Goepper qualifies first in Ski Slopestyle

Winter X rookie Nick Goepper, 17, scored a 93.33 to lead Men's Ski Slopestyle qualifying. Mark Kohlman/ESPN

ASPEN, Colo. -- Nick Goepper, a 17-year-old Winter X Games rookie from tiny Lawrenceburg, Ind., surprised the field to qualify first in the elimination round for Thursday night's Men's Ski Slopestyle finals. His score of 93.33 was one point better than pre-event favorite Tom Wallisch, but the story of the day was defending gold medalist Sammy Carlson's failure to qualify for the finals.

Goepper's first run held up through the three-run qualifying round, which featured unusually high scores from the entire field. The eighth and final spot in the finals went to Alex Schlopy with an 87-point second run, but Schlopy sprained his knee on that run and decided not to ski his third run. If he can't ski in Thursday night's finals, which are being held under the lights for the first time, Carlson would take his place.

"My run was pretty much full of doubles," Goepper said. "I did all four doubles [spinning both left and right, taking off both forward and switch] and then had pretty decent rails." For the finals, he said, "I'm going to step up the jumps a little bit and maybe the rails, add a few more rotations and we'll see how it goes."

For Wallisch, who has won each of the two Winter Dew Tour stops this winter but has never medaled in Aspen, the fast snow proved key to his result. "That's a major source of help for a light guy like me, wearing baggy clothing at contests," he said. "I can clear the jumps, I'm not worried about landing on my face, it's good."

Bobby Brown, the 2010 gold medalist, qualified third with a 91.00, followed by Andreas HĂ„atveit (89.00) and Russ Henshaw (88.33). Fifteen of the 16 competitors earned scores higher than 72 points.