(Photo above: There's little doubt Jamie Anderson will make the U.S. Olympic slopstyle team for 2018, but could Julia Marino be her biggest challenger come PyeongChang? Don't miss both ladies competing at Dew Tour Breckenridge December 14 - 17. Photo: Crosland)
Four years ago, snowboard slopestyle made its debut on the Olympic stage. Things went very well for the Americans, as Sage Kotsenburg won a surprise gold thanks to a creative run, and favorite Jamie Anderson delivered under pressure to make it a gold-medal sweep for Team USA.
There’s a lot of new faces on the US team this time around, and many of them have high hopes for the upcoming Olympics in PyeongChang. First though is the challenge of actually making the Olympic team. There’s a series of selection events coming up this winter, and Dew Tour will be among them.
The team selection process for slopestyle will be even more important this year because snowboard big air has been added to the program for these Olympics as well. All athletes who make the Olympic team for slopestyle will also be competing in big air. That means this crew -- whoever it consists of -- will have two chances to bring home some hardware.
Here’s a few riders to keep an eye on during this season’s selection events.
Women’s Snowboard Slopestyle and Big Air
The US has three extremely heavy hitters on the women’s side. Just last winter, all three finished inside the top four at the Dew Tour slopestyle contest, all three earned medals at X Games, and all three landed on the podium at the first Olympic selection event. Barring injury, these three are the favorites to make the US Olympic snowboard team for women’s slopestyle and big air, which would set them up as strong medal contenders in PyeongChang.
The reigning Olympic champion has been dominating women’s slopestyle for nearly a decade now. The competition field is deeper than ever before though, and there are currently a number of girls who could win on any given day. But Anderson had a big breakthrough moment already this season when she unveiled her first cab double underflip -- a trick that looks like a must-have for anyone with gold-medal aspirations -- at Winter Games New Zealand. Last season marked the first time in four years that Anderson did not finish atop the World Snowboard Tour rankings for women’s slopestyle, instead finishing third behind Anna Gasser and Julia Marino. She also ranked sixth in big air.
The Connecticut native came out of nowhere in the last two years and has had a meteoric rise. She was one of the early adopters of the cab double underflip, as it was a staple of her runs last season, making her a clear challenger to Jamie Anderson for a podium spot in PyeongChang, should both ladies make the team. Last winter, Marino finished the season ranked second in slopestyle and fifth in big air in the World Snowboard Tour points list.
This 17-year-old from Southern California is another rising star in both slopestyle and big air. She’s made her mark with stylish, well-executed runs, but upped the ante last year at X Games when she landed a double cork 1080 in the big air contest. That earned her a gold medal and helped set the tone for the season ahead.
The Rest of the Field
There are up to four spots potentially available on the team -- three from direct qualification through the selection events, plus one pick at the discretion of the coaches. Even if the aforementioned trio is able to lock down their spots as anticipated, there will still be a battle brewing for that other spot. Karly Shorr (6th place at the last Olympics), Jessika Jenson (13th place) and Ty Walker (14th place) all competed four years ago in Sochi and will be in the running again. Another name to know is Nora Healey, a young gun who has won back-to-back Rev Tour titles and has a slopestyle junior world title on her resume.
Men’s Snowboard Slopestyle and Big Air
There’s a good chance the men’s team will look vastly different from 2014 for this Olympics. Sage Kotsenburg has retired from competition, and Shaun White is focusing on halfpipe, which leaves just two returning members in the running for 2018: Chas Guldemond and Ryan Stassel. The U.S. roster is deep with young talent, and this could be one of the most unpredictable Olympic selection battles playing out at Dew Tour. Whoever makes the team will likely be entering the Olympics as underdogs though, as Canada (Mark McMorris, Max Parrot, Sebastien Toutant) and Norway (Marcus Kleveland, Stale Sandbech) have been raking in a lot of hardware.
At 17 years old, Gerard is the only member of the U.S. men’s pro slopestyle team who was born in the 2000s. Though he’s on the smaller side, he can still throw triple corks, and he’s been using his backyard setup in Colorado to dial in his rail game. By virtue of winning the first selection event, Gerard has put himself in an enviable position when it comes to Olympic team qualifying. Each riders’ two best results are all that count, so if he notches another victory, his ticket is punched.
Mack, 20, placed second at last February’s Olympic selection event in Mammoth, so, like Gerard, he’s in a great spot right now. He missed out on the team in 2014 but scored a huge victory at the 2016 Burton Open, where he stomped back-to-back triple corks (including one with a difficult Japan grab) in his run.
He’s competed at Dew Tour just once (finishing 13th in 2015) and has yet to compete at X Games, so 18-year-old Corning is perhaps flying a bit under the radar right now. But that looks set to change. He’s been killing it on the World Cup circuit the past two seasons and won the season title in 2016. He’s also racked up three junior world titles and won medals in both slopestyle and big air at the 2017 FIS World Championships. His performance at the last Burton U.S. Open, which was good enough for fifth place, proved that he’s the real deal.
Chris recently put down this solid quad cork at the Stomping Grounds park in Saas Fee, Switzerland upping the ante for the rest of the U.S. Olympic team hopefuls.
The Rest of the Field
There is a lot of youth rising up the ranks of US Snowboarding right now. Brock Crouch and Judd Henkes join Gerard and Corning in the 18 and Under Club. Crouch, who also competes in amateur surfing competitions, won the slopestyle test event that was held on the Olympic course in PyeongChang and was ranked fifth in the FIS World Cup slopestyle standings last season.
But sometimes it comes down to experience. It’s hard to find someone with more of that than 2014 Olympian Chas Guldemond, who at 30 years old is now a vet of the sport. Other familiar names include Brandon Davis, Eric Willett and Ryan Stassel.
Another name to note is Dylan Thomas. The Pennsylvania native came out of nowhere to land a third-place finish at the first selection event earlier in the year, thereby fulfilling one of the prerequisites for automatic selection (a podium finish) and earning himself valuable ranking points. Can he keep it going with another strong outing at any of the remaining selection events?