|ESPN.com: Freeskiing||[Print without images]|
|For the first time, halfpipe skiers (like Xavier Bertoni shown here) can compete at the U.S. Snowboarding Grand Prix taking place Dec. 8-11 at Copper Mountain, Colo.|
In a sign that halfpipe skiing is becoming further entrenched on the international stage, officials at the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA) have confirmed they will hold a major pipe competition at Copper Mountain, Colo., during the opening U.S. Snowboarding Grand Prix stop in December.
USSA expects the event to attract the world's premier skiers and will use it to determine four of the athletes (the top two men and top two women) representing the U.S. at the Freestyle World Championships in Utah the first week of February. The others will be selected after the X Games based on their Association of Freeskiing Professionals (AFP) ranking.
The Copper competition marks the first time in the Grand Prix series' 15-year history that a skiing event will be held in conjunction with the snowboarding competitions, which have been used to qualify the American team for the past four Winter Olympics.
There is also a very real possibility the International Olympic Committee will have decided whether to add halfpipe skiing to the 2014 Winter Games by the time the Copper event takes place. The IOC executive board could rule on proposed sport additions as early as its Oct. 23-25 meeting in Acapulco, Mexico. The board also is scheduled to meet in Switzerland in January and in London in April.
"We're making some assumptions that this [halfpipe skiing] is going to get the OK from the IOC," said Tom Kelly, vice president of communications for USSA. "As an organization, we're making a pretty big commitment to halfpipe. And we want to showcase Copper as a world-class event."
Copper will be the only Grand Prix venue to include skiing this winter, but that could change in future years. "A lot will be dictated by what the IOC decides," Kelly said.
USSA freeride program director Jeremy Forster said the skiing field will include roughly 90 men and 40 women, with about a third of those spots expected to be filled by foreign athletes. Twenty men and 10 women will be prequalified from the USSA and AFP rankings. Other skiers can register starting Oct. 12 at www.ussa.org.
Eric Webster, who runs the Grand Prix series, said in an e-mail that the total skiing purse will be $42,000, including $10,000 each paid to the men's and women's winners.
Qualifying for the skiing finals will take place Dec. 8, with the finals slated for Dec. 10. NBC will televise the event on Sunday, Dec. 12.
Regarding the U.S. Snowboarding Grand Prix series' name, Kelly said there will likely be a new title but he didn't yet know what it would be.
USSA also added halfpipe skiing to all four stops on its (traditionally snowboard-only) Revolution Tour this winter.