Athletes battle fog, snow on first day of U.S. Grand Prix in Snowmass | CraigDailyPress.com

Athletes battle fog, snow on first day of U.S. Grand Prix in Snowmass

Austin Colbert
The Aspen Times

Alex Ferreira was ready to "go watch movies and chill," a luxury he had at his disposal after landing his first run in Wednesday's men's ski halfpipe qualifier at the Toyota U.S. Grand Prix in Snowmass.

And it was a good thing the Aspen local landed his first run, as Mother Nature made finishing the second and final qualifying run difficult.

"That waiting game — classic," Ferreira said between runs from the base of the Snowmass halfpipe Wednesday. "It's pretty tough. It depends on whether you land your first run or not. If you land your first run, then you're OK."

The U.S. Olympic team qualifier got underway Wednesday with relatively perfect weather, meaning the women's ski halfpipe and women's snowboard slopestyle qualifiers went off without much trouble. But as the day wore on, an expected winter storm rolled in and a thick fog settled over the slopestyle course and the halfpipe during the afternoon qualifying sessions for men's snowboard slopestyle and men's ski halfpipe.

With the fog, which eventually turned to snow, it was nearly impossible to see the top of the halfpipe from the staging area at the bottom. This led to a lengthy delay that pushed an hour between the first and second qualifying runs.

"The judges couldn't see the top of the pipe," U.S. Grand Prix tour director Nick Alexakos said Wednesday night. "So we just had to wait for that to kind of burn off a little bit and we got a great opportunity and once again the staff and organizing committee did an amazing job of keeping the courses ready to roll, and the minute we did get a window we were able to jump on it and get qualification complete."

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The fog cleared just enough to allow the second runs to happen for the men's ski halfpipe qualifier. However, the snow and fog was too much for the men's snowboard slopestyle athletes, who saw their second qualifying run canceled.

Ferreira, who finished third overall in Wednesday's ski halfpipe qualifying, didn't even attempt his second run. The falling snow made the pipe slower and therefore more difficult to get amplitude to impress the judges.

"I just wanted to come out here and put down the best run I could and managed to do that on my first run," Ferreira said. "So I'm pretty happy."

Alexakos said athlete safety is always the No. 1 concern when it comes to dealing with the weather. He doesn't expect the lingering snowfall to impact today's snowboard halfpipe and ski slopestyle qualification.

"We have a great plan with the organizing committee and Snowmass to get the venues ready and continue qualification as planned," Alexakos said. "Kudos to Snowmass and the effort they put forth with the amount of work it takes to keep these courses and venues in riding shape and skiing shape is a miracle in itself."

The Snowmass Grand Prix, which is the second-to-last U.S. Olympic team qualifier with only next week's stop at Mammoth remaining, is the first event of its kind in Snowmass since a Grand Prix in 1998. It will continue today with the remainder of the qualifiers before the finals Friday and Saturday. A second ski slopestyle competition — qualifiers and finals — is scheduled for Sunday.

"We know they've had a gem of a 22-foot pipe up here and great slopestyle terrain, so we were excited to be able to use the venue and continue that partnership with them," Alexakos, who represents U.S. Ski and Snowboard, said of Snowmass. "It's just been an amazing effort and I think it will culminate this weekend at finals."

acolbert@aspentimes.com

THURSDAY SCHEDULE

Here are today’s events at the Snowmass Grand Prix:

Snowboarding

Women’s halfpipe qualifier: 9:25 to 11 a.m.

Men’s halfpipe qualifiers: 11:40 a.m. to 12:35 p.m. and 1:30 to 2:25 p.m.

Skiing

Men’s slopestyle qualifiers: 9:25 to 10:45 a.m. and 11:40 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Women’s qualifier: 1:55 to 3:15 p.m.