words: Pat Bridges
photos: Ryan “Huggy” Hughes and Mark Imanuel

Though officially billed as the Dew Tour iON Mountain Championships, the halfpipe battle that took place in Breckenridge, Colorado on December 14, 2013 took on even greater meaning as the first of five US Olympic Halfpipe Team Qualifiers. The sixteen men and eight female finalists strapped in under sunny skies, as the temps proved atypically warm for this time of year in the Rockies. With the 22-foot Superpipe cut to a pristine condition, the stage was set for the dramatic road to Sochi Halfpipe glory to begin.

The sixteen-man field that started the day was evenly mixed between iconic veterans and up-and-coming wildcards. The take away from the first run of the Men’s Finals were the notable names who weren’t able to keep their boards underneath them, with Russia’s Iouri “iPod” Podlatchikov and more surprisingly, Shaun White both falling on their first laps. Though the best of two run format still left room for redemption, iPod couldn’t muster the line on his second attempt to take him to the podium. While Oregon’s Ben Ferguson, Japan’s Ayumu Hirano, Australia’s Scotty James, Michigan’s Danny Davis and Ohio’s Louie Vito all set down worthy runs, none of them would be on pace to make the podium. After falling on his first go, Colorado’s Taylor Gold came back with a stellar follow-up, including a double backside rodeo and a frontside 1260 to take third. Two-time Olympic gold medalist Shaun White came to Breckenridge as the odds-on favorite, yet his untimely fall in the first run certainly showed that it was still anyone’s game. That said, Shaun rallied on his second drop and threw down a stunner. Despite the run including a frontside 1080 doublecork, a cab 1080 doublecork and a backside 1080 doublecork, it was still a noticeably conservative rebuttal, in turn earning him a disappointing second place result. Despite this result, White was positive about the finish. “It felt good,” he said. “I thought I had it with that one, but it happens.” This left Greg Bretz’s first run, which contained back-to-back doublecork tens followed by back to back nines and tens, with the top score of the day. The rider from Mammoth Lakes, California, who last found himself atop a world-class halfpipe podium back in 2008, was noticeably stoked on his showing. ”It is really amazing,” Bretz beamed. “I beat Shaun. That speaks for itself.” Considering that the best two finishes of the five qualifiers count towards the US Olympic Team selection Bretz’s chances of riding come February in Russia are looking solid.

For the females, 13-year-old Chloe Kim was the surprise standout. Though too young to earn a spot in the Olympics, Kim showed that the American’s women’s pipe scene is on the cusp of a huge shakeup. With linked overhead spins including a McTwist and back-to-back sevens, Kim might not be heading to Russia in February, but Korea in 2018 is a definite possibility.

Like Shaun White, Kelly Clark was the clear favorite coming into today’s event. While Kelly set down a solid first run, her technicality, which included an exaggerated frontside 1080 and a crippler seven, wasn’t matched with flow and style, leaving her just shy of victory. Clark bested the rest of the American contenders to keep an appearance in Sochi well within her reach. 2010 Olympic Gold Medalist Torah Bright’s trick choices have made her a fan favorite ever since she appeared on the circuit as a 13-year-old Australian halfpipe prodigy twelve years ago. Yet Torah’s emphasis on classic moves like Mctwists and airs-to-fakie hasn’t always resonated with by the book judges. Today was a different story as Torah carried more momentum than her peers into each hit, affording her the ideal mix of amplitude, technicality and style. When asked about her slash-laden victory lap Torah declared that, “it was in honor of the Pipeline Masters which is going on right now. I love to surf. Before I die I hope to get barreled.” For her efforts she was rewarded with the top spot on the podium, making a repeat medal performance in Sochi a distinct possibility. Those expecting to see Torah next week at the second qualifying stop at Copper Mountain will be disappointed because the Sochi triple threat is slated to compete in a boardercross world cup instead.

RESULTS

Men’s Halfpipe
First – Greg Bretz
Second – Shaun White
Third – Taylor Gold

Women’s Halfpipe
First – Torah Bright
Second – Kelly Clark
Third – Chloe Kim

Current US Women’s Olympic Halfpipe Team Qualifying Ranking
1 Kelly Clark 1000
2 Chloe Kim 800
3 Arielle Gold 600
4 Kaitlyn Farrington 500
5 Gretchen Bleiler 450
6 Elena Hight 400
7 Ellery Hollingsworth 360
8 Maddy Schaffrick 320
9 Serena Shaw 290
10 Hannah Teter 260

Current US Men’s Olympic Halfpipe Team Qualifying Ranking
1 Greg Bretz 1000
2 Shaun White 800
3 Taylor Gold 600
4 Louie Vito  500
5 Danny Davis 450
6 Ben Ferguson 400
7 Benji Farrow 360
8 Scott Lago 320
9 Kent Callister 290
10 Zachary Black 260