Taylor Gold aiming for classic and creative | SteamboatToday.com

Taylor Gold aiming for classic and creative

Taylor Gold spins through a 1260 on Saturday during his winning run at the U.S. Grand Prix half-pipe event at Copper Mountain. Gold overcame a rough summer, slowed by a broken ankle, to win the event and set the stage for big events to come.

— Taylor Gold had plenty of reason to be skeptical as he stood waiting to drop into the half-pipe Saturday, two-thirds of the way through his performance in the finals of the U.S. Grand Prix snowboarding half-pipe event at Copper Mountain.

The U.S. Snowboard Team and Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club snowboarder qualified well earlier in the week, of course, and that was no small feat. He was one of 10 men in a field of 42 to make it to the finals. He landed an easier version of his run there cleanly on both opportunities.

But there were reasons to think Gold wasn't ready to win.

When he burst into the elite ranks of the snowboarding world at a December event almost exactly a year prior, he was coming off a transformative summer.

He was brandishing new tricks and had pieced together an eye-popping new run.

On Saturday, he wasn't at the end of a deliciously productive offseason. Instead, he was freshly back on snow, trying out a newly healed broken ankle.

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"This whole summer was mostly visualization," Gold said.

He broke his ankle at the end of last season riding in a special event, Danny Davis' Peace Park terrain park.

The injury didn't keep Gold grounded long, but it did keep him from replicating the work that helped him charge into the 2013-14 season and become the first U.S. snowboarder to qualify for the half-pipe Olympic squad.

"At the time I didn't know how severe it was. Originally, I thought it was just a high ankle sprain," he said. "Fortunately, I didn't need surgery or anything."

It didn't limit his cross training, and he still was able to put plenty of time into the gym.

In summer 2013, he added the double Michalchuk to his trick resume, and that ended up being one of the signature moves that got him to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

It also paved the way to a season full of other firsts. He competed at the X Games for the first time, just before Russia. After that trip, he closed the winter just as emphatically as he'd started it, winning the U.S. Open and the Red Bull Double Pipe events.

He wasn't able to add any new tricks, but a tweaked ankle didn't keep him from dreaming about new ways to shake up his run in 2014.

This season, he's trying to find a balance between classic and creative.

"I've got a bunch of tricks in mind. It's hard to narrow it down because I have a list I want to get through," he said. "The main ones are probably adding some sort of alley-oop trick, probably in the middle of my run, then kind of a classic, the McTwist. I want to have a really good McTwist.

"That's the direction I want to see snowboarding go, people being more creative instead of trying to do triple corks."

On Saturday, he just wanted a clean run.

Gold seemed to show a little rust in his first two tries Saturday.

He struggled with a 1260 spin that spices up the early portion of his run and feeds into some of his bigger maneuvers — he slipped on the trick twice.

The first run wasn't good, and he was given 60.50 points. His second run was bad, and he tallied 30.75.

But on the third, it all looked perfect again. Gold nailed his run and won the event, just as he had with a similar run a year earlier.

That day a year ago, he proved he could be one of the top riders in the sport.

This year, he showed he is just that, one of the best.

He's got big plans for this season, his eyes set first on the Dew Tour in Breckenridge. Competition there starts Wednesday with the women's half-pipe qualifications and wraps up Saturday when the men and women compete in the finals.

Gold also has the European Open, X Games and U.S. Open circled.

He's expecting to be successful at all of those.

Standing at the top of the pipe Saturday, he wasn't so sure.

"I am really surprised," he said, moments after the win. "I am just stoked I was able to land one when it counted."

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