Snowmass park crew overcomes Mother Nature to get halfpipe, slopestyle course ready for this week’s Olympic qualifiers |

Snowmass park crew overcomes Mother Nature to get halfpipe, slopestyle course ready for this week’s Olympic qualifiers

Austin Colbert
Yannick Rioux, the Snowmass terrain park manager, pushes snow with a snowcat on Saturday for the superpipe being built for the U.S. Grand Prix competition this week.

When spectators arrive at the staging area for this week’s Toyota U.S. Grand Prix in Snowmass, they’ll see perfection. From the 22-foot halfpipe to the manicured slopestyle course, it’ll be a work of art any skier or snowboarder can admire.

What won’t be obvious is the painstaking amount of hours it took the crew to build it and just how close it was to not happening at all.

“We believe pretty strongly in the value of elite-level international competition here in Aspen, just as sort of an inspiration for the rest of us,” said Tyler Lindsay, the event marketing coordinator for Aspen Skiing Co. “The big effort that went into the World Cup Finals last year and the big effort that’s going into this right now as an Olympic qualifier just speaks to the commitment the company has to winter sports.”

Lindsay, a lifelong local and former Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club coach, will serve as the chief of competition for this week’s Grand Prix, which is the second-to-last stop to determine who makes the Olympic teams for the United States in men’s and women’s ski and snowboard halfpipe and slopestyle.

The competitions also are part of the World Cup circuit and will bring in the biggest names the sports have to offer. While many of these athletes make the annual pilgrimage to Buttermilk for X Games Aspen, this will be the first time Snowmass has hosted an event of this magnitude since 1998.

“I’ve always been a really big fan of Snowmass and the work these guys do for their regular park. If you have a chance to speak to some of the athletes, they’ll tell you the same thing,” Lindsay said. “The really elite-level athletes have started to come here to train because they can get a really uncrowded experience on a really spectacular setup.”

Summit County teen Red Gerard, one of the biggest up-and-coming names in halfpipe snowboarding, has come to Snowmass the past couple of years for private sessions with TransWorld SNOWboarding. Canadian superstar Mark McMorris landed the first-ever triple cork 1440 in the Snowmass terrain park back in 2011.

For the locals, Snowmass has always been a popular spot.

“What’s great about Snowmass is there is always something to ride. They have the best of all worlds here,” said 22-year-old Robert Pettit, an AVSC athlete who will compete in this week’s snowboard halfpipe competition. “With the lack of snow, the ski company has done an unbelievable job getting this together. I think the course looks unreal. I’ve tested out the jumps and they are probably some of the best jumps I’ve ever hit. Definitely the best jumps Snowmass has ever had. Being able to do it in my backyard is even better.”

As of Saturday, the Snowmass crew was still putting together the final pieces. The halfpipe, built by Summit County’s Jake Ingle — who will be part of the crew to also build the Olympic halfpipe in South Korea next month — wasn’t yet ready to ride. The slopestyle course, which runs parallel to the halfpipe, was better off, although the crew was still tweaking parts and cutting corners for the television aesthetics.

Athlete training is scheduled to take place Monday and Tuesday.

“We were sweating it. The pipe is going to be tight. They are still working. They have been working 24 hours a day on it. We are right at the line,” Snowmass terrain park manager Yannick Rioux said on Saturday. “It was not the natural snow that was the problem. While the natural is helping, it’s definitely not the problem. The problem was the mild weather and the snowmaking.”

Colorado’s general lack of snow so far this winter has certainly been a burden for the Snowmass crew, although Rioux said most of the snow used in making the halfpipe and slopestyle course was going to be manmade anyway. However, with temperatures often soaring above 40 degrees during the day in recent weeks, they haven’t been able to make nearly as much snow as they would like.

This has led to quite the rush at the end to get everything ready for this week’s competition.

“I’m 37 years old and this has no doubt been the most challenging start to winter in my lifetime,” Lindsay said. “Everyone says ’76-’77 was kind of the last time winter arrived so slowly. Priority one was definitely getting Snowmass open for the skiing public. Very closely behind that has been to get this project done.”

As of Sunday night, everything looked to be full go for Monday’s first training sessions. The snowboard halfpipe and skiing slopestyle training for men and women is scheduled for 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. Monday, with the ski halfpipe and snowboard slopestyle session going from noon to 3 p.m. The training sessions will flip on Tuesday.

The Snowmass park is located just up from the Spider Sabich Picnic arena and can be accessed via the Village Express lift — get off at the midway point — or the Coney Glade lift. The Coney Glade lift takes passengers right over much of the course. Athletes going off the slopestyle jumps are expected to reach heights well above the lift itself.

Spectating is free, although a ticket will be needed to access the lifts.

Qualifying gets underway Wednesday for ski halfpipe and snowboard slopestyle. Thursday qualifiers are for snowboard halfpipe and ski slopestyle. Finals are scheduled for Friday and Saturday, with a second ski slopestyle competition — qualifying and finals — scheduled for Sunday. The second competition is to make up for a canceled Olympic qualifier last winter in Mammoth.

NBC and NBC Sports will televise the finals.

“This is pretty much what we live for as snowboarders and skiers and action sports athletes in general. To be able to represent your country at the Olympics is a dream that anyone would have,” Pettit said. “To have it here at Snowmass, I think it’s going to open up a lot more for the ski company. I love it.”

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