words: Pat Bridges
photos: Ryan “Huggy” Hughes and Peter Morning
As darkness envelopes Mammoth and renowned transition sculptor Jake Ingle meticulously preps the 22-foot Superpipe for Sunday's fifth and final US Olympic Halfpipe Team Qualifier, the long tail of what transpired Saturday, January 18th in the adjacent slopestyle course is yet to be fully realized. While six riders rose above their peers with outstanding jibs and jumps and were appropriately awarded with podium placings, how many spots the United States will actually have going into the Sochi Games is as yet undetermined due to an international FIS World Cup running concurrently in Canada. This means that only a handful of US Olympic Slopestyle Team members can somewhat safely be predicted at this time.
For many people involved in these Grand Prix Qualifiers, today's competition began long before the 11am start. Over the course of this past week, the Mammoth Mountain Unbound Park Staff has built and maintained one of the few venues seen of late that is worthy of testing the world's best riding talents. If this qualifying series was in place to prove who can pull off an Olympic caliber event, despite trying weather conditions including high temps and little natural accumulation, then the Unbound Staff would likely be assured a trip to the Games.
Once again the ladies were tasked with starting the finals. With four runs already set down on this slopestyle course, much of the field had their best lines dialed. Rigby, Idaho's Jessika Jensen made a repeat appearance on the Mammoth slopestyle podium, relying on heave-hos and backside 540s to secure her third place spot. Nineteen-year old Karly Shorr set down a backside 360 mute grab and frontside 540 melon to have her efforts rewarded with a second place finish securing her the third position on the overall American Women's Slopestyle Team qualification rankings just behind Ty Walker. Walker, who didn't have a stellar result today, was already positioned high enough in the standings to assure a trip to the Olympics.
Though it would seemingly be easy to cut and paste the rundown of how South Lake Tahoe's Jamie Anderson arrived at her umpteenth career slopestyle victory, the fact of the matter is that Miss Anderson is simply the best woman our country has got when it comes to style, technicality, confidence and consistency within any park scenario. Period. Today, Jamie flawlessly put together her stock jump sequence on the first run including a switch backside 540 to backside 540 to cab 720. The effortlessness she exhibits as she flows from trick to trick betrays what is in reality the most technical and gnarly run we've seen from the ladies all week. On her second attempt, the 23-year-old, who was first invited to the X Games a decade ago, upped the ante by attempting a cab 900 on the last jump. While Jamie didn't set down this trick, if she can pull one off next week in Aspen and in February at the Olympics, she will all but be assured multiple medals. "I've been thinking about that trick forever," Anderson said of the switch frontside 900. "I really just want to land it. I was so close. Now I'm really determined to put it down and stomp it."
Even though he hails from the last frontier, today’s third place by Alaska's Ryan Stassel, when combined with his win on Thursday is likely to be enough to ensure he has a place on America's first Men's Olympic Slopestyle Team. Of course this weekend’s Stoneham World Cup could provide the unfortunate caveat to this prophecy in the event that the USA loses it's fourth Olympic Slopestyle Team spot. Stassel's rare mix of stepped-up jibs and uncommon non-inverted maneuvers like frontside spins off the toes, and his dizzying backside 1260 could provide added depth to what is already a heavy American Olympic slopestyle contingent.
Kyle Mack's two years as SNOWBOARDER Magazine's official Ms Superpark tester appears to have paid off as the sixteen-year old park prodigy from Michigan achieved his highest Grand Prix slopestyle result to date by landing in second for the day. Kyle is entrenched amongst a cadre of new age slopestylers who are struggling to keep style relevant and prove that there is more to being a top level competitor than simply spinning to the nth degree, as witnessed by his Japan tweak on his second hit and backside 1080 double cork followed up by a backside 1260 melon. Though Mack's best two results from the series, including this second, weren't enough to assure Kyle an official invite to Russia, it would make sense that he could potentially be called up as an alternate. This consideration by the coaches could prove beneficial as Kyle is one of at most four Americans who have ever landed a triple cork in a scored run.
Like Danny Davis in pipe, Sage Kotsenberg is the sentimental favorite of slopestyle purists both near and far. The rider born and bred in Park City, Utah has been a world class competitor for several seasons now, and despite still only being twenty, he has evolved to become one of those rare riders who is taking the reigns of next level trickery and steering it towards a more creative and individualistic trajectory. Sage's Holy Crail and Japan corks are the perfect hybrid of progression and style and seemingly just what the judges were looking for today. Coming into this start, Sage knew that he needed the win in order to join Shaun White and Chas Guldemond on the Olympic Slopestyle journey and while the show he put on for the Mammoth crowd didn't disappoint the onlookers, neither did his scores from the deliberators. "I did need the win today," Kotsenberg explained. "I like snowboarding and I like competing. Today I tried my best and ended up on top."
While only Shaun White and Jamie Anderson are officially named by the United States Ski and Snowboard Association to the slopestyle team, the Grand Prix rankings being considered are below and should reflect which contenders have made the cut depending upon whether or not we take three or four male and female athletes to Sochi. Keep clicking back to Snowboardermag.com for more 2014 American Sochi Olympic Grand Prix Qualifying coverage from Mammoth with Sunday's fifth and final halfpipe team qualifier.
Men’s Slopestyle Finals 1
First – Sage Kotsenburg
Second – Ryan Stassel
Third – Kyle Mack
Women’s Slopestyle Finals 3
First – Jamie Anderson
Second – Jessika Jensen
Third – Karly Shorr
Men's US Snowboard Slopestyle Team Standings
Women's US Snowboard Slopestyle Team Standings