COPPER MOUNTAIN, Colo. — Chris Corning is not a household name. Yet. But that will likely soon change.
The 18-year-old snowboarder from nearby Silverthorne, Colorado, finished second at the Toyota U.S. Grand Prix big air at Copper despite hurting his left hip in practice. In obvious pain, he landed a front 1440 (four rotations) on his first jump, then threw a huge backside 1440 for his second, getting the biggest air of the contest, to secure second place with a score of 177.25. It is his fifth world cup podium finish — and second in big air.
“I struggled super bad,” he said as he limped to the podium. “You take off and all you can think in the air is how bad your hip hurts. Then you’ve got to land and power through it, so it’s tough.”
Mons Roisland, 20, from Norway won the contest, throwing a huge backside 1620 his first jump (the only rider to do four-and-a-half rotations), and tallying a combined two-jump score of 182.75. It’s Roisland’s second world cup big air win.
And 19-year-old Chandler Hunt from Park City, Utah, was the surprise third-place finisher with a 159.00. It’s Hunt’s first world cup podium finish.
“I did not expect this, so amped,” said a stunned Hunt, while hugging well-wishers.
In big air, which will make its Olympic debut at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018, each snowboarder must do two different tricks over three jumps, with the best of each different jump combining for an overall score. Corning did not attempt a third jump.
It’s the first podium finish in an Olympic qualifier for both Corning and Hunt. The U.S. is sending a combined slopestyle/big air team to PyeongChang, and to meet the objective qualification criteria, snowboarders must secure one top-three finish in at least one of the five qualifiers (four slopestyle, one big air).
Only three athletes can qualify that way, so now that five have met the criteria, their best two results will be added together to create a ranking list for nomination. The fourth athlete on the Olympic team will be chosen by the coaches.
In the first Olympic qualifier — a slopestyle held last February at Mammoth Mountain, California — Corning finished 37th and Hunt 11th. Americans Red Gerard, Kyle Mack and Dylan Thomas swept the podium in that event. Those three men competed at the Copper big air but did not advance to the final.
The next three slopestyle qualifiers will be at the Dew Tour in Breckenridge, Colorado, next weekend; then at Snowmass, Colorado, and Mammoth in January.
Born and raised in Denver, Corning has home hill advantage in three of the qualifiers. He moved to nearby Silverthorne, Colorado, three years ago and has snowboarded at all the Summit County resorts, including Copper and Breckenridge. Before joining the U.S. Snowboarding team in 2016, he trained with the Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club (Snowmass is outside Aspen and is owned by the Aspen Skiing Company).
Since Olympic slopestyle gold medalist Sage Kotsenburg stepped back from competition, the American men have been lacking a solid favorite in the event.
But in the past couple of years, Corning has progressed deep into the field. In 2016, he took the overall world cup slopestyle title as a 16-year-old. That same year, he became a two-time world junior champion, winning the big air and slopestyle titles. Last season, Corning defended the slopestyle junior world title. He also won silver and bronze medals at the 2017 senior world championships last March.
With his eye on qualifying for the 2018 Olympics, he worked hard over the summer and trained in Europe for a month and a half before the 2018 season began. His hard work paid off in the first world cup in November. Corning led a U.S. podium sweep in a big air world cup in Milan, with Gerard and Mack.
At Copper, he launched himself onto a trajectory to make his first Olympic team — and onto the list of favorites to win two medals in PyeongChang, depending on the damage to his hip.
Hunt also thrust himself onto the list of slopestyle/big air riders to watch. Originally from Newport Beach, California, Hunt moved to Park City, Utah, with his parents to help further his snowboarding career. He made the U.S. rookie slopestyle team in 2014.
He considers slopestyle his strongest event, so finishing on the podium in big air was a big surprise. His previous best big air results were 15th at both the 2016 world junior championships and the Copper U.S. Grand Prix last year.
The slopestyle bronze medalist at the 2016 world junior championships, Hunt threw some of the more difficult jumps of the day — including a Cab double cork 1260 and a backside triple cork 1440 — and landed them solidly.
“Definitely had no expectations coming in to this contest,” said Hunt. “Just tried to go with the flow, have a good time. couldn't have really asked for a better jump or better weather. So just tried to do what I could, and it ended up all working out. Landed every run, so I’m pretty hyped.”
The competition to make the men’s slopestyle/big air team for PyeongChang is stiff. Ryan Stassel, 25 years old and a 2014 Olympian, finished fourth in the Copper big air and noted that this time around, qualifying for the U.S. Olympic slopestyle team is much harder than four years ago.
“We have some young guns that really progressed and got some really good tricks,” he said. “They’re right behind us. They’ve got exactly what it takes and know exactly what it takes to be there.”
A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered four Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.