

Summit Daily/Mark FoxMike Riddle of Canada skied to the top qualifying score of the day, advancing to Friday's men's freeski finals in the U.S. Grand Prix of Halfpipe at Copper Mountain Wednesday.

COPPER MOUNTAIN – Qualifying rounds are all about survival.

And Wednesday at the U.S. Halfpipe Grand Prix, that couldn’t have been more true for Simon Dumont.

One of the premier skiers in the sport, Dumont entered the qualifying round at Copper Mountain nursing an injury to his left leg. It had interrupted his practice schedule, and he had yet to make it top to bottom on a single run through the halfpipe all season.

“I just didn’t know if I’d ski today,” he said.

Well, he did, starting with a double flip on his first hit and finishing with the third-best run of the

68-skier field. His score of 46.0 helped him to easily advance to Friday’s final and to get a little more rest by skipping his second run.

“I’m happy that I landed where I did, but it was a pretty mellow run, and I have a lot more,” he said.

Dumont was one of 12 qualifiers to advance to the finals on a historic, blue-bird day at Copper’s Main Vein Superpipe.

The two men’s heats – and the women’s semifinals held later in the afternoon – marked the first-ever freeski pipe competition in the Grand Prix series. The event has always been focused on snowboarding, and with the push for freeskiing to join the mainstream of winter sports – and push for an Olympic bid – it joined the ranks of one of the oldest action sports series in the world.

And the skiers were more than happy to be there.

“I’m so happy it’s in,” Canadian Mike Riddle said. “This is always such a huge snowboarding event, especially last year with the Olympic qualifier. To have more events with ski and snowboard together … it’s great to see. We want to be one big, happy family.”

Riddle was the day’s top qualifier, stomping out two impressive runs in the pipe. His second trip down, which included a double flip 1200 on his first hit, put him at 47.4, just 0.3 ahead of fellow countryman and buddy Justin Dorey.

“Loved it. It’s probably the best run I’ve had so far this year,” Riddle said.

Dorey wound up second overall, just ahead of Dumont.

Tucker Perkins, the top finisher in the day’s second heat, was fourth overall, and Antti-Jussi Kemppainen of Finland rounded out the top five.

In all, the top-four skiers from each heat automatically moved on. Then, the remaining four highest scores from both heats locked up the final spots.

While most of the day’s riders were sweating out the scores and rankings, waiting to see if they’d reach the finals cutoff, Aspen’s Peter Olenick was simply happy to be there. Just six months removed from major knee surgery, the skier wasn’t quite ready, health-wise, for the Grand Prix. But, eager to get on the hill, he took two light-hearted runs that were applauded by the announcers, if not the judges.

“I was already registered, but my knee’s not ready yet. So, I wanted to come out anyway,” he said. “It’s awesome. It feels so great to be back on my skis.”

The finalists all get back on their skis Friday, when they duke it out for the first-ever Grand Prix freeski title. The first runs are slated for noon with a practice session taking place prior.

Unless you count Dumont – who’s owned a house in Summit County for years – Wednesday was not a great day for the local skiers.

Breckenridge team skier Colby West finished 21st, and Matt Phillippi had a slight slip out on Run 1 and appeared injured when opting not to take another trip down the pipe. Also, Summit native Duncan Adams never took a run despite being on the start list for the second heat.

Vail’s Patrick Baskins was the lone area skier to advance to the finals. Baskins, the winner of last season’s Gatorade Free Flow Tour, was 11th after putting up a 41.6 on his first run of the second heat.

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