Winter Park’s Birk Irving looks to qualify for Grand Prix superpipe finals |

Winter Park’s Birk Irving looks to qualify for Grand Prix superpipe finals

Skier Birk Irving of Winter Park poses for a photo Tuesday at Copper Mountain Resort.
Liz Copan /

COPPER MOUNTAIN RESORT — While training with the U.S. halfpipe team in Austria, Winter Park resident Birk Irving bought a $20 shovel in a random corner store. The impromptu find brought the team their most fun skiing day during autumn training in Europe.

“Austria had amazing terrain: pillow lines, little jumps everywhere,” said U.S. rookie halfpipe team skier and Breckenridge born-and-raised local Jaxin Hoerter. “… So we went out one day and had some big booters going and luckily got a powder day we could send it on. I love pipe, but it’s always fun to take that day and just go skiing because that’s what it comes down to — just skiing.”

“Austria was definitely the highlight as far as ski camps I’ve gone on,” said Irving, a U.S. pro team skier. “Austria was the highlight for sure. It was just the most fun I’ve had skiing, just messing around with all of my buddies and building stuff and slamming.”

Irving, Hoerter and rookie team skiers Dylan and Connor Ladd, of Silverthorne, will turn their attention from the fun of preseason training and pow days in Austria to the pressure of competition today at Copper Mountain Resort. At noon, the best halfpipe skiers in the world will drop into Copper Mountain’s 22-foot tall superpipe for the qualifying round of the Land Rover U.S. Grand Prix.

The Grand Prix is the second International Ski Federation World Cup halfpipe event of the 2019-20 season after Irving won the season-opening competition Sept. 7 in Cardona, New Zealand. Irving did so by earning two 95-plus point runs on the 165-meter halfpipe. Irving punctuated that win with a third and final run score of 95.60 on the strength of landing a seldom seen double-cork 720 and a double-cork 1440 — a difficult trick that requires two inversions and four, full 360-degree rotations.

“It’s just, not many people do it,” Hoerter said about Irving’s trick. “… It’s one of those tricks that people can do the 12(60), but the 14(40) is just that scary factor that no one really sees that often, and I think that’s what the judges love about it.”

If Irving is able to land his unique double cork 720 and the double cork 1440 and win Friday’s final round after today’s qualifier, he will have won three consecutive World Cup halfpipe competitions dating back to a victory at the U.S. Grand Prix at Mammoth Mountain in the spring.

Mammoth and Cardrona also were great events for Hoerter. Considering he and Irving have been close friends for nine years growing up in the freeski competition scene here in Colorado, it was special that Hoerter earned his first top five World Cup place at Mammoth when Irving won the competition. Hoerter followed that up with a strong seventh-place finish in Cardrona.

Heading into today’s qualifier, the 19-year-old Hoerter said another top five finish is his goal this week. To do that, he thinks his inventive alley-oop double cork 720 will help set him apart. With French star Simon D’Artois not competing in Copper this week, the Breckenridge native Hoerter might be the only competitor attempting the trick this week. Hoerter likely will save it for his final trick on his six-hit run through the pipe, one hit after attempting his double cork 900. Hoerter did say a six-hit run through the pipe, rather than a five-hit run, might make it more difficult for him to stomp his tricks all the way through, but he’s going for his biggest and best run anyway.

But before Hoerter dialed in for the seriousness of competition, he found the best wind-drift pile of snow during Monday’s power day, dropping into the pipe for a face shot before each training trip down the run.

“I am feeling pretty good,” the always-smiling Hoerter said Tuesday. “I ended last season on a high note, so it’s good to come in this season and try to do the same. Get up there, just try to land my run as best as I can and see where she goes.”

The close friends Hoerter and Irving will be competing alongside and against top Team USA freeskiers such as multi Olympic and X Games gold medalist David Wise, who is coming back from a broken femur. The 2019 X Games Aspen superpipe gold medalist and 2018 Olympic silver medalist, Alex Ferreira of Aspen, also figures to be a top competitor this week, as does the winner of last year’s Copper Grand Prix, Aaron Blunck of Crested Butte, and Eagle County local Taylor Seaton, who took fifth place in Cardrona.

With the absence this week of such international heavy hitters as Nico and Miguel Porteous from New Zealand, Hoerter and Irving said it looks like today’s qualifier and Friday’s final will come down to the loaded Canadian and American teams.

That group figures to include Noah Bowman and brothers Dylan and Evan Marineau, among others. As for a loaded group of Americans, Silverthorne-based brothers Connor and Dylan Ladd are hoping to qualify for the final, as are some more U.S. rookie team skiers like Cassidy Jarrell of Aspen.

On the women’s side, when qualifiers begin at 9:30, Birk Irving’s sister Svea will be one of a few Americans looking to take down a strong contingent from China. Canadians Cassie Sharpe and Rachel Karker should again challenge for podium spots.

As for the superpipe itself, Copper Mountain Manager of Innovative Environments and Progression Noah Schwander said this year’s 540-foot pipe will feature 40 additional feet of length and a more opened-up start zone.

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