Snowboard Iskola


A big week of action in Colorado wrapped up on Saturday afternoon with the first halfpipe World Cup of the season going down under crystal clear skies and chilly temps at Copper Mountain, where Cai Xuetong of China and Japan’s Ruka Hirano walked away the first victories of the 2021/22 season.

Despite the near-perfect conditions, the first competition of the season proved to be a tricky one for many of the eight women and 10 men dropping in on Saturday’s finals, with not a single rider in either field able to put down three clean runs. Still, it only takes one good one to win it, and at Copper it would be Cai and Hirano who were best able to do just that.

Cai picks up right where she left off, with win in first competition in 22 months

Like the rest of her Chinese snow sports compatriots, Cai was unable to compete in the 2020/21 season due to Covid-19 safety measures mandated by the Chinese government. Still, despite the fact it’s been nearly two years since her last World Cup start, the 28-year-old was able to pick up right where she left off at her last event in Calgary back in February of 2020, stomping an outstanding final run for the 13th World Cup victory of her career.

Starting out with a picture-perfect backside air, Cai then went with a frontside 900 weddle grab, into a backside 540 weddle, a stylish air-to-fakie melon, and finally capping things off with a cab 900 melon to give her a score of 80.50 for the win.

“I’m really happy,” Cai smiled from the finish area, “I was really excited about the competition because last year we (the Chinese team) were just training the whole time. So I’m just excited to come back and compete. I’m just taking it one step at a time heading towards Beijing (2022 Olympic Winter Games). I hope I can do well in every competition and head into the Olympics feeling confident.”

With the victory, Cai moves into a tie on the all-time FIS Snowboard halfpipe World Cup wins list – just two wins back of the 15 currently held by Tricia Byrnes of the USA – while extending her lead on the all-time podiums rankings with her 28th World Cup top-3 in 38 events entered.

Second place on the day went to Japan’s Sena Tomita, who held the lead through much of the afternoon after landing a 76.00 point scoring first run. Smooth and stylish throughout, Tomita’s run started out with a frontside 540 melon, into a backside 540 weddle, then a frontside 720 indy, a cab 720 weddle, and finally a frontside 900 melon to nab the sixth podium of her World Cup career.

Top qualifier Queralt Castellet of Spain was able to utilize the very last run of the women’s competition to land the final spot on the podium, as the 32-year-old earned the 16th top-3 result of her career with a run that began with a switch backside 540 melon, then a cab 720 melon, a frontside 540 tail grab, a backside 540 weddle, and finally a frontside 720 to cap things off with a score of 70.50.

With her final run, Castellet bumped Elizabeth Hosking into fourth place, denying the 20-year-old Canadian her first World Cup podium.

Hirano leads the way as Japan takes two of three men’s podium spots

With Japanese riders qualifying in all four of the top spots on the men’s side, the likelihood of that nation scoring a podium or two (or three) in Saturday’s finals seemed to be a foregone conclusion. However, as riders up and down the men’s startlist struggled to put down clean runs in finals, things that had seemed a sure-bet before competition become far less predictable.

19-year-old Ruka Hirano was one of only four riders to put down a stomped first run, and he did so with aplomb by leading off with a massive switch backside double cork 1080 indy, into a backside dub 1260 indy, then a frontside dub 1080 indy, a cab dub 1080 truck driver, and finally a frontside double cork 1260 indy at the bottom of the pipe.

With five double corks stomped to near-perfection, Hirano would earn a score of 89.50 and the second win of his World Cup career. However, despite putting down what was very clearly the run of the day, Hirano wasn’t overly enthusiastic about his performance on a day when many followers of the halfpipe world thought we might see the first-time-in-competition halfpipe triple cork.

“I’m happy about the win,” said Hirano after the results were in, “But I didn’t do the run that I wanted to do today. Maybe next time.”

Second place for the men went to Switzerland’s Jan Scherrer, who rebounded from falls in his first two runs to put down a banger of a third. Kicking things off with a huge backside 900 tail grab, Scherrer then went frontside double cork 1440 indy, cab dub 1080 double, frontside dub 1260 indy, and finally an uber-stylish alley-oop frontside 540 stalefish that would land him less than a point back of Hirano with a score of 88.50 for the Swiss rider’s fourth World Cup podium.

Finally, third place for the men went to two-time halfpipe crystal globe winner Yuto Totsuka, who earned the Japanese squad their third podium of the day with a second run that started out with a frontside double cork 1440 indy, into a cab dub 1260 weddle, then a switch backside 1080 weddle, a backside 900 weddle, and finally a frontside double cork 1260 tail for a score of 87.75.

It wasn’t all good times for the Japanese halfpipe squad, however, as Kaishu Hirano suffered a hard crash in his second run and was sledded from the pipe by the Copper Mountain medical team. We wish Kaishu all the best and a speedy recovery.

Kaishu’s older brother Ayumu Hirano, Thursday’s top qualifier, finished just off the podium in fourth place in his first major international competition since earning silver at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games.

The other big-name kicking off his Beijing 2022 Olympic bid after stepping back from competition following the last Games was the USA’s Shaun White. Though White was unable to put down a completely clean top-to-bottom effort, his eighth-place finish in just his second competition in nearly four years proved that he remains amongst the halfpipe world’s elite.