Winter Park’s Birk Irving qualifies for Copper Mountain Grand Prix freeski final
Six American men, four Canadians to ski Friday’s championship round
COPPER MOUNTAIN RESORT — Before taking a lap off the American Eagle on Tuesday afternoon with his fellow U.S. freeski halfpipe teammates, Birk Irving switched to a snowboard. The ski boots he’d been training in Tuesday just didn’t feel quite right, so he traded them for snowboard boots and a homemade swallowtail board.
Come Wednesday morning, Irving was back to ski boots. With a fresh pair, the 20-year-old from Winter Park said he felt strong enough to attempt the only 1440 during Wednesday’s qualifying round at the Land Rover U.S. Grand Prix World Cup halfpipe event. Irving stomped the leftside double cork 1440 — two inversions and four 360-degree rotations while rotating to his left side — to earn the top qualifying score of 90.75 amid a loaded roster of the world’s best halfpipe freeskiers.
“I’m psyched for sure,” said Irving, who also landed a switch leftside 720, a forward rightside 900, a switch rightside 720 and a double cork 900 on that top-scoring run. “I haven’t been able to land that 14(40) all week, so it feels nice to finally be able to get it down — in a run, especially. I knew I was going to try it. I was definitely nervous, though, because I keep falling on it. I got new boots last night with better toes, so they stayed in.”
Irving’s strong qualifier made him the only athlete to post a score in the 90s on the 22-foot Woodward Copper superpipe. That puts him in ideal position to win his third consecutive International Snowboard Federation World Cup competition. Irving heads a list of 10 finalists that includes solely North American skiers: six Americans and four Canadians.
“The thing I appreciate most about Birk is he has his own style,” said U.S. Olympic and X Games gold medalist David Wise, who also qualified through to the finals (85.50). “He has tricks that nobody else is doing, and he doesn’t do anything he doesn’t want to do. He’s not stressed about it. He’s adding the free to the freestyle out here. It’s fun to watch.”
That group of six Americans includes Irving’s longtime High Country Colorado friend, 19-year-old Breckenridge born-and-raised U.S. rookie team member Jaxin Hoerter. Hoerter had perhaps the most daunting position of any skier Wednesday, dropping in first in the day’s second heat, ahead of Irving and such heavy hitters as Wise and proven elite Americans Aaron Blunck of Crested Butte (77.50) and Alex Ferreira of Aspen (83.50).
By the end of his first run, Hoerter landed his six hits, which included a huge 900 with his truck driver grab, a rightside 720 with a tail grab, a switch 720 with a mute grab, a 900 with a Japan grab and a double cork 900 with a blunt grab as his penultimate hit. Hoerter then put the exclamation point on his maiden run with his alley-oop double 720, the only skier to attempt and land the trick Wednesday. The run was good enough for a score of 78.00 and the seventh-highest score on the day.
“Going into the last hit, I was a bit nervous because it’s the last trick of the run. I gotta land it and make sure I put it down,” Hoerter said. “In the air, I could spot it pretty well and thought, ‘OK, I can land back on the wall.’ And when it landed, I was like, ‘All right, that was a good run. I’m proud of myself.’”
The second highest scoring American was the winner of the first heat, freeski veteran Taylor Seaton of Avon. On the extra-long pipe, a full 40 feet bigger than last year, the avid backcountry skier Seaton opted for a seven hit run through the pipe. To put that in context, last year Blunck won the Grand Prix with a four hit run through the pipe, opting for amplitude over more tricks.
On Wednesday, it seemed most skiers were opting for five hit runs, some doing six. Seaton was the only finalist to go for seven, stringing together a rightside 900 with a mute grab, a leftside 900 with a seatbelt grab, an alley-oop leftside flat 540 with a safety grab, an alley-oop rightside 720 with a mute grab, a switch rightside 900 with a blunt grab, a switch leftside 720 with an indy grab and a rightside 1080 with a blunt grab.
Seaton said he thought overnight whether to do six or seven hits. Ultimately, on the fast Woodward Copper pipe — which skiers agreed was one of the best early-season pipes they can remember — Seaton leaned on his skills honed backcountry skiing with Summit locals Trent Jones and John Spriggs last winter. His ability to load his skis and land ideally on his edges helped him to launch and land high on the pipe and keep speed despite seven hits.
Come finals, though, Seaton knows he’ll have to dial it back to six hits in order to be able to throw two double corks. At least that was the skiers’ consensus Wednesday in terms of what it would take to land on the podium Friday. One of the Americans who figures to be a leading candidate to win Friday, Aspen’s Ferreira, said depending on how the pipe is skiing in the forecast snowy and windy conditions, three to four doubles might even be necessary.
After winning X Games superpipe gold on his home snow last season, Ferreira undertook a next-level training regiment. Five days a week Ferreira said he’d go to the gym for 1 1/2 hours before jumping on the trampoline for a half hour. He’d then go to the steam room to visualize his halfpipe run “over and over again.” Afterward, he’d see a sports psychologist or a physical therapist.
“I’m glad I put in all the training because it pays off on a day like this,” Ferreira said.
In the ladies qualifier, Canadian Rachel Karker followed up her podium spot at last year’s Grand Prix with the top qualifying score Wednesday of 90.00. She’ll be joined in Friday’s final by two Chinese skiers, a Russian and three Americans: Brita Sigourney (80.75), Devin Logan (70.50) and Carly Margulies (67.50).
It was an American skiing for Great Britain who was the story of Wednesday’s qualifier, as Park City resident Zoe Atkin earned the second-highest score of the day, an 84.50. The 16-year-old showed she’s one of the world’s most talented up-and-comers by landing a seven-hit run punctuated with a soaring leftside 720 with a mute grab to start her run. It was good enough in just her fourth World Cup to place her next to skiers like Sigourney and Karker, who she idolized as a child.
Friday’s final round, scheduled for 11 a.m. to 12:45 p.m., will consist of three runs for each skier.
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