Park City freeskiers prepare for opening Olympic qualifier | ParkRecord.com

Park City freeskiers prepare for opening Olympic qualifier

In the lead up to the Pyeongchang Olympics, bobsled and skeleton may be underway and alpine racing in full swing, but the men's freeski events are just getting started. This week, some of Park City's athletes will hit the slopes at Breckenridge Ski Resort in Colorado to start their World Cup season, including McRae Williams (who is hoping to secure a place at the Olympics for the first time) and up-and-comers Colby Stevenson and Alex Hall. Joss Christensen, who won a gold medal in Sochi in 2014, has opted to stay in Park City while healing an injured knee.

In a recent statement, Christensen said he will return the first week of January for the Snowmass, Colorado, Grand Prix and World Cup. He added that his knee "feels better than expected."

Nick Goepper, who took bronze alongside Christensen in Sochi, will hope to secure a top-three finish while Gus Kenworthy, who also stood on the podium with Christensen for his silver-medal finish, will compete in both slopestyle and pipe.

This will be the first of five chances for freeski athletes to meet qualifications for the Winter Games, which entails earning 50 points before Jan. 21 of this year.

The competitors will be judged in five categories:

1. Execution — how cleanly the trick is performed.

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2. Difficulty — how hard each trick is.

3. Amplitude — basically, the height of their tricks.

4. Variety — being able to complete multiple tricks in multiple ways, including the direction of spin and rotation.

5. Progression — if the athlete's tricks are advancing the sport.

Andrew Gauthier, Freeski and Snowboard press officer, said viewers and judges can expect to see "multiple double corks in the half pipe in the same run."

"Also," Gauthier added, "it's a longer pipe than last week at the Copper (Canyon) Grand Prix, so riders have the opportunity to cover more length with every jump, (go bigger), but still fit in the same number of hits. In slopestyle, double corks will be common place, but with four jumps, expect to see triple corks on the larger of the jumps. Also, given there are four jumps on the slopestyle course, this provides the athletes a chance to spin in four different take-off directions (ie. left, right, switch left, switch right). Variety of tricks will be very important here."

Judge Jason Arens said, because of a generous set-up for rails, there should be a wide variety of technical grinds.

On top of meeting point standards for Olympic qualifying, competitors will also be jostling for up to four spots on the U.S. team that will actually go to Pyeongchang. Odds are, there will be a couple U.S. athletes who are qualified but not selected to go.

After Dew Tour, athletes will travel to the Snowmass, Colorado, Grand Prix and World Cup and the Aspen Grand Prix in Aspen, Colorado, and will finish out their qualifying season at the Mammoth Grand Prix, in Mammoth, Colorado.

This will be the second event following the Copper Mountain Grand Prix in terms of Olympic qualifiers for women freeskiers and snowboarders. Among the competitors in women's freeski, Parkites will recognize Devin Logan, who has called Park City home for the past few years and took silver in Sochi's slopestyle competition in the 2014 Winter Games. However, it's currently Maggie Voisin leading the women's freeski team in points. She will be looking for her second top-three finish toward Olympic selection.

Ben Ferguson and Shawn white lead the U.S. men's snowboarding pack while Americans Chloe Kim, Maddie Mastro and Kelly Clark swept the podium for the women (see B-5 for details).

Dew Tour starts Wednesday at 9:45 a.m. mountain time and continues through the weekend.

Those interested in watching the event can view it streaming live at DewTour.com.