Canadian freeskier Mike Riddle kept his podium streak alive with a convincing win at the Copper Mountain Grand Prix in Colorado on Friday, posting the top first run of the day on the halfpipe and then bumping up the difficulty level on his second run to best his own first score.
Teammate Rosalind Groenewoud improved on her bronze medal performance at the Dew Cup in Breckenridge in December with a silver medal, making it a two-podium day for Canada.
Instead of medals, the podium finishers were presented with custom Taylor acoustic guitars with bronze, silver or gold trim.
It was a windy day for jumpers, but Riddle was on his game from start to finish, besting his first run score by a full point in his second run with a run that included a switch double corked 1260 up top — two flips and three-and-a-half rotations while holding a mute grab — and a pair of switch tricks at the bottom including a switch 900.
Young-gun Aaron Blunck earned a silver guitar with his score of 87.0, followed by American David Wise with an 83.6.
"I didn't land my runs clean in qualifications so I was very lucky to get into finals as the last guy," said Riddle, "Today in the conditions I was just trying to put down as clean a run as possible and it worked out for me, I've been doing this run a lot and so I'm really confident with it."
Maintaining speed was an issue with high winds blowing snow into the pipe all day, making it hard for skier to keep their speed.
Riddle credited ski tech Kenny Nault for keeping his skis running fast in the conditions. "He's the world's best ski tech and so today our team definitely had the fastest running skis out there," he said.
Matt Margetts also made the finals for Canada after leading the qualifiers, but had trouble up top on both of his runs in the finals to place 10th.
Other Canadians include Noah Bowman in 17th, Kristopher Atkinson in 27th, Brendan Mackay in 33rd and Simon D'Artois and Justin Dorey in 54th and 65th. Dorey, who won the opening event at Breckenridge, injured his shoulder in that contest and wasn't able to take part in a training camp in Whistler last week. He crashed on his first jump in both qualifier runs.
Groenewoud started her day in third and held the lead for a while in the second run until she was bested by American Maddie Bowman. Bowman went on to finish first with an 84.6, followed by Groenewoud with a 79.2 and Brit Sigourney of the U.S. with a 79.0. Megan Gunning was fifth while Cassie Sharpe was 12th. Keltie Hansen was 14th and Dania Assaly broke her collarbone in training and wasn't able to compete.
Groenewoud had the biggest airs of the day up top, but struggled with the conditions and wasn't able to get above the lip on her last few tricks.
"Roz was definitely affected by the slow speed of the pipe," said halfpipe head coach Trennon Paynter. "She did a good job but just didn't have as much speed into her last two tricks to get enough height."
The Grand Prix also included a ski slopestyle competition (three-jump, two-rail), which was counted as a World Cup. Canada's Kaya Turski had a rare off day to place fifth — her first time off the podium in around two years — but Dara Howell stepped up her skiing to take second overall between American Keri Herman and Australian Anna Segal. Pemberton's Yuki Tsubota, in her first year with the national team, added a seventh place result to go with her silver medal from the Dew Cup. Kim Lamarre and Emma Whitman were 34th and 38th.
For Howell, 18, the trick was to relax and try to forget about the competition.
"I know I've been training well and I know that the tricks I have are all tricks I know how to do, so when it came to the contest I just thought of it as another training run," she said. "I mean I was still really nervous and I still had all that going on, but I just tried to have fun and just ski."
The event was the second of five that the team has targeted to prequalify Canadian athletes for the Sochi Winter Games in 2014. Any athlete who gets two podiums this season in recognized events will be prequalified, although you also need to get a minimum 12th place finish before the end of January 2014 to guarantee that spot. With Howell's podium, three athletes — including Dew Cup gold medal winner Kaya Turski and Tsubota — are already halfway there.
On the men's side, the team was led by Quebec's Alex Beaulieu-Marchand, 18, who finished the day in third place. First overall went to British skier James Woods, followed by Australian Russell Henshaw. Alex Bellemare was 12th for Canada while Vincent Gagnier and TJ Schiller were 36th and 38th.
I'm super happy," said Beaulieu-Marchard. "I mean, I wasn't expecting anything, I was just going out there to ski and have fun and it worked out for me so I couldn't be happier. And I'm super-stoked that I might have a chance to go the Olympics, hopefully I'll get another podium."
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