Saturday, February 5, 2011

Smokin' on the Pipe now has a whole new meaning at worlds' debut of halfpipe skiing

PARK CITY, Utah - "I'm hoping that once we're in the Olympics in 2014, that I won't have to say, 'I do what Shaun White does, but on skis.' I'm hoping, I'm praying for that day to come," said USA's Jen Hudak, who won silver Saturday in halfpipe skiing's inaugural year at the FIS Freestyle World Ski Championships.

"I'm pretty tired of telling people I ski pipe, and they ask, 'Oh, on a snowboard?'," said Canadian Mike Riddle, who earned his first worlds gold on the men's side. "So yeah, if we get in the Olympics, there will be no more of that. I pretty much think every competitor out there - it's their dream to go to the Olympics and we're fighting for that."

Besides their "fight" to get into the 2014 Games, athletes had to battle winds that whipped up to 25 miles per hour on Saturday at Park City Mountain Resort, where Riddle and Rosalind Groenewoud added two more golds to Canada's medal haul. As a nation, Canada has won 12 of the available 36 medals, with the halfpipe skiers bringing its gold-medal tally to six (dual moguls are still on tap for Saturday evening).

The Canadians gave credit to the freestyle programs throughout their provinces, ones where big air programs worked alongside moguls and aerials. That's how Riddle landed in the pipe. He started as an Alpine racer and quickly became bored. From there he jumped in the bumps, then tried aerials, big air and ultimately halfpipe skiing.

Groenewoud, who watched the 2002 Games with her family while they were living in Ecuador, was entranced by the moguls and decided upon their return to Canada at age 13 that she would become a bump skier. She quickly realized she liked the jumps in between the bumps much better - and she was better at them as well. She moved from big air to slopestyle to halfpipe, and noted, "In some ways I learned how to ski in the halfpipe."

Hudak, on the other hand, has been in the pipe since before her first World Cup in 2003 and most recently earned kudos for landing a 1080 in competition at Winter X Games. While the conditions didn't allow for her to throw that trick today, she assured the crowd they'll see it more in the near future (and hopefully as far in the future as Sochi, Russia!).

But here's the great thing about halfpipe skiing - it has and will succeed without the Olympics. While Simon Dumont, who won silver for USA, said he normally would have pulled out because of the weather, he said he still competed because the Olympics are on the table. However, that's not his total motivation.

"The lifestyle is the cool part," said Dumont, who did gymnastics as a kid but recoiled when it became too serious and strict. He ventured into the moguls world and enjoyed himself until it became so regimented that all the fun was sucked out of it. But in freeskiing, "You get to do whatever you want. You get to make your own rules.

"If you want to go in the direction of the Olympics, you easily can," he continued "You can have the drive competitive-wise, and at the same time you can do our sport and not have to have all these regulations. You can just do it any day and have fun. With our sport you can just put on a pair of skis - it's still hard to get to the mountain - but you can just go out and shred some pipe or hit some jumps, or you can just go ski some pow."

But if people are still wondering why they should come out to see halfpipe skiing, well, whether the freeskiing athletes like it or not, there's no need to look any further than snowboarding's Olympic success. Thank you, Shaun White, for giving this new slew of athletes a quick analogy that signals an 'aha' moment. It's what's going to bring people out to watch, and it's because halfpipe athletes know how to put on a good show that they are going to stay. If this batch of competitors is any indication, you can always count on the "wow" factor: big amplitude, tricks, style - and lots of smiles.

FIS World Freestyle Ski Championships
Park City Mountain Resort, Park City, UT - Feb. 5, 2011

Rank Name Year Nation Points
1 RIDDLE Michael 1986 CAN 45.6 1000.00
2 ROLLAND Kevin 1989 FRA 45.2 800.00
3 DUMONT Simon 1986 USA 43.2 600.00

1 GROENEWOUD Rosalind 1989 CAN 44.7 1000.00
2 HUDAK Jennifer 1986 USA 42.1 800.00
3 HANSEN Keltie 1992 CAN 38.8 600.00

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