Race to the Cup filled up with top riders

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Schaffrick makes finals of Grand Prix in Copper

Steamboat Springs snowboarder Maddy Schaffrick got her season off to a scintillating start Thursday at the first U.S. Snowboarding Grand Prix at Copper Mountain.

Schaffrick, 15, made it though the preliminaries and into Saturday’s finals.

The Grand Prix on Thursday, the first of five to determine the Olympic teams, featured some of the top competitors in the United States and around the world.

Schaffrick completed a backside alley oop 360, switch backside 540, a switch inverted 720 and a frontside 540 to make the finals.

It was the alley oop 360 that set her run apart. In the trick, Schaffrick rotates uphill and opposite the direction she travels.

“It’s no surprise that Maddy is here,” said Bud Keene, a coach for the U.S. Snowboarding Team. “Maddy is one of the best riders in the U.S. and therefore the world. She’s young, and she’s amazing. She had one of the most progressive runs — if not the most progressive.”

The men’s preliminaries begin today.

— Luke Graham

If you go

What: Race to the Cup Alpine snowboard race featuring the top American Alpine snowboarders racing for World Cup spots and a shot at the 2010 Winter Olympics. There also will be a large field of international racers, including French Rider Mathieu Bozzetto, who finished fourth at the 2006 Olympics.

When: Today’s qualifying starts at 3 p.m., followed by the finals at 6 p.m. Awards are slated for 8:30 p.m. Saturday’s qualifying starts at noon, followed by finals at 2:30 p.m. and awards at 4 p.m.

Where: Howelsen Hill

Cost: The events are free for spectators. Viewing is at the bottom of Howelsen Hill, or limited viewing from inside Olympian Hall.

— It’s not the Olympics, but this weekend’s Race to the Cup should draw the top snowboard racers in America — and a few from around the world — to Howelsen Hill for a chance to prove they belong in Vancouver in February.

“This will be the biggest field we’ve ever had for a Race to the Cup,” said Thedo Remmelink, head Alpine snowboard coach for the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club.

The Alpine snowboarders will compete in two parallel giant slalom races tonight and Saturday at Howelsen Hill. Saturday’s race originally was scheduled as a parallel slalom but was switched to the parallel giant slalom by the United States Skiing and Snowboarding Association. The organization wanted to provide riders with more parallel giant slalom starts because that is the format used at the Olympics.

Remmelink said he will not know which individual riders will compete until after the team captain’s meeting prior to the races but that he expects teams from the United States, Canada, France, Germany, Slovenia, Kazakhstan, Korea and Japan to be represented in Steamboat Springs today and Saturday. Teams from Switzerland and Austria are training in Aspen and aren’t likely to make the trip to Steamboat. Instead, those teams will stay closer to Telluride, where they will continue to train for a pair of World Cup events Dec. 15 and 17. The Dec. 15 World Cup was added after an event in Limone Piemonte, Italy, was canceled.

Even without some of those top international riders, Remmelink expects the races at Howelsen Hill to be some of the biggest and most competitive events ever held in Steamboat Springs.

“It’s going to be a really great event,” snowboarder Darren Ratcliffe said. “With the World Cup events in Telluride next week, I think we could see maybe half of the World Cup riders in Steamboat for this event. This is going to be a very high level.”

Among the top riders will be Frenchman Mathieu Bozzetto, who finished fourth at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Italy.

Remmelink said the field should include the top Ameri­can riders, who are pushing for an Olympic team spot. Among them is former Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club rider and 2006 Olympian Tyler Jewell. Other competitors to look for include Steamboat’s Justin Reiter, Vic Wild, Mike Trapp and Ratcliffe. On the women’s side, The Lowell Whiteman School graduate Michelle Gorgone will be in the field along with Steamboat riders Erica Mueller, Madeline Wiencke and Cassie Wagar.

The top American man and woman in each race will be rewarded with a starting position is several upcoming World Cup events. The two days of races also provide some younger riders with international experience and a chance to improve their overall point standings.

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