The Sochi Olympics may be more than three years away, but if halfpipe skiing is to be added by the IOC, Canadians Justin Dorey, Rosalind Groenewoud and Mike Riddle made sure everyone in the sport knows they're contenders for the inaugural gold medals with their Friday afternoon performances.
In winning the first-ever Visa U.S. Halfpipe Grand Prix skiing competition at a snowy Copper Mountain, boyfriend-girlfriend duo Dorey and Groenewoud not only took home $20,000 between them, but they did it on Groenewoud's 21st birthday. When she finished her victory lap in Friday's finals, the strong contingent of spectating pros serenaded her with a lively rendition of "Happy Birthday."
In fact, there were almost as many big-name skiers watching from the bottom of the pipe as there were dropping in from the top -- a collection that included the last two X Games superpipe champions, Frenchmen Xavier Bertoni and Kevin Rolland, as well as TJ Schiller, Jacob Wester, Jossi Wells and Peter Olenick. Bertoni and Rolland told ESPN.com they elected to skip the Grand Prix to rest for the opening Dew Tour stop next weekend at Breckenridge.
Dorey's victory came by a scant seven-tenths of a point over his longtime friend and training partner Riddle. Each posted a nearly flawless run despite frustratingly slow conditions, and the fact that both landed double-cork 1260s to start their runs was reflected in their scores -- 48.0 and 47.3, respectively.
"We made a deal that we had to do 1-2 again today," said Dorey, who won a U.S. Open pipe title at Copper two years ago. "Because in qualifying, he was one, I was two, but we said, whatever, order doesn't matter. We've got to do it again today."
Dorey's winning run included a double flip 1260, a flat 360, a switch left 900, a switch right 720 and a flat right 540. Riddle said he was happy with second place and that Dorey's amplitude was the difference between their runs.
American Simon Dumont rounded out the podium (45.3) despite not throwing in a double flip he'd planned to unleash on his third hit. He had to abandon his plans due to the powdery pipe bottom that had everyone but the Canadians shaking their heads. The Canadian national team skiers said they benefited from a Swix wax technician who helped them keep their speed.
After coming into Wednesday's qualifiers with exactly zero pipe runs this season, Dumont was still pleased with third place. He also earned a spot in the World Championships later this season as the top American finisher.
"I'm doing whatever it takes to get in the Olympics," said Dumont, who was the day's most consistent skier with two runs of 43.9 points or better. "And I know that going to Worlds will help."
American Tucker Perkins finished fourth (44.5) and secured the second U.S. start in Worlds.
On the women's side, Groenewoud used superlative amplitude to win. Her victory came just two weeks after she switched ski sponsors from Rossignol to Scott, a move that has not yet been formally announced.
She opened her run with a straight air mute grab then followed that with a 900, a left 540, a right 540, a left 360 and a switch 540. She is one of the only female pipe skiers to spin in her unnatural direction, which was evident in her 45.2-point score.
"Unnatural spinning is so important," Groenewoud said. "It's been essential for the boys for four or five years, and I think it's going to become essential for girls too."
Reigning X Games champion Jen Hudak rebounded from a fall on her first run to claim second (44.6), while longtime Copper skier Jess Cumming took third (41.3) and earned a spot at Worlds.
"A lot of us feel that Worlds is going to serve as an evaluation for what ski halfpipe would look like in the Olympics in 2014," Hudak said, "so I certainly wanted to make sure I got in there and secured that spot. We're looking forward to showing people that we deserve an Olympics. And I think people are starting to believe us."
After the competition, U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association president Bill Marolt made a surprise announcement that the Grand Prix series will remain at Copper for the next four years, meaning it'll host a qualifier for the 2014 Winter Games.