Gretchen Bleiler mentioned in Denver Post piece: “U.S. freeskiers seek to follow their snowboarding brethren”
Most of the new-school freeskiers in the Copper Mountain halfpipe have never heard of a “Worm Turn” or its early-era hot-dog skiing practitioners like Wayne Wong. The irony may be lost on them.
Still, there was no denying the paradox that prevailed at the U.S. Halfpipe Grand Prix at Copper Mountain earlier this month, when freestyle skiers – these days known as freeskiers – joined their snowboarding counterparts for the first time in the 15-year history of the Grand Prix Series.
Like the Grand Prix Series itself, the halfpipe was originally invented for snowboarders – basically, a place to keep them entertained while skiers enjoyed the other slopes. But for the past few years, they have become just as much the domain of skiers – along with Copper’s Grand Prix competition that is being held up as the model for success needed to achieve inclusion in the Olympics.
Wait – skiers seeking direction from snowboarders on how to make it to the Olympics? Oh, how the worm has turned.
“The Grand Prix has been a great model. It’s been a positive model for snowboarding and it could be for freeskiing as well,” said Jeremy Forster, the former snowboarding director for the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA) who last summer added freeskiing to his official title.
“With the history of snowboarding, it was a challenge for us, I think initially, and it’s something we’ve worked on. I think we have a real opportunity with the free- skiing side to do it right from Day One and build and be a part of this sport in the right way.”
Where, in the past, words like “animosity” and “hostility” prevailed when skiers and snowboarders were mentioned in the same sentence, Forster now uses words like “synergy” and “parallels” to describe the shared passion of participants in the closely related sports. Sooner rather than later, he’s hoping to be able to use the word “team” as well.
While snowboarding has enjoyed Olympic medal status in the halfpipe since 1998, halfpipe skiing has yet to win the favor of the International Olympic Committee, which determines the sports to be included every four years. After years of debate, Sochi 2014 is anticipated as the best opportunity to bring halfpipe skiing into the mix.
Halfpipe skiing has been a part of the International Ski Federation (FIS) World Championships since 2005 and the FIS World Cup prior to that. The Olympic decision is expected in April.
With an eye toward Olympic inclusion, USSA – which already runs the show for existing U.S. ski and snowboard teams at the Games – is eyeing the very real possibility of establishing the first U.S. Halfpipe Skiing Team, much like the freestyle moguls, aerials and ski-cross teams already under the USSA umbrella.
“I really think that’s coming down the road,” USSA president and CEO Bill Marolt said of the new team. “If we’re going to compete, we have to figure out a way to train and do a good job of supporting the athletes.”
Once more, the U.S. Snowboarding Team’s halfpipe discipline serves as the model for success, with team members such as Gretchen Bleiler, Kelly Clark, Ross Powers and Louie Vito achieving success on a worldwide scale after coming up through the USSA program.
Finding the funding for a new skiing- specific halfpipe program serves as the primary hurdle for now, although the high potential for Olympic success in the popular American discipline could help stimulate sponsorship interest should the IOC decide to include the discipline. With that in mind, Marolt is pushing the sport’s development while attempting to retain its freestyle character.
“The U.S. has taken the point on halfpipe skiing for a couple of reasons,” Marolt said. “First of all, kids like it. There’s a lot of interest on the part of the young people. Secondly, every ski area has a pipe, so it’s easy to train and get involved in it. And we can promote it. We can help promote our sports and winter activities. The combination of all those things made sense to us because, frankly, it gives us an opportunity to have success in the Olympics.”
If the Copper Grand Prix serves as a checkpoint, the U.S. may already be trailing its neighbors to the north in the realm of halfpipe skiing and the creation of a national team. Canada has yet to formally adopt a national team, but top halfpipe skiers such as Justin Dorey, Mike Riddle and Rosalind Groenewoud have graduated from provincial team programs to establish their own version of Team Canada this year.
The trio claimed the top men’s and women’s podium spots at Copper, and Groenewoud expects a call from the Canadian Freestyle Ski Association any day now.
“The Olympics have definitely been on my mind for a while, and I would definitely love to stand on top of that podium for Canada,” Groenewoud said. “This is the fourth year for our Canadian halfpipe team. Right now, we’re a private program, funded by individual sponsors as well as team donations. We’re not currently associated with Canadian freestyle at all, but hopefully that will change this season.”
Change appears to be looming for the entire sport this winter, much of it predicated upon the ski pipe World Championships scheduled for February 2011 in Park City, Utah, home of USSA. That showcase could serve as the deciding factor in both the decision to include the discipline in the 2014 Olympics and the creation of the first U.S. Halfpipe Skiing Team.
Read more: U.S. freeskiers seek to follow their snowboarding brethren – The Denver Post http://www.denverpost.com/extremes/ci_16954636#ixzz19SC0azRq
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