words: Pat Bridges
photos: Ryan “Huggy” Hughes and Mark Imanuel
With the first US Olympic Halfpipe Team qualifier in the books on December 15, 2013 all eyes turned to Men's Slopestyle Finals at the Dew Tour iON Mountain Championships in Breckenridge, Colorado to see which riders would shine as they faced the first challenge on the road to the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
Unlike the rarefied landscape of the halfpipe, which is quickly becoming the exclusive domain of those privileged riders who choose to tackle the u-tube competitively, slopestyle is a much more ubiquitous aspect due to the fact that nearly every resort on Earth has a terrain park. This means that unlike the halfpipe, slopestyle has an inherent relatability as millions of riders around the world know firsthand the sensations of sliding a rail or sending it over a tabletop. This much more democratized discipline has also become a greater draw for competitive snowboarding talent, making it rife for rivalries and giving it a healthy, “Any Given Sunday"-type of weekly podium scenario. Still, a handful of favorites have emerged over the past few contest seasons and all of the players were present in Breckenridge for the Dew Tour Men's Slopestyle Finals. While most of the icons onsite with international passports already have spots secured to represent their respective countries at the February Olympics, for the eight Americans who made the finals, the stakes were much higher, as today would be one of the tests used to determine their worthiness for riding in Russia.
Though high winds wreaked havoc, all but a handful of today's contenders were able to set down at least one of their two runs. From the onset, the Slopestyle Finals were shrouded in rumor as Shaun White failed to make an appearance in the morning practice. It was later revealed that the top qualifier would sit out the Slopestyle Finals in order to heal his ankle, which had been aggravated during a fall on his first run of the Saturday Halfpipe Finals. Rather than risk adding to his injury, Shaun is focusing on next week’s Grand Prix World Cup Slopestyle Qualifier, where he needs to get a top 30 result in order to even be eligible to make the US Olympic Slopestyle Team. Ultimately, sitting out today's event could be a non-factor with 4 more slopestyle trials to come and only a rider’s two best results being considered when determining the official US Olympic Slopestyle Team.
Among the favorites coming into Breckenridge were the strong Norwegian slopestyle contingent of Alek Oestreng, Ulrik Badertscher, Ståle Sandbech and Gjermund Braaten, yet none of these Norsemen could find their line this day, each of them finishing outside of the top ten. This opened the door for the equally strong Canadian squad to pillage the podium with the Canuck huckers earning three of the top four places. Maxence Parrot started his third place run with a backside 270 on 270 off on the opening down bar. Parrot then began his jump section with a cab nine doublecork, followed by a double backside rodeo. For his last two launches, the French Canadian goofy-footer linked up a frontside doublecork 1080 with a backside doublecork 1260 to secure his spot on the bottom rung of the podium. Sweden's Sven Thorgren's second place result made him the lone Scanner in the top ten. Sven commenced his top scoring run with a smooth jib section including a backside 270 to 270 out on the first down bar. Sven opted for a flat spin instead of a doublecork for his debut jump, taking a cab 1260 deep and following it up with a double backside rodeo nine. Sven’s bottom booter section started with an off-axis frontside 1080 leading into a backside 1080 to end his day and secure his second place spot. Regina, Saskatchewan's Mark McMorris came to Breckenridge as the one to beat in slopestyle. While the three-time X Games gold medalist had a subpar qualifying performance while battling a bout of food poisoning, today was a different story. Mark's first run secured his top spot for a majority of the event with a cab 1260 double cork, frontside 1080 double cork, double wildcat and a backside 1080 double cork set down flawlessly. Due to his qualifying position the top seeded riders were still to go as Mark stood at the top to drop in for his second run. Knowing this, McMorris abstained from the conservative approach and stomped a stepped-up sequence of tricks, including a 1440 triplecork for his finale. This performance sealed his trajectory to the top of the podium. "It was a sick day," McMorris remarked after the awards ceremony. "I told myself if I landed everything up to the last jump clean I would try a triple."
For all practical purposes the American competitors, though absent from the placings, still had the US Olympic Slopestyle Qualifying at stake. In those regards, Chas Guldemond's solid fifth place showing puts him in the early lead for a secured spot in Sochi with Sage Kotsenberg, who himself greased his crowd-pleasing signature backside 1080 Japan doublecork on his second run, following closely behind due to his sixth place finish. Mammoth Lake's Brandon Davis and SoCal's Spencer Link are also currently in Sochi spot position after winding up in seventh and eighth place respectively. Check back to Snowboardermag.com for more up to the minute coverage as the US Olympic Snowboard Team Qualifying Series continues this week at Copper Mountain, Colorado.
First – Mark McMorris
Second – Sven Thorgren
Third – Maxence Parrot
Current US Men's Olympic Slopestyle Team Qualifying Ranking
1 Chas Guldemond 1000
2 Sage Kotsenburg 800
3 Brandon Davis 600
4 Spencer Link 500
5 Eric Willett 450
6 Eric Beauchemin 400
7 Nikolas Baden 360
8 Shaun White 320
9 Ian Thorley 290
10 Kyle Mack 260