It might seem a bit early for snowboarding season, but that didn't stop Steamboat Springs' Maddy Schaffrick from picking up the best World Cup finish of her young career Tuesday in New Zealand.
"No, I'm not surprised," said Jon Casson, director of the snowboarding program for the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club. "She always seems to step it up when it counts. She's done it since she was 8, and that's why she is such a great competitor."
Schaffrick finished 11th in Tuesday's opening World Cup halfpipe event in Cardrona, and fourth among American riders.
China's Jiayu Liu won the event. Olympic snowboarder Kelly Clark was the top American, in second, and teammate Gretchen Bleiler finished third. The only other American to finish in front of Schaffrick was Ellery Hollingsworth, in fifth place.
Casson said it was a great showing for the local snowboarder, who is hoping for an Olympic spot in the 2010 Olympic games in Vancouver, B.C.
The performance was especially impressive because Schaffrick injured her tailbone at the end of last season and missed several key camps last summer.
"It could have been a big setback," Casson said. "But it looks like Maddy was able to deal with missing the camps, and it didn't impact her in terms of getting top results."
Schaffrick is one of three elite snowboarders from Steamboat Springs hoping to make an impact early this season.
Matt Ladley also made the trip to New Zealand, but a wrist injury kept him out of the opening World Cup competition. Casson said Ladley will continue to train and was close to being cleared to compete in Tuesday's event.
"If Matt can land his run consistently there's no question he can make it to the Olympics," Casson said.
Mick Dierdorff, another athlete from Steamboat Springs with Olympic aspirations, is in Argentina preparing for the first snowboard-cross event of the World Cup season. Dierdorff earned his World Cup spot after winning the NorAm title last winter.
Dierdorff has shifted his focus to making his mark on the World Cup and a possible shot at the Olympics.
"He's not on the U.S. Team yet, but with a couple of top results he has a pretty good chance," Casson said.
Casson has high expectations for the elite athletes who are on the road, but he said he is also excited that the local programs are gearing up for a new season.
He said dry-land training programs in Steamboat Springs will begin just after Labor Day, and that all of the programs hope to be back on snow in early October.