At Olympic qualifier, halfpipe snowboarders get test of what’s to come

Ryan Wachendorfer, of Edwards, competes in the halfpipe qualifier during the U.S. Grand Prix World Cup event on Thursday, Dec. 7, in the Woodward Superpipe at Copper Mountain. Wachendorfer and Eagle resident Jake Pates were narrowly eliminated from Saturday, Dec. 9's finals.
Hugh Carey | |

COPPER MOUNTAIN — Eagle’s Jake Pates has to leave Copper Mountain without a spot in the top-10 finals, even though he did mange to notch a top-10 score on Thursday, Dec. 7, at the U.S. Grand Prix World Cup.

Such is the plight of the American halfpipe snowboarder, who is currently competing against himself, competing against other athletes from around the world, competing against the laws or gravity and, most of all, competing against other Americans for one of only four Olympic spots.

Also, along the way, those snowboarders are hoping for a little luck, and Pates found himself unlucky on Thursday, outscoring competitors from the heat he was not in who would go on to make the finals, which are scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 9, and will feature 10 male and eight female snowboarders.

Nevertheless, Pates chuckled a little when mentioning how he came up short, giving credit where credit is due.

“My teammate Greg Bretz bumped me out,” Pates said with a laugh. “He had a good run, he deserved it.”


The exchange between Bretz and Pates reveals another detail about with whom these athletes are competing.

“It’s always a good time, everybody’s just shredding, and everybody’s friends,” Pates said.

Friends and, in the cases of Pates and teammate Ryan Wachendorfer, neighbors.

Wachendorfer is from Edwards and has been close with Pates for years. Pates was sixth in a heat where the top five qualify, and Wachendorfer was right behind him in seventh.

“Greg knocked Jake out, but we’re all right in there,” Wachendorfer said.

And the competition among Americans, while friendly, is intense.

“That’s the only result that really matters,” said Pates, “where you stand with the U.S. guys, everybody’s (talented) and they’ve all got good runs.”

The U.S. Pro Halfpipe Team has seven active members vying for those four Olympic spots.

And that’s just the team.

Shaun White and Louie Vito, both who made finals on Saturday, aren’t actually on the U.S. team.

“It’s ridiculous,” said Wachendorfer. “The talent we have.”

Seven of the 10 athletes to make it to Saturday’s final are from the U.S.


Nevertheless, Wachendorfer was quick to acknowledge there are many from around the globe who could prevent the U.S. from making the podium at the Olympics.

“Past the U.S. guys, there’s at least 10 dudes who could win it,” Wachendorfer said.

His first thoughts on who that winner could be?

“Scotty James is killing it,” he said.

The Australian sensation won a lot of major competitions last season including X Games, and on Thursday he scored an incredible 97.00 in the qualifying run, besting Shaun White, Iouri Podladtchikov, Ayumu Hirano and the rest of the field.

Wachendorfer said Podladtchikov’s Swiss team and Hirano’s Japanese team could be tough to beat at Olympics, as well.

Seeing all that talent, “it was super fun,” Wachendorfer said. “Just getting back into it. I’m stoked I landed a run and put a score on the board.”

Pates, too, said above all else, the competition at Copper Mountain was a blast to be a part of.

“That’s the whole reason I do it,” Pates said. “I wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t fun.”


On the women’s side, local snowboarder Zoe Kalapos said while she failed to land the run she wanted to, she was glad to get a tune-up.

“I’ll get more practice for next week,” she said.

The U.S. team qualified five of the eight competitors into Saturday’s final, including the winners from both heats — California snowboarders Maddie Mastro and Chloe Kim.

Thursday, Dec. 14, will be the Dew Tour, another Olympic qualifier for American halfpipe snowboarders. Kalapos said she’s excited for that competition and the halfpipe at Breckenridge, where the event will be held.

“It’s a little longer, and I can definitely add more to my run,” she said.

The U.S. Grand Prix World Cup halfpipe snowboarding finals are scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 9, at 11 a.m. in the Woodward superpipe at the base of Copper Mountain.

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