Team USA quickly established its Olympic dominance in freeskiing when two new disciplines in the sport made their Olympic debuts last February at the Winter Games in Sochi.
U.S. athletes captured three of the four gold medals in slopestyle and halfpipe skiing, including a clean sweep of the gold, silver and bronze medals in men’s slopestyle. The sweep was the third for Team USA in Olympic Winter Games history.
“It’s been pretty sweet,” said Nick Goepper, who won bronze in the slopestyle behind teammates Joss Christensen and Gus Kenworthy. “If you have an Olympic medal, suddenly people look at you differently. It’s kind of unique in a sense.”
When the new season begins this week with the men’s and women’s halfpipe competition at the Sprint U.S. Grand Prix at Copper Mountain, Colorado, and the slopestyle season gets underway next week on the Dew Tour in Breckinridge, Colorado, the Olympic memories won’t be forgotten.
“I think guys who didn’t have a chance to do well at the Olympics are going to be hungrier than ever this year because they’re going to go out there and try to beat the Olympic podium,” Goepper said.
Headlining the halfpipe at the season-opening event at Copper Mountain are David Wise, who was the men’s gold medalist in Sochi, and Maddie Bowman, who captured women’s Olympic gold.
Bowman enters the season after an incredible 2014. She medaled at four of the five Olympic qualification events and won her second consecutive Winter X Games gold medal. She cruised into Sochi to win gold, landing back-to-back 900s for the first time. She then finished the season by winning her second straight Association of Freeskiing Professionals halfpipe title.
Wise was a four-time national champion and 2013 world champion before he surfaced in Sochi to win the first men’s halfpipe competition. A professional since he was 18 years old, Wise, now 24, is seeking his fourth straight X Games gold medal.
Others on the halfpipe team include Aaron Blunck, Lyman Currier, Wing Tai Barrymore, Annalisa Drew, Alex Ferreira, Brita Sigourney, Angeli VanLaanen and Torin Yater-Wallace.
Kenworthy and Devin Logan, both slopestyle silver medalists in Sochi, are double medal threats since they compete in slopestyle and halfpipe.
Kenworthy has won the last four overall AFP titles and has finished among the top seven in both disciplines in the X Games. Logan has medaled in both slopestyle and halfpipe in the X Games and won three of the last four overall AFP women’s titles.
Christensen, Kenworthy and Goepper will likely headline a U.S. team in slopestyle, having swept the Olympic medals. And now that slopestyle is in the Winter Games, Goepper sees the discipline growing on it way toward the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games.
“Slopestyle skiing is going to be pretty prevalent the next few years, and I think it’s a force to be reckoned with,” Goepper said. “I think more kids are going to get involved. There’s going to be a lot of focus, a lot of outside attention on slopestyle gearing up for the next Olympics.”
That will begin to happen Monday in Breckenridge, when practices officially begin for the first Dew Tour event of the season. And since this is the first season following an Olympic year, expect the slopestylers (and halfpipers) to be focusing on new tricks instead of specifically chasing medals as they were last year.
“Totally, yeah. I’m definitely going to be trying to explore some new tricks and runs,” Goepper said. “This year will be a bit more experimental than last year. The stakes aren’t quite as high. I think I’m going to have more fun this year than I have any other year, so I’m really looking forward to it.”
Christensen will be worth watching not only because he won the gold medal in Sochi, but he only made the 2014 U.S. Olympic Team after winning the final qualification event and getting a coaches’ discretionary spot on the roster. His highest finish in the X Games has been sixth place.
Other members of the slopestyle squad include Ashley Battersby, Bobby Brown, Keri Herman, Chris Laker, Alex Schlopy, Maggie Voisin, McRae Williams, Emilia Wint and Tom Wallisch.
Five Things To Know
GUS AND THE DOGS: Two of the four malnourished puppies that Gus Kenworthy wanted to adopt while he was in Russia at the Winter Games managed to survive and live with Kenworthy and also with photographer friend Robin Macdonald. One of the dogs died in Russia before the trip to the United States and a second dog died in New York City. Surviving was Mishka and Jake. “They’re just so attached to each other,“ Kenworthy told People magazine.
YOUTH SERVED: At 15 years old, Maggie Voisin is the youngest member of the slopestyle team. She made the Olympic team but had to pull out of the competition with an ankle injury. She won a silver medal at the 2014 X Games. She turns 16 on Dec. 14.
SOCCER KICKS: Olympic halfpipe gold medalist Maddie Bowman was a member of a California state championship team in women’s soccer at South Lake Tahoe. While still a senior in high school, Bowman won a Dew Tour stop in Vermont and won a silver medal at Winter X Games.
CHURCH LEADER: Olympic halfpipe gold medalist David Wise, a native of Reno, Nevada, runs the youth group at his church with his wife, Alexandra. Also in the group is his daughter, Nayeli.
SUMMER INTERN: A knee injury kept Emilia Wint out of contention for an Olympic spot, but she moved from Breckenridge, Colorado, to Park City, Utah, and wound up serving as an intern for the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development. She expects to be healthy again this season.
Paul D. Bowker has been writing about Olympic sports since 1990 and was Olympic assistant bureau chief for Morris Communications at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games. He also writes about Olympic sports for the Springfield (Mass.) Republican. Bowker has written for TeamUSA.org since 2010 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.