Olympic qualifying begins at Grand Prix | ParkRecord.com

Olympic qualifying begins at Grand Prix

The U.S. Grand Prix, the longest running winter action sports tour, has announced three stops for the 2016-17 season. Copper Mountain, Colorado, and Mammoth Mountain, California, will host the world's best skiers and riders in halfpipe, slopestyle and big air, while skicross and snowboardcross athletes will return to the U.S. for the first time since 2011. The event at Mammoth will also act as the first of five Olympic selection events for the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea.

The tour kicks off at Copper Dec. 14-17 with halfpipe competitions for freeskiing and snowboarding and a big air snowboarding competition. The big air competition is also part of the United States Olympic Committee's (USOC) Team USA Winter Champions Series, a single-day television event featuring the Grand Prix along with luge and women's hockey.

"Copper always does a fantastic job preparing its Main Vein halfpipe to give us an early season event in the U.S.," said U.S. Grand Prix Tour Director Nick Alexakos. "The addition of the big air snowboarding event is a great opportunity to showcase the new Olympic sport in an iconic skiing and snowboarding community."

Skiers and riders will descend upon Mammoth's Unbound terrain park Feb. 2-5 for a weekend of halfpipe and slopestyle action, including the first Olympic selection events for men's and women's halfpipe skiing, slopestyle snowboarding and slopestyle skiing. This is the first time a selection event has been held a season prior to the Olympics. The U.S. Grand Prix has been the U.S. Olympic qualifying series since 1998 and Mammoth has hosted previous Olympic qualifying events, including the final qualifying event before the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.

An additional four Olympic selection events for halfpipe skiing, halfpipe snowboarding and slopestyle skiing will take place during the 2017-18 season. Slopestyle snowboarding athletes will have three events plus a big air snowboarding event as part of the selection process for those teams. Olympic selection criteria and qualification sites will be announced in the coming months.

"Based on feedback after Sochi, we felt it would be beneficial to extend the qualification period and host an Olympic selection event this season," stated U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA) Snowboarding and Freesking Director Jeremy Forster. "Mammoth has been part of the selection process since snowboarding became part of the Olympics in 1998 and we are fortunate to have them on board to support both snowboarding and freeskiing athletes on the Road to PyeongChang."

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A third U.S. Grand Prix event, featuring skicross and snowboardcross, is on the calendar for Jan. 19-22, with the location to be announced separately at a later date.

All U.S. Grand Prix freeskiing events will be sanctioned as FIS World Cup and Association of Freeskiing Professionals (AFP) Platinum events. Snowboarding competitions will be sanctioned as FIS World Cups and World Snowboard Tour international events.

Last season, with a strong broadcast partnership with NBC Sports, the U.S. Grand Prix reached a total of 6.972 million U.S. television viewers. The third stop on the 2015-16 tour, the Polartec Big Air at Fenway, was the highest-rated winter action sports television broadcast of the season, averaging 1.357 million viewers with a .87 rating. Coverage is expected to grow this season and the next with the Grand Prix being the focal point of Olympic qualification for 2018. A full TV schedule will be released this autumn.