All skiers crave fresh powder. But for Tom Wallisch and the other Olympic hopefuls who qualified for the U.S. Grand Prix slopestyle finals Friday in Breckenridge, Colo., Mother Nature was way too generous.
All day, winds of up to 25-30 mph prevailed, with gusts of up to 50. Snow blew and drifted so consistently that, after a couple of fruitless attempts by skiers to practice their runs, it was decided that the finals would be cancelled for safety reasons.
The Breckenridge Grand Prix event was the third of five that will help determine who will make the U.S. Freeskiing team in slopestyle — in which skiers are judged on tricks and how they use numerous rails and jumps to their advantage. Because there were no finals, the qualifying scores from Wednesday will be used to rank the skiers.
Wallisch, 26, a Scott Township native and Chartiers Valley High graduate, finished sixth overall and third among Americans in qualifying. After three Olympic qualifying events, he is tied for third among Americans with McRae Williams — Williams holds the tiebreaker because he has a second-place finish, while Wallisch has only finished as high as third — and trails leader Nick Goepper (two first-place finishes) and Bobby Brown (one first place, one second place).
Wallisch couldn’t help but be frustrated by the cancellation. Like most competitors, he had saved some of his best material for the final and was unable to perform it. The decision most benefited Brown, who will get first-place points just based off qualifying.
“It’s great for Bobby Brown, but it’s really bad for other guys who had really low scores in qualifying but could have easily won if it was possible to ski,” Wallisch said. “Nobody really throws down hard in qualifying, so it’s definitely a pretty big rip-off, and it sucks, but it’s kind of what we have to deal with as a snow sport.”
Wallisch, who won gold in the 2012 X Games slopestyle event, is considered one of the favorites to make the Olympic team. Goepper already has solidified a spot, and it will be tough for Wallisch to jump Brown in the standings with two events left. Wallisch is in position to battle with Williams for third next weekend in the final two runs in the Park City Grand Prix in Park City, Utah, where Wallisch lives and skis on a regular basis.
There is not a defined number of spots that the 26-member U.S. Freeskiing team will reserve for men’s slopestyle in Sochi Winter Games next month. Wallisch believes there’s a chance they could get four because of the quality depth of medal contenders in his sport.
Certainly, he would have liked to have had a chance to finish first or second among Americans on Friday, but he also could have had a rough day and fallen back in the standings.
“I thought this was going to be a great opportunity to get on the podium,” Wallisch said, “be one of the top Americans. I’m definitely very disappointed to leave this venue without being able to really throw down some of the runs that I had in mind.”
On Friday and Saturday next week in Park City, there will be a qualifying and a final each day, simulating the all-in-one setup that will take place in Sochi. By Saturday night, Wallisch should have a good feel for whether he will be an Olympian.
“It’s completely different, having a qualifier and the final in the same day in our sport,” Wallisch said. “It will be a good learning experience and good practice and show who can handle their nerves and be able to put down four runs throughout the day.”