By Chris Casula
BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. — I spent roughly fifteen minutes trying to come up with a clever way of saying that the weather today was a lot better than yesterday. Well, after trashing a handful of awful analogies about Andy Dick and David Hasslehoff, I decided to just say it plain: The weather couldn't have been any more perfect for a halfpipe comp. Whereas yesterday saw the best in the slopestyle biz attempt to persevere through some of the worst conditions imaginable, the biggest concern for their pipe jock brethren today was trying to decide which SPF was necessary to stave off a gnarly goggle tan.
Nestled alongside the slope course sits the absolutely massive superpipe—walls of 22 feet and 602 feet long—where today the skiers who were not pre-qualified battled it out for a chance to bang with the big boys in the semifinals Friday. Unlike Wednesday, which lacked the big stage vibe one might expect at such a prestigious event, the fans were out in full-force and from the moment the first competitor dropped in, they roared their approval.
With the exception of a rock-solid run from the first to drop, AJ Kemppainen, the first heat struggled with their consistency as a sizable portion of the field failed to land clean runs. It appeared that nerves and the pressure to perform at such a high-stakes contest got the better of many riders early on. Sensing as much, the judges and event organizers made the unorthodox call to allow practice runs to take place in between scored contest runs. Presumably, the decision was made in hopes that some more time in the pipe would settle the collective nerves of the field and lead to a better contest overall.
The move seemingly paid off as the second and final runs of the first heat were drastically improved, pretty much across the board. One such rider who benefitted from a second shot was none other than the Aspen local, and Whiskey Flip innovator, Pete Olenick. After bobbling the landing of his last hit of his first run, Pete—ever the wily veteran—opted to ease off the accelerator a bit, managing to set down a very clean run, good enough for a score of 71.25 and a ticket to the semis.
Curiously enough, the second heat took shape much like the first. Jon Marks dropped first and put down what ended up being the best scoring run of the day, but, like AJ, he looked on as his fellow competitors struggled to put clean runs to their feet. After it seemed like scores in the mid-sixties would be good enough to advance, some of the favorites began to do what they do best.
Hot off his recent win at the U.S. Freeskiing Grand Prix, Tai Barrymore (yes… that Barrymore) showed exactly why he is considered one of the most exciting up-and-coming pipe stars—he executed what was almost definitely the best run of the day in terms of sheer amplitude (though Simon D'artois might disagree). Punctuated by a floaty dub flat, and an absurdly big alley-oop flat, Tai had the crowd in a frenzy.
Barrymore wasn't able to eclipse Marks' score, but he did share this tidbit about his plans for the semifinals tomorrow. "I have a few tricks up my sleeve, I'm going to change my run up a little bit, and hopefully land a double 12,” he said.
Another rider advancing from the second heat was Park City's Joss Christensen. Better known as a podium threat on the slope course, I caught up with Joss and asked him about which he prefers. "I definitely enjoy slope more,” he said, “or, at least I'm less scared! No, I enjoy both, and watching guys like Gus and Jossi motivates me to try and keep up in both.”
So the table is set and over the next three days here, those who clawed their way through qualifiers will have the chance to show their stuff against the absolutely stacked field of pre-qualified riders. If the last two days are any indication, we're in for something truly special.
On tap for tomorrow/Friday — slope and pipe semifinals. Stay tuned.
Men’s Superpipe Qualifier Results
Top 11 qualifiers only
1. Jon Marks 80.25
2. Tai Barrymore 77.75
3. Simon D'artois 76.00
4. Joss Christensen 73.25
5. AJ Kemppainen 73.00
6. Joffrey Pollet-Villard 71.75
7. Nils Lauper 71.75
8. Peter Olenick 71.25
9. Kyle Smaine 70.50
10. Kalle Leinonen 70.25
11. Yannic Lerjen 69.00