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Grand Prix: Who to watch

Frenchies Kevin Rolland and Xavier Bertoni are both top contenders for Grand Prix gold this week. Stef Cande/Vianney Tisseau/ESPN Images

For your consideration: some noteworthy items that may affect the outcome of the first Ski Halfpipe Grand Prix, taking place this week at Copper Mountain, Colorado.

France is the place. With Olympic pipe still a maybe, France is the only country with an official national halfpipe ski team. With their national backing, the Frenchies, led by superstars Kevin Rolland and Xavier Bertoni, also have an unequaled amount of airbag training over the past couple years. The results? For starters, Winter X crowned a new French champ in both 2009 and 2010 — after six straight American wins in previous years. A select few skieurs non gauloises got a few bag days in New Zealand earlier this year. But that likely won't be enough to cover the French head start. Not yet.

Simon is in. He's never fooled with the FIS-sanctioned contests before. But that was before those covetable five-colored rings were part of the picture. The quintessential halfpipe halfpint makes his FIS debut coming off of a mixed bag of a winter 2009-2010. The Dumont's vice grip loosened a little last year as the field caught up with his amplitude. And his first Winter X podium miss in six years no doubt lit a fire under the most competitive, and most talented, skier in the pipe. Or was it a fuse? After two weeks of training, Dumont is calling Copper a four- or five-hit pipe. Others are saying five or six. Could there be yet another new era in amplitude?

Peter is out. Speaking of amplitude, Winter X Superpipe High Air champ Peter Olenick will watch this Grand Prix from the bottom of the pipe. He underwent an experimental procedure earlier in November to treat patellar tendinitis that has nagged for several seasons. The knee is still stiff and swollen from the procedure and won't be ready until later in the month.

Jossi is out. Still recovering from a September ankle surgery, New Zealand's dominant pipe skier Jossi Wells will not be in the contest. Younger brother Byron, who placed second at the New Zealand Open this August, and brother Beau-James, 15, will take up the Kiwi flag in their older brother's place.

Slopestyle guys are in. It's not a sure thing, and it's four years away, but the allure Olympic glory is already bringing slopestyle guys into the pipe. Gus Kenworthy will drop in at this Grand Prix. Despite his slopestyle emphasis, Kenworthy has competed in pipe events before, with respectable success.

The girls are back in town. Jen Hudak dominated last year, winning every single women's pipe contest of the season. But this first-ever Grand Prix pipe has more females in it than possibly any other contest to date, begging the question: Will the perennial prizewinners prevail? Or are there some surprises lurking in the burgeoning women's field?

ESPN Freeskiing will be on site at Copper's Grand Prix week, bringing you the latest results, photos and videos. You can also watch live coverage of the Grand Prix here.