The U.S. Snowboarding Grand Prix came to a close with the finals last weekend in Killington, Vt., but not before a pair of local athletes proved they are contenders for the Olympic team.
Steamboat's Matt Ladley, 17, stepped onto the podium with a second-place finish, and fellow Steamboat snowboarder Madeline Schaffrick, 14, recorded her best finish with a third in the women's event.
"Realistically, we were looking at 2014 for Maddy," said Jon Casson, the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club's snowboard program director. "Now I think there is a potential that she could be looking at 2010 as a possibility."
Next year, the Grand Prix events will play a key role in the selection of the 2010 Olympic team - with the top finishers in the series earning a nod for a trip to Vancouver, B.C.
But Schaffrick isn't thinking about next year. On Friday, she was in Stratton, Vt., preparing for the U.S. Open.
"It was kind of amazing," Schaffrick said about her finish in Killington. "It's my biggest finish of the year - well it's my biggest finish ever."
Earlier this winter, Schaffrick also placed fourth at a Grand Prix at the Copper Mountain Resort.
Last weekend, she added some switch, back-side spins to her run, and it paid off with the judges.
"I was working on it last summer, but I haven't been using them in competitions," Schaffrick said. "I relearned them before Killington, and I was able to land them."
Schaffrick also landed on the podium with two of her idols, Kelly Clark and Gretchen Bleiler.
Clark, who won the gold medal at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah, won the Killington event. X-Games gold medalist Bleiler was second.
"They were the reason I got into snowboarding," Schaffrick said. "I never dreamed that I would be on the podium with them. It was pretty cool."
Ladley's finish also is encouraging, but the road will not be easy for the men hoping to make it to next year's games.
"It was sweet to get a podium at the end of the season," Ladley said. "Second is my best finish."
Mic Goldschmidt won the men's halfpipe in Killington, and Elijah Teter was third.
"It's been a good season, but it's hard to say what this means for next season," Ladley said. "It's going to be tough to make the Olympic team. There's a lot of really good guys who will be going for it, and the competition is going to be tough."
Steamboat snowboarders also were chalking up top finishes at North American Cup boardercross events in Ontario.
Steamboat's Mick Dierdorff is hoping to slip past Boulder's Alex Deibold in the final events to win the NorAm series and earn a spot in next year's World Cup. He was 10th on the first day and moved up to second place during the second day of last weekend's NorAm in Ontario. He is the second American in the overall NorAm standings and is in a tight race with Deibold in the NorAm standings.
"Winning the NorAm series means he would get an automatic berth to next year's World Cup events and possibly find a back door into the Olympics," Casson said.
The World Cup circuit is the only way for a snowboarder to qualify for the Olympic Games. Casson said the U.S. Team is loaded with top riders and that winning the NorAm race is the best way for a younger rider to get a shot.
"It looks like the NorAm finals (April 3 to 5) will be a showdown between Mick and Alex," Casson said. "There's a lot at stake."
Other top Steamboat finishers included Roger Carver, who was sixth on the first day and 15th on the second; John Retta, who was seventh on the first day; and Brian Robin who was 10th on the second day
Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club rider Kim Krahulec highlighted the local finishes by winning the women's event on the first day. Teammate Jenna Feldman was ninth both days, and Amy Iredale collected a second on the second day.