U.S. Olympic qualification for snowboarding and freeskiing will be among the toughest of all sports. It begins in Breckenridge, Colo., this week.
The Dew Tour iON Mountain Championships, which run Wednesday through Sunday, are the first of five stops in this trials process. The others are on the U.S. Grand Prix schedule — Copper Mountain, Colo., Northstar, Calif., Park City, Utah, and Mammoth Mountain, Calif.
The five events will determine Olympians in snowboard halfpipe and the new Olympic events of snowboard slopestyle and ski halfpipe and ski slopestyle. The Olympic rosters are expected to be announced Jan. 22.
The overall Olympic qualification standings will be determined by the two best results for an athlete over the five events. No more than four athletes can make the U.S. Olympic Team per event. It’s possible fewer than four will be named for some events.
Here’s the Breckenridge competition schedule (all times Eastern):
Women’s snowboard halfpipe qualifying — 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.
Women’s ski slopestyle qualifying — 11:45 a.m.-1:30 p.m.
Women’s ski halfpipe qualifying — 2:45-4:15 p.m.
Women’s snowboard slopestyle qualifying — 3:30-5:30 p.m.
Men’s ski slopestyle qualifying — 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.
Men’s snowboard halfpipe qualifying — 3-5 p.m.
Women’s ski halfpipe FINAL — 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
Men’s snowboard slopestyle qualifying — 1:30-4 p.m.
Women’s snowboard slopestyle FINAL — 5-6 p.m.
Men’s ski halfpipe qualifying — 7-9 p.m.
Men’s snowboard halfpipe FINAL — 12-2 p.m. (Live on NBC)
Women’s snowboard halfpipe FINAL — 2:15-3 p.m.
Women’s ski slopestyle FINAL — 4-5 p.m.
Men’s ski halfpipe FINAL — 6:30-8 p.m. (11 p.m. on NBCSN)
Men’s ski slopestyle FINAL — 12-2 p.m. (Live on NBC)
Men’s snowboard slopestyle FINAL — 3-4:30 p.m. (Live on NBCSN)
Live streams will begin Thursday here. Here’s are event-by-event contenders:
Men’s Snowboard Halfpipe
Two-time Olympic champion Shaun White will make his season debut after suffering an ankle injury in New Zealand in August, touring with his new band and training on his private halfpipe and slopestyle course in Australia.
White’s competition to make the U.S. Olympic Team will include all of his 2010 Olympic teammates — Greg Bretz, Scotty Lago and Louie Vito. The man most likely to break up that group a year ago, reigning U.S. Snowboarding Grand Prix champion Luke Mitrani, broke his neck training in September and may never snowboard again.
Consider Benji Farrow and Matt Ladley the next best in his place.
The top international competition are Sochi Olympic medal threats Moscow-born Swiss world champion Iouri Podladtchikov, I-Pod, and Japanese 15-year-old Ayumu Hirano. Hirano was second to White at the Winter X Games in January.
Women’s Snowboard Halfpipe
All four 2010 U.S. Olympians are vying to return to the Games, too — 2002 Olympic champion Kelly Clark, 2006 Olympic champion Hannah Teter, 2006 Olympic silver medalist Gretchen Bleiler and Elena Hight, the first woman to land a double cork.
They are under pressure from the next generation of American women’s halfpipe riders, including reigning world champion Arielle Gold, 17, and Kaitlyn Farrington and Maddy Schaffrick, who made the last two X Games finals.
Also in Breckenridge is the reigning Olympic champion, Australian Torah Bright, who is trying to become the first athlete to compete in three snowboarding events at one Olympics in halfpipe, slopestyle and snowboardcross. Bright is joined by countrywoman Holly Crawford, the 2011 world champion.
Men’s Snowboard Slopestyle
This is White’s new-and-old event. He won every X Games slopestyle title from 2003-06 but focused more on the halfpipe beginning with the 2006 Olympics. He finished fifth in slopestyle at January’s X Games.
The man who won X Games, for a second straight year, was Saskatchewan’s Mark McMorris. McMorris is competing in Breckenridge, and he is seen as the Olympic slopestyle favorite, trying to hand White his first loss at the Games.
Other U.S. Olympic Team contenders in action include Chas Guldemond, who was fourth at the X Games, and Sage Kotsenburg, who took silver to McMorris in 2012.
McMorris’ biggest competition could be a countryman, 2011 X Games champion Sebastien Toutant. Finland boasts the reigning world champion over McMorris, Roope Tonteri, but he is not entered in Breckenridge.
Women’s Snowboard Slopestyle
The favorite must be an American, two-time reigning X Games champion Jamie Anderson. She’s won four X Games titles, her first at age 16 in 2007.
But keep an eye on Ty Walker, 16, who may become the youngest athlete on the U.S. Olympic Team once the master roster is finalized. Walker was fifth at the World Championships in January.
International threats to Anderson include Canadian world champion Spencer O’Brien and Finland’s Enni Rukajärvi, who swept the X Games and the World Championships in 2011. Bright, the world bronze medalist, is entered, too.
Men’s Ski Halfpipe
The silver medalist at last winter’s X Games and World Championships was another American, Torin Yater-Wallace, who was the youngest Winter X Games medalist ever when he won a silver in 2011 one month after turning 15.
Simon Dumont completed the U.S. podium sweep at the X Games. He’s the veteran of the group at 27 and back from a broken ankle.
Internationally, Canada’s Mike Riddle and France’s Kevin Rolland were the world’s best before Wise’s ascension.
Women’s Ski Halfpipe
American Maddie Bowman won silver at the 2012 X Games, just after turning 18, behind Canadian Roz Groenewoud, and then gold a year later, relegating Groenewoud to silver. They’re both in Breckenridge.
Ski halfpipe is the event once dominated by Canadian Sarah Burke, a close friend of Groenewoud’s who died in a January 2012 training accident.
The other U.S. Olympic hopefuls in action include Jen Hudak, 27, once a rival to Burke, Brita Sigourney, 23, the silver medalist to Burke at the 2011 X Games, and Devin Logan, who may be better in ski slopestyle.
Men’s Ski Slopestyle
The U.S. is absolutely loaded here. Every World Championship and X Games gold medal has gone to an American since 2010, a list that includes Bobby Brown, Sammy Carlson, Nick Goepper, Alex Schlopy and Tom Wallisch.
They’re all in Breckenridge. At least one of them will not be in Sochi.
Goepper, the unlikely Indiana freeskiing product, is the reigning X Games champion. Wallisch, who fancies filming, is the reigning world champion.
If anybody is to break up a U.S. medal sweep in Breckenridge or the Olympics, it could be Brit James Woods, who did so at the World Championships by winning silver and added a bronze at the X Games in January.
Women’s Ski Slopestyle
The biggest star across all events not competing in Breckenridge is Canadian Kaya Turski. She’s a three-time X Games champion and the reigning world champion in ski slopestyle.
But Turski suffered a third torn ACL in August and hopes to be ready for Sochi.
Even in her absence, Americans will have a tough time prevailing in Breckenridge. Norway’s Tiril Sjåstad Christiansen snapped Turski’s X Games winning streak in January. Another Canadian, Dara Howell, was the silver medalist at the World Championships.
Wednesday update: Christiansen, who was entered at Breckenridge but did not start, tore an ACL last week, according to her social media accounts.
The U.S. contingent is deep, however. It includes X Games silver medalists Logan, who blew out her knee a year ago, and Keri Herman as well as Grete Eliassen, the world bronze medalist who tore an ACL almost two years ago. Also, Meg Olenick, whose had five knee surgeries.