(Photo above: McRae Willaims has been on a competitive roll this past season. Be sure to keep a close on this ski veterain at Dew Tour Breckenridge December 14 – 17. Photo: Walter)
For many Americans, one of the most memorable highlights of the last Olympics was freeski slopestyle. That’s because Team USA owned the men’s podium. Joss Christensen, Gus Kenworthy, and Nick Goepper took the top three spots in Sochi, where ski slopestyle was run as an Olympic event for the first time. It was just the third time in Winter Olympic history that the U.S. swept the medal stand in a single event.
When the contest was over, the three skiers didn’t even realize that they had gotten a podium sweep, saying that it didn’t hit them until much later on. But millions of Americans watching at home knew right away what had happened. And that’s why it’s likely to be a closely watched event once again this February in PyeongChang.
But which Team USA stars will fans be cheering on at home? Dew Tour will help determine that, as it ‘s going to be one of this winter’s Olympic selection events for the U.S. team. Here’s a few riders to keep an eye on once things get underway.
Men’s Freeski Slopestyle
Dew Tour will actually be the first selection event for the men’s field, which means everyone will be coming in with a blank slate. There’s likely to be at least a few holdovers from the 2014 Olympic team, but there’s also some new talent making strong cases for one of up to four roster spots.
Williams is coming off his age-26 season. That might seem a little late for a breakout in a world where some new teenage prodigy tends to emerge every year, but we just saw the best season of his career. A few highlights: an X Games silver medal, a world championships gold medal, an FIS World Cup title. He also finished top five in every contest he entered, making him the most consistent performer of all the Team USA hopefuls. Williams has always been a good skier, but he took his game to another level last year. So, what happened? He credits his sudden success to discovering mindfulness, a technique involving a heightened state of awareness that has become popular among elite athletes. According to Williams, once he started focusing on the mental side of skiing, everything else fell into place.
All three medal winners from the last Olympics are in the running again this year, but Goepper is coming off the best season of the trio as the third-ranked skier in the AFP’s slopestyle standings. His best result last season was a silver medal at X Games Norway.
Kenworthy has been dividing his time between slopestyle and halfpipe — he’ll be attempting to qualify in both disciplines — and though 2016/17 was a bit of a down season by his standards, he still won a silver medal in slopestyle at the world championships.
As for the reigning Olympic champion, Christensen had ACL surgery in the offseason, which will put him behind the eight ball when Olympic qualifying gets underway. Because he’s still going through rehab, Christensen will miss Dew Tour. Fortunately for him, the rest of the selection events take place in January, giving him some more time to try to recover and get back on skis. There’s also at least one discretionary spot available on the team that will be up to the coaches.
Hall mostly grew up in Switzerland, but he was originally born in the U.S. and now lives in Park City. In 2016, he returned from the Youth Olympics with a silver medal. He landed the first switch triple cork 1800 later that year. The number four skier in the AFP slopestyle rankings last season, 19-year-old Hall is an ascending talent looking to usurp his more veteran teammates. This year will mark his first time competing at Dew Tour.
Women’s Freeski Slopestyle
The men weren’t the only ones who left Sochi with slopestyle medals four years ago, as Devin Logan nabbed silver on the women’s side. The U.S. has two solid medal contenders who look likely to make the team, while the remaining spots are very much up for grabs right now.
The Montana native’s first trip to the Olympics was a heartbreaking one — she crashed while practicing and broke her ankle before she even had a chance to compete. As long as she stays healthy though, Voisin is likely to get a chance to avenge that. She placed second at Dew Tour last year and was the top-ranked American in both the FIS World Cup and AFP slopestyle standings. She also won the first Olympic selection event, meaning that she’ll clinch her spot on the U.S. team if she wins another one. Voisin will turn 19 the week of Dew Tour.
After making the Olympic slopestyle team in 2014 (and winning the silver medal), Logan is trying to qualify in both halfpipe and slopestyle this time around. Logan was the second highest ranked American at the first selection event for slopestyle, which has her in a good spot right now, but she did not finish on the overall podium. That means she still needs two podium finishes against the full field in order to fulfill one of the prerequisites for automatic selection.
The Rest of the Field
There are up to four spots available on the Olympic team, which means a lot of uncertainty beyond Voisin and Logan. Among the contenders are U.S. pro team members Julia Krass (a 2014 Olympian) and Darian Stevens, as well as U.S. rookie team members Caroline Claire and Rell Harwood. Claire, 17, won a bronze medal at last season’s junior world championships. Also worth noting are Taylor Lundquist and Nadia Gonzalez, who both finished inside the top 30 internationally during the last FIS World Cup season.