Steamboat snowboarders set to dive into Olympic season | SteamboatToday.com

Steamboat snowboarders set to dive into Olympic season

Steamboat's Arielle Gold spins through a 900 during the 2016 U.S. Open halfpipe finals.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Nothing but snow awaits in Arielle Gold's immediate future, so forgive her for savoring the time she had without it.

She soaked up every last bit of sun she could during a Mexican vacation last month.

She'd focused on snowboarding all through the summer, taking advantage of the huge snowfall at California's Mammoth Mountain for two summer training trips to the halfpipe. She then flew to New Zealand and later Switzerland chasing snow.

So, she went to Mexico.

"I figured it would be a little while before I got any time off again," she said.

If all goes well, she'll be positively tied up until late March, and that time will include one very important business trip to South Korea, site of the 2018 Winter Olympics.

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"I've been to one before, so I know what to expect," Gold said. "I'm just trying to do whatever little extra stuff I learned last time to be that much stronger, mentally and physically, going into this."

The ride to the Olympics starts Thursday for Gold and a trio of other Steamboat Springs snowboarders.

The qualifying process for halfpipe snowboarding for the 2018 Winter Olympics, which are set to begin Feb. 9 in PyeongChang, South Korea, begins Thursday with the first round at a U.S. Snowboarding Grand Prix event at Copper Mountain.

Arielle Gold and Taylor Gold, both veterans of the 2014 Winter Olympics, and Matt Ladley, the 2016 X Games Aspen halfpipe gold medalist, will take to the snow in their first attempts to earn their spots on the team.

The Copper Mountain event is the start of a process that will stretch a little more than a month and decide just who gets to represent the United States in South Korea.

Athletes will compete to qualify on Thursday, then advance to finals set for Saturday morning.

This week's events also include Big Air, a new sport to the Olympics. Steamboat snowboarder Nik Baden will compete in the qualifying round for that event Friday, then potentially in the finals on Sunday.

Athletes — halfpipe riders again, and this time slopestyle athletes — will compete again next week at the Dew Tour in Breckenridge. They'll all go again Jan. 10 to 13 in Snowmass, then one final time Jan. 17 to 20 at Mammoth Mountain.

This season's Olympic halfpipe team, which will have at least three men and three women riders, will be comprised first of athletes with at least one podium finish at the four qualifying events. If more than three reach that mark, points will be awarded for various finishes and used to separate the pack. The top American in each event will get 1,000, the second 800 and the third 600.

A potential fourth Olympic spot for each gender will be decided by coach's discretion.

"It's going to be really competitive, more competitive this time than last time," Arielle Gold said. "The biggest thing I've learned is to only focus on what you can control. We have a lot of really talented girls competing for those spots, so I'll just try to put down the runs I know I can do."

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253, email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @JReich9.

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