Speedsters return to Canyons for U.S. Grand Prix races | ParkRecord.com

Speedsters return to Canyons for U.S. Grand Prix races

Christopher Kamrani, The Park Record

Graham Watanabe gave up on having too many expectations in his sport of snowboardcross a long time ago. He knows that one false move, one turn taken too quickly, or a competitor making a move not in the scouting report could mean the end of his race.

"It’s a really unpredictable sport," said the eight-year veteran of the World Cup circuit and two-time Olympian. "When you talk about riding next to other people, it takes a lot of that control away from you and you just can’t control other people. You don’t know what their plans or intentions are.

"There’s no way predict to how it’s going to go."

Watanabe is one of the head athlete course-testers at this year’s Sprint U.S. Grand Prix at Canyons Resort. The snowboarcross finals, slated for Sunday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., will feature the top snowboardcross athletes in the world. Six-time Winter X Games gold medalist Nate Holland will be competing against the likes of Watanabe, Park City resident and 2011 U.S. SBX champion Jonathan Cheever, and others.

Today, Canyons Resort will hold the Visa Freeskiing Grand Prix skicross event finals from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Watanabe said Canyons is his home mountain and being part of the course-design process has been both challenging and exciting.

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"It’s a rare opportunity for an athlete to have input on the course design and it’s also a unique opportunity to give an athletes’ perspective on how the courses progress," he said. "What I’d really like to see happen is everybody comes through happy and healthy with the course."

The 29-year-old Watanabe said the course builders generally have a layout provided as a base to work from. He said builders tweak certain parts of the run to increase speeds or slow them down.

"I’m able to see things from a rider’s perspective," he said. "You get a little more attached to the project, and when people come in with complaints, it’s definitely hard, but ultimately, it’s an opportunity for everybody. It’s impossible to keep every rider happy."

Cheever, 26, is likewise no stranger to the Canyons SBX course. A native of Saugus, Mass., Cheever’s home hill is also Canyons. He said Sunday’s finals should provide another memorable opportunity for riders. In last year’s Sprint U.S. Grand Prix, Canadian Kevin Hill emerged victorious for the men, while American Lindsey Jacobellis — who will miss this year’s competition with a torn ACL — won on the women’s side.

"It means a little bit more to me," said Cheever about competing at his home hill. "I’m definitely not home enough, and I’m definitely close to the Canyons and their staff. I think it’s pretty cool to have that home fan base."

Cheever said this year’s SBX qualifiers, which were held Thursday and Friday, featured Nor Am-level racers. He said while many of those athletes will not have gone up against World Cup-type competition this season, he knows he must keep his head on a swivel.

"It’s really going to act as a stepping stone for the kids who are trying to make the World Cup," he said. "We’re drawing a world-class feel to it this year. There’s going to be up-and-comers racing, X Games medalists it’s going to have everyone."

Each event this weekend will also determine the 2012 U.S. SBX champions, which should make the stakes a bit higher.

"I’m in it to win it every race," said Cheever, who aims to continue sporting the U.S. champion green jacket. "Nothing beats first place. I plan on winning on Sunday."