For some Sochi hopefuls, making the U.S. snowboard team may simply be a pipe dream. That's because the talent in the States is deep enough to represent multiple countries. Despite how talented they are, several of the world's best will be relegated to being spectators rather than competitors. However, with the help of the Dew Tour's laid-back atmosphere some athletes may be able to calm their nerves just long enough to upset one of their fellow patriots.
One of the biggest questions leading into the Dew Tour, and all the way to Sochi, is: Can any woman not named Kelly Clark, Gretchen Bleiler, Hannah Teter or Elena Hight earn a spot on the halfpipe team? These four women have represented the U.S. in the past two Winter Games, collectively winning five medals (two gold, two silver, one bronze), but their run of the field may be coming to a halt.
Waiting patiently for her chance to make the team is snowboarding's gold-en child - Arielle Gold. Gold is only 17 years old, but the summertime equestrian is taking this season in stride as one of her veteran mentors would, and following her win of the 2013 FIS World Snowboarding Championships she has become more than simply a blip on the radar heading into Breckenridge.
"I'm just trying to focus on my riding and not think too much on the Olympics or any of the contests coming up."
With all the talks surrounding the Four and Gold, Kaitlyn Farrington and Ellery Hollingsworth appear to be the forgotten riders, and if they don't excel at the Dew Tour or the other qualifying events, they'll be on the outside looking in. For Farrington, who was unstoppable at the 2012 Dew Tour, where she won the women's superpipe, feels she's ready to take that next step to stardom.
"I've done a lot this summer and did a lot of riding," says Farrington. "I feel I've improved in just all around riding and so hopefully, with the tricks I have, I'll be able to go out and land them and be a part of that team and change up the four."
Consistency has also reigned on the men's side of the halfpipe – dominated by Shaun White, Scotty Lago and Louie Vito – which may not bode well for Greg Bretz. In 2010, Bretz was the youngest member (19) of the U.S. snowboard team and finished twelfth in Vancouver. He may have flown under the radar then, but this time around expectations are higher for the Mammoth Lakes resident, albeit finishing eleventh at the halfpipe test event in Sochi back in February 2013. The Dew Tour will be a second coming-out party for Bretz to show the world he's here to stay.
Known for his back-to-back 1080s, Matt Ladley will need his game to be on point in Breckenridge and beyond if he wants to make the Olympics. As he prepares to face off with the high-powered halfpipe team, the Chicago native is also on the return from a shoulder injury he suffered toward the end of the 2013 season -- good luck Ladley!
The slopestyle team is just as deep with the likes of Chas Guldemond, Eric Willett and Sage Kotsenburg, as well as Shaun White, who's attempting to compete in slopestyle, too. Breckenridge will present a valuable opportunity for the other U.S. riders in the field to assert themselves as a threat for a roster spot.
The Dew Tour may be just one of five Olympic qualifying events, however, being the first one, all eyes will be on these uber-talented athletes to perform at their highest and prove to their country they are ready to represent. A challenge they're all up for, regardless of how deep the pool is.
Check out Part II: The Olympic Bubble Battle Begins at Breck: Freeski