COPPER MOUNTAIN – Even for an Olympic medalist, the nerves never really go away. Which is why Gretchen Bleiler is happy to have Thursday behind her.”I was so nervous,” the 2006 Olympic silver medalist from Aspen said after laying down the top qualifying run in the opening round of the season’s first Olympic halfpipe tryout. “I get nervous at every contest, but more so this time because it’s the first Olympic qualifier. But I’m ready to go.”

Bleiler’s score of 47.10 led the women’s field of 51 international competitors in the qualifying round of the U.S. Snowboarding Grand Prix halfpipe contest at Copper on Thursday. She will be joined in the eight-woman finals Saturday by Colorado riders Maddy Schaffrick of Steamboat Springs (43.20) and Clair Bidez of Minturn (41.70).

The contest is the first of five Grand Prix pipe events used to determine who will represent the U.S. in the Vancouver Olympic Games in February. Reigning Olympic gold medalist Hannah Teter pulled out of the contest after sustaining a shoulder injury in practice Thursday morning. Fellow Vermonter and 2002 gold medalist Kelly Clark qualified second at 45.70, followed by Soko Yamaoka of Japan (43.50).

While a total of five American women will move on to the finals, 15-year-old Schaffrick arguably turned in the performance of the day. The Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club rider finished third in a stacked heat that included multiple Olympic medalists and X Games champions, Bleiler and Australian Torah Bright (who failed to advance) among them.

“I was kind of hoping to make finals, but my main goal was just to land a run because I’ve been working on this run all summer,” said Schaffrick, whose big tricks included a switch-backside 540, cab 720 and frontside 540. “It would be cool to make (the Olympic team) this year, but I think the next round is more realistic right now. I’ll be 19 then. This year is just going to be fun.”

Bleiler, meanwhile, was all business.

“It’s always so important to start the season off on a high note, so it’s important to me to ride my best this week,” Bleiler said after using her signature Crippler 720 and some impressive hang time to rise above the qualifying field. “I think the Olympics always makes everyone step up a little more and push themselves farther than they probably thought they could. So the level is high and everyone is going to be a lot more on it.”

Grand Prix qualifying resumes today with the first of three men’s heats dropping into Copper’s Main Vein Superpipe at 9 a.m.