Windy Days and Poignant Memories at the Toyota U.S. Freeski & Snowboard Grand Prix

Toyota U.S. Freeski & Snowboard Grand Prix

Windy Days and Poignant Memories at the Toyota U.S. Freeski & Snowboard Grand Prix

Despite less than favorable weather conditions, the U.S. Freeski & Snowboard Grand Prix took place at Mammoth Mountain, California, From February 1-4, 2023. Since 1995, this event has brought the world’s top competitive freeskiers and snowboarders together at one of the most legendary runs in the world. Taking place just a week after the Aspen X Games, athletes taking part in this event compete for points in the FIS Alpine Cup and the highly-coveted chance to compete for their countries in the Olympics.  

Main Events

During Saturday’s Men’s Freeski Slopestyle event, 22-year-old Birk Ruud from Norway clinched a gold medal with an extraordinary run, scoring at 94.80 points. Despite a strong American presence, no U.S. athletes were on the podium, with Ruud’s Norwegian countryman Sebastian “Sea Bass” Schjerve placing second, and Switzerland’s Andri Ragettli coming in for the bronze medal.

From the United States, Dusty Henricksen, in his hometown of Mammoth Lakes, California, took the gold in Men’s Snowboard Slopestyle. Due to the high winds, the finals were postponed and results were determined based on the qualifier results. Julia Marino, also from the United States, ranked first in the women’s event.

In the women’s Freeski Slopestyle event, 25-year-old Johanne Killi of Norway won her third consecutive World Cup Slopestyle event, with her first run, scoring at 84.80 points. Kirsty Muir from Great Britain came in second with 82.00 points, and a rookie surprise in third from New Zealand, Ruby Andrews, who is only 18 years old and already making a splash.  

Halfpipe Globes

With the winds blowing steadily, eight women and ten men dropped into the halfpipe in an attempt to earn the coveted halfpipe crystal globe award. Birk Irving, USA, and Zhang Kexin, from China, came out on top, for Kexin the first time on the podium in four long years. Second place for the women was Great Britain’s Zoe Atkin, and finishing strongly in third place was Canada’s Rachael Karker, her 11th time straight making the podium.

Irving’s teammates Alex Ferreira, USA, and Noah Bowman, Canada, were both injured at the X Games and were forced to sit out the Mammoth event. While Irving’s inspired performance placed him firmly on top of the men’s competition, second place went to Canada’s Brendan Mackay, who jumped ahead of USA’s David Wise, who held the lead for much of the day.  

Emotional Tributes for Kyle Smain

Previous champion Kyle Smain was killed just days before the event on Sunday, January 29th, in an avalanche in Japan. Not only the gusty winds made it a difficult day for many competitors, but hearts were heavy and the tone was solemn as their fellow skier was remembered.

Fatal avalanches are shocking and rare events that underscore the dangers behind the thrills of the sport. Laps were run in his honor, speeches were given, and David Wise gave his gold medal from the Aspen X Games to Smaine’s wife Jenna in an emotional moment that left few eyes dry on the mountain.  

The Grand Prix’s halfpipe champion Birk Irving honored Smain in a tribute, saying, “we’re all skiing probably the best we have because it’s like we’re all skiing with Kyle in our hearts and skiing for him. We know he’s up there and looking down on us, watching over us. We miss you Kyle, we love you, and thanks for keeping us all safe today.”

One thing is for sure – despite harsh weather conditions and a sharp reminder of the dangers of skiing and snowboarding at this elite level, these athletes showed no sign of slowing down. The competition was fierce, and with the 2024 Winter Olympics in South Korea coming up quickly, competitors are brushing up their skills and getting ready for some of the stiffest competition in the world.  

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Categories:   Snowboarding