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Monday, March 21, 2011
On a roll: Rolland wins World Cup

The best contest poster ever: Kevin Rolland on a throne, surrounded by beautiful girls and a tiger.

Kevin Rolland might be the most dominant pipe skier of all time. Whether or not you believe that, he is, for sure, the most dominant pipe skier right now. He's made the podium in every contest he's entered this season, winning all but two of those. His 2011 Winter X Europe Superpipe win in Tignes last Wednesday marked his fourth consecutive victory in a Winter X pipe event. This weekend, he went down the road to his home resort of La Plagne, France, to win the night event of the World Cup Halfpipe event held there Sunday.

With all the talk about halfpipe skiing becoming a Winter Olympic event in 2014, International Ski Federation (FIS) events like this weekend's World Cup in France and the FIS Freestyle World Championships, held in Park City, Utah, in February, have received growing media attention this year. Halfpipe has been a part of FIS Freestyle World Champs every odd year since 2005 (slopestyle was added for the first time this year), but this year was the first time the event received significant attention. As current World Champ Mike Riddle said, in a recent interview, "I've gotten more people and media coming up to me because I'm World Champ than I ever did for winning Dew Tour last year."

At first glance, it might seem that the Olympic push has also attracted a higher caliber of athlete to the FIS events than previously participated. To some degree, that was true in the case of February's World Championship event, which hosted nearly everybody who competed at Winter X.

But if you look at World Cup results lists, especially the names at the top, you'll find that little has changed over the years, Olympics or not. Kevin Rolland and the French National Halfpipe Team, which also includes WX 2009 pipe gold medalist Xavier Bertoni, have competed regularly in FIS World Cup events since 2008. So has the Canadian Halfpipe Team, whose members include Justin Dorey, who took third at the La Plagne World Cup this weekend and second at WXE last week, and Mike Riddle, who won FIS World Champs in February.

So it is true that, unlike in years past, the World Cup is now attracting most of the top names in halfpipe skiing. But it's not for bringing many new competitors into the fold. It's the made-for-TV professional events that are being changed by World Cup and World Champs. Years ago, then-small timers like Rolland, Bertoni, Dorey and Riddle started competing in those series, in the process getting twice the competition experience as higher profile competitors who skipped them. Now, as that extra experience begins to pay off, Winter X and Winter Dew podiums are looking more and more like FIS podiums have for some time, with dedicated competitors like Kevin Rolland on top. And that's not about to change.

The women's podium at this weekend's World Cup halfpipe: Sarah Burke (1st), Devin Logan (2nd), Virginie Faivre (3rd)