Her ticket to Aspen already in hand, Yuki Tsubota took down last week’s slopestyle contest at home before heading off to the biggest one of her career.
The Pemberton skier will head into her Winter X Games debut this week on a winning note as she captured The North Face Pipe and Park Open Series women’s slopestyle last Wednesday (Jan. 16) on Blackcomb in convincing fashion.
Many skiers descended on Whistler for the last-chance qualifier to the X Games, but Tsubota received her invite the day before the competition, taking some of the pressure off before she posted the two highest scores of the event.
“I was really, really happy,” she said. “I was really there to have fun and get some training before X Games. I did a new trick for the first time in a comp and I was pretty happy with that.”
Dropping last in the finals, Tsubota’s first-run score of 87.4 was already enough to secure the victory when taking her second run. On the victory lap, she improved to 90.4 with a run that included a 720 off the first jump and a 900 off the last. American skiers Jamie Crane-Mauzy (81.0) and Alexi Micinski (79.2) were also on the podium.
The 18-year-old comes up with big performances at home, it seems. She took third place in slopestyle during the AFP World Championships last spring and said competing in Whistler puts her in a comfort zone.
“I get pretty homesick when I’m away so much and I really enjoy having a close group of friends being around,” said Tsubota. “It helps me out, for sure.”
It was that podium finish to close out the 2012 season in which Tsubota really showed she could hang with the world’s best. In the nine months since, she’s done nothing but cement her status as an elite slopestyle skier with great results.
In fact, if you’d have asked Tsubota this time last year if she thought she might have a chance to ski at the 2013 X Games, her answer would have been simple.
“No, not a chance,” she laughed. “I was not expecting it, for sure.
“I never thought everything would go this quickly. It’s been amazing.”
Tsubota has already shown she has podium potential against an X Games-calibre field this season, earning a silver at the Dew Tour stop in Colorado in December. But bringing home a medal isn’t a requirement for her to enjoy the Aspen experience this week.
“I really have no expectations going into X Games. I’m going there this time for some experience and I’m just happy to be invited,” she said. “I want to have fun and see what it’s all about.”
While Tsubota did not need the win last week to get an X Games invite, fellow national slopestyle team member Noah Morrison did, so the Vernon native was thrilled to capture top spot in the men’s park final.
“I’m so stoked. That’s been my goal forever, to get into X Games, and I knew that was my last shot to do it,” Morrison said Monday (Jan. 21) after arriving in Aspen. “I was pretty nervous up top. I wanted it so bad … and I still can’t believe that I’m here right now. It’s so crazy.”
Morrison closed out his winning run with a double cork 1260 and earned a 91.4 from the judges. U.S. skiers James Campbell (89.6) and Willie Borm (87.0) made it a close contest.
Morrison, 18, said he felt good all week, stomping runs from the first training session all the way through the finals. He said his dad was on hand to help coach him through the event, and the old man’s advice seemed to pay off.
“He really knows how to get in my head and help me out,” said Morrison. “He was a big part of that win.”
Alex Ferreira was headed from Whistler to Aspen after last week’s Pipe and Park Open Series stop no matter what — he’s a Grade 12 student at Aspen High School. But the 18-year-old was grinning from ear-to-ear at the bottom of the halfpipe last Thursday (Jan. 17) after his men’s pipe win gave him his first X Games berth.
“It hasn’t even set in. I’m gonna go home and see all my best friends and they’re gonna be like ‘You got into the X Games!’ I’m gonna be so stoked,” said Ferreira.
Fellow Aspen resident Peter Olenick put down an impressive first run that scored a 92.2 that looked tough to beat. Unfazed, Ferreira was the next skier up and responded with an outstanding trip down the pipe — which included a cork 1080 and a double — and scored a 93.6. French skier Xavier Bertoni earned a 90.0 on his second run to take bronze.
It was a tough day for Whistler local Simon D’Artois, as the national halfpipe team skier went down early in both of his final runs and wasn’t a factor.
Annalisa Drew took home the women’s pipe title with an 83.0 on her second run. Angeli VanLaanen (78.0) and Hannah Haupt (69.0) made it an all-American podium.
Whistler’s Cassie Sharpe tried to go huge with back-to-back flairs on both of her runs last Thursday, but fell on the second trick both times and settled for sixth place.
Dorey to have surgery
With no X Course set up in Aspen this year, the contingent of Whistler-based athletes is quite a bit smaller than in past years. That number shrunk further this week when Canadian halfpipe team skier Justin Dorey revealed Tuesday (Jan. 22) that he’ll need surgery to fix nagging shoulder problems.
The operation will leave Dorey on the sidelines for the rest of the season. The shoulder injury first popped up when he landed on the lip of the pipe at the X Games last year in a spectacular crash. His left joint has continually dislocated since, but a crash during training in Colorado last week became the deciding factor for him to have surgery, said a release.
“When I fell in training in Breck, I did more damage than the other dislocations and I tore more ligaments, so I need to get it taken care of now,” said the 23-year-old.
The news is especially disappointing considering Dorey has now lost his chance for early Olympic qualification after earning one of the required podium finishes earlier this season. The X Games this week are another targeted event for a Sochi berth for Canadian halfpipe skiers.
“It’s definitely going to be hard for me to watch from the sidelines this year, but I’m still looking forward to watching my buddies kill it this week,” Dorey said of the X Games.
His buddies on the national team can take another step towards Sochi with good performances in Aspen. Rosalind Groenewoud enters the event as the women’s defending champ after her inspiring X Games performance last winter, while Noah Bowman earned a silver for the Canadian squad in the men’s event.
Groenewoud and Mike Riddle — who was seventh at X Games last year — also earned podium finishes that counted towards Olympic qualification earlier in the winter and would almost have spots for Sochi locked up if they medal this week. Matt Margetts also has the ability to put down a monster run and could be a dark horse pick in the pipe this week.
In slopestyle, Montreal’s Kaya Turski will look for her fourth-straight women’s gold medal. Dara Howell will join her and Tsubota as the pre-qualified skiers.
Men’s pipe qualifiers take place Thursday (Jan. 24), while men’s and women’s finals are set for Friday night (Jan. 25). Slopestyle finals are scheduled for Sunday (Jan. 27), with the men skiing eliminations on Friday.