Shaun White wins at Snowmass, leads trio of Americans to qualify for Olympic halfpipe team
Shaun White landed the best halfpipe run of his career on Saturday at the U.S. Grand Prix of Snowmass, and, in the process, secured a spot on his fourth Olympic team.
The run was the culmination of one of the most progressive contests in snowboard halfpipe history, with multiple riders taking their own riding to new heights over the course of the event.
Heading into his third and final run, White was sitting in last place. The final rider of the contest, he dropped in and landed a frontside double cork 1440, cab double cork 1080, frontside 540, double McTwist 1260 and frontside double cork 1260.
It was a new run for White, and the judges rewarded him heavily for it — giving him the maximum score of 100 points.
"I never say this, but I'm really proud of myself," White said during a podium interview after the contest. "When I was in New Zealand, I ripped my face open trying these tricks. It's been a long recovery from that to get to this point, to try to make the team, and just to get rewarded for that run. I really feel like I put it down."
"Now I feel like I'm on the right course for the Olympics," he added. "These were Olympic judges. It’s great. If that's the criteria they like, and they like what I'm doing, I'm going to keep this run and build from there."
With the win, White locked up his spot on the U.S. Olympic team for PyeongChang. Two other Americans, Ben Ferguson and Jake Pates, also joined him in qualifying for the team.
White's score gave him the victory over Australia's Scotty James, who has emerged as one of White's top rivals for gold in PyeongChang.
James put down an incredible run of his own. Like White, he had back-to-back 1260s in his run, but James' run also included a switch backside 1260 — arguably the most technical trick of the entire contest.
That run, which scored a 96.25, landed him in second place behind White.
Japan's Yuto Totsuka rounded out the podium.
The next two Americans behind White in the final were Pates and Ferguson, who placed fourth and fifth, respectively. That was enough to lock both of them into spots on the U.S. Olympic team. Both riders will make their Olympic debut in PyeongChang.
Pates was a surprise winner at the last qualifying event but looked strong once again at Snowmass. In his run, he again landed his unique version of the double McTwist 1260 that includes a tail grab — a new trick he debuted last month that has become his signature weapon.
Ferguson finished on the podium at the first two qualifiers, which were both held in December. He has thus far been rewarded for the judges for his unique runs which focus on style and technicality rather than simply doing the biggest rotations.
The U.S. Olympic halfpipe team can include up to four men, but only three can automatically qualify a spot. With White, Pates and Ferguson staking claim to those three spots, the fourth spot on the team will be determined at the discretion of the coaches.
There is one more qualifying event left for the men, and it will take place next week at Mammoth Mountain. The discretionary selection may come down to either Danny Davis or Chase Josey, though another rider could also put themselves in the discussion with a strong finish next week.
Davis, who successfully added a frontside 1260 tail grab into his run today, is a Sochi Olympian and is known for having some of the best style in the field. Josey, who was ranked No. 3 in the World Snowboard Tour standings last year, is one of the most technical riders in the field and has a variety of switch tricks in his runs.
Scores of 100 like Shaun White received aren't unprecedented. Chloe Kim most recently received a "perfect 100" after landing back-to-back 1080s for the first time in 2016, and White himself scored a 100 at X Games several years ago.
But the score, which judges will only ever consider awarding if it's the final run of a contest, is largely symbolic — a way to acknowledge that something monumental just took place.
And it was indeed a monumental afternoon — not just for the men, but the women as well.
The women's halfpipe contest at Snowmass made clear that 1080s will be in the spotlight in PyeongChang, as multiple riders were attempting a trick that, at one point, was eluding everyone not named Kelly Clark or Chloe Kim.
In 2011, Clark made history by landing the first frontside 1080 in a women's halfpipe history. Two years ago, Kim upped the ante even further by landing back-to-back 1080s.
On Saturday, multiple women were attempting the 1080. That includes Spain's three-time Olympian Queralt Castellet, who landed the trick in her run and ended up taking the victory ahead of Kim and the rest of the field.
Kim, who is already qualified for the 2018 Olympic team, took second. U.S. teammates Maddie Mastro and Clark finished third and fourth, respectively.
But perhaps the most impressive American in the field was Arielle Gold, who landed the frontside 1080 in competition for the very first time. Her best run overall was only enough for sixth place, but her Olympic prospects are on the rise.
Mastro, Clark and Gold look likely to get the final three spots on the Olympic team for women's halfpipe, either through automatic nomination or discretionary selection. They could lock up spots next week at the final selection event, though 2006 Olympic champion Hannah Teter and 2017 X Games champion Elena Hight are not yet out of the running.
U.S. Grand Prix at Snowmass Results
Men's snowboard halfpipe
1. Shaun White (USA), 100.0
2. Scotty James (AUS), 96.25
3. Yuto Totsuka (JPN), 94.50
4. Jake Pates (USA), 94.00
5. Ben Ferguson (USA), 85.25
Women's snowboard halfpipe
1. Queralt Castellet (ESP), 91.50
2. Chloe Kim (USA), 88.75
3. Maddie Mastro (USA), 87.25
4. Kelly Clark (USA), 77.75
5. Hikaru Oe (JPN), 77.00
U.S. Qualifying Standings
Men's snowboard halfpipe
1-T. Ben Ferguson, 1800* (QUALIFIED)
1-T. Jake Pates, 1800* (QUALIFIED)
1-T. Shaun White, 1800* (QUALIFIED)
4. Danny Davis, 1200
5. Chase Josey, 1000
Women's snowboard halfpipe
1. Chloe Kim, 2000* (QUALIFIED)
2. Maddie Mastro, 1600*
3. Kelly Clark, 1400*
4. Arielle Gold, 1100*
5. Hannah Teter, 900
6. Elena Hight, 850
*Has met minimum criteria of one top-three finish