The first FIS Freestyle Ski World Cup event of the season went down in Copper Mountain, USA today, where five of the top ladies and 10 of the top men in the freestyle world took to Copper’s perfectly groomed halfpipe to duke it out for early season supremacy, with reigning world and Olympic champion David Wise (USA) and pipe veteran Janina Kuzma (NZL) stepping up to claim honours.
An initial ladies’ field of six skiers was reduced to five after Sochi 2014 Olympic silver medallist Marie Martinod (FRA) was forced to pull out following a hard crash in Wednesday’s qualification round.
With Martinod out, the USA’s Devin Logan started things off for the remaining five ladies, stomping her first run with big amplitude and a couple of stylish 540s to score an 83.0 and take an early lead that would stand through the first round of finals.
After so-so runs by Kimmy Sharp (USA) and Annalisa Drew (USA), Sochi 2014 bronze medallist Ayana Onozuka (JPN) dropped in and also laid down a solid run, with the smooth 26-year-old’s clean tricks and focused grabs earning her 77.0 and possession of second place in the early going.
However, on her second run of the day, first-overall qualifier Janina Kuzma (NZL) was able to continue on in the tradition she established in qualifiers. Fixing her first-run mistakes by dialing in her grabs and cleanly stomping a last-hit 720, Kuzma was able to vault ahead of Logan and lock in a score of 88.0 that would go on to be good enough for the first World Cup win of her career.
The men’s competition was a stacked affair, with the 10 finalists on hand reading like a royal family tree of the halfpipe world, give or take a couple of cousins. And, with nine of the 10 finalists able to throw down at least one stomped run on the day, competition was fierce.
In the end, less than two points separated first from third place, as Wise, countryman Torin Yater-Wallace, and Benoit Valentine (FRA) went toe-to-toe-to-toe throughout all three rounds of the finals.
Working on crowd-favourite status throughout the day despite the fans’ home team bias, Valentine went all-out on his final run, dropping in switch and later throwing one of the biggest double-corked 1260s landed by any athlete throughout the competition. And while his last-ditch effort earned him his personal best score of the day, he was unable to catch the two US athletes ahead of him.
Yater-Wallace was the top overall qualifier on Wednesday and he carried that momentum into Friday’s finals. With a second run that included two double-corks, a switch 1080, and some fearsome amplitude, the recently-turned 19-year-old posted a score of 91.0 that would be just enough to keep him ahead of Valentine but not quite enough to best the first run of the man who would continue his reign as the current king of the pipe.
David Wise has been basically unstoppable in the halfpipe for the past several seasons, and Friday’s Copper event was no exception. Spinning left and right, switch and forward, with back-to-back double-corks, the Voss 2013 world champion and Sochi 2014 gold medallist put on a halfpipe clinic at Copper. His first run score of 92.4 would stand up throughout the competition as the best, earning him the first win of the 2014/15 World Cup halfpipe season.
1. Janina Kuzma, NZL
2. Devin Logan, USA
3. Ayana Onozuka, JPN
10. Keltie Hansen, CAN
17. Rosalind Groenewoud, CAN
1. David Wise, USA
2. Torin Yater-Wallace, USA
3. Benoit Valentin, FRA
10. Mike Riddle, CAN
15. Brendan Mackay, CAN
18. Matt Margetts, CAN
21. Kristopher Atkinson, CAN
33. Noah Bowman, CAN
34. Simon D’Artois, CAN