Between the U.S. Grand Prix and the Dew Tour's Nike Open, which kicked off with competition yesterday, Summit County has been packed with freeskiing and snowboarding superstars the last couple weeks, and they're just getting warmed up.
Returning for its fourth year, the Nike Open at Breckenridge is the first of three Winter Dew Tour stops and includes six competitions spanning across three rounds: qualifiers, semifinals and finals. The Breckenridge event will include contests in men's freeskiing superpipe and slopestyle, and both men's and women's snowboard halfpipe and slopestyle.
Other Dew Tour stops include Killington, Vt., and Snowbasin Resort in Ogden, Utah, early next year. At season's end, the overall points leaders are crowned champions and awarded the Dew Cup — and a bunch of cash — in eight disciplines. For the first time this year, women's freeskiing will also be thrown into the mix (at later venues).
Last season's Dew Cup champions include Louie Vito (men's snowboard superpipe), Kelly Clark (women's snowboard superpipe), Torstein Horgmo (men's snowboard slopestyle), Jamie Anderson (women's snowboard slopestyle), Kevin Rolland (ski superpipe) and Breck's Bobby Brown (ski slopestyle).
With all the star power of the X Games, the Nike Open is a great opportunity for spectators to witness the best in the business without the zoo-like atmosphere and competitive viewing of the annual Aspen event.
And this year, when we say the “world's best” will be on hand, we mean it quite literally as gold medal-winning Olympian Shaun White will be returning after a two-year hiatus with hopes of reclaiming the Dew Cup, which he won in the 2010 season. If history is any indicator, the rest of the field, made up by the likes of 2011 U.S. Grand Prix podium finishers Luke Mitrani, Vito and Greg Bretz, among others, will be battling it out for second.
“The Dew Tour does an awesome job of putting on a really good contest in Breckenridge,” said Olympic halfpipe snowboarder Elena Hight. “There's always a really good pipe and a really good turnout of athletes. It's a fun contest because it's the first one of the year, so everyone is just getting back together and there's a lot of fun energy.”
Finding their groove.
Every athlete approaches these early competitions differently — some are looking to simply get back in the groove, while others are hoping to charge out of the gate and debut new tricks and concepts. Hight, for one, plans to pull out a couple new inverts this week, while Kelly Clark, coming off a decisive win at the Grand Prix, hasn't yet thrown her season into sixth gear.
“Early-season, I really think everyone is looking to get their feet back underneath them. I think everyone really looks at (the early comps) as an opportunity to get back into the competitive mindset and get their bodies back into it. I typically have been a bit of a slow starter,” said Clark, this week's frontrunner.
For Summit County resident Simon Dumont, the Nike Open is a sweet event because it's close to home. “The slopestyle course here at Breckenridge is usually pretty top-notch. They build a good park all year, so it's not too hard to transition to adding a couple features and making the jumps a little bigger,” he said.
This year is more of a fun, less-intense season for veterans like Dumont, who will spend time filming before buckling down in anticipation of halfpipe skiing's Olympic debut in 2014.
This will be the second year that the Dew Tour will feature an Olympic-size, 22-foot halfpipe. The event was previously held on an 18-footer, which lent itself to inconsistency among the X Games, Grand Prix and Olympics. Athletes are pleased that the size seems to finally be standardized throughout the major competitions.
“With the 22-foot pipe, it adds a little more room for error because you have more transition,” Dumont said. “It makes it more capable for higher airs, and I think its more exciting.”
In past years, especially Olympic years, the 18-footer prevented top-level athletes who didn't want to mess with their rhythm from participating.
“The 22-foot pipe has been the natural progression for snowboard halfpipe,” Hight said. “It was necessary for the Dew Tour to remain a serious event to bump up to a 22-foot because that's all we ride anymore.”
For women of the Dew Tour, one step forward and one step back
With the acquisition of women's freeskiing for the 2011-12 season, women's snowboarding has consequently lost one of its events at the Dew Tour (and incidentally the Grand Prix as well).
While there seems to be universal agreement among snowboarders that involving female skiers is a positive addition, there is also concern about eliminating events.
“Obviously, for us, that's a huge step back in the wrong direction,” said Hight. “We've worked over the past eight years or so to get equal prize money for women, equal contests. So to have them take away an event like that is really unfortunate. … I think it's great they added the girl skiers; they should have been added a long time ago because they're killing it. But not having equal events and limiting prize money is unfortunate.”
Clark agrees that female skiers deserve a spot on the circuit, but she shares Hight's concerns about eliminating women's events.
“Unfortunately, snowboarding was kind of taken away to add the skiing events,” Clark said. “Although I'm happy for the skiing women to get an opportunity, at the same time I don't think we're really solving the problem by pushing it around. Hopefully we'll see more women's equality in the events to come.”
Courtesy Summit Daily News