The U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA) announced on Wednesday that it has added a fifth event to the Olympic selection process for its freeski and snowboard halfpipe and slopestyle teams. The Dew Tour in Breckenridge, Colo., on December 12-15 will serve as the first in a five-event tour. Qualification will be based on each athlete's best two finishes in the series.
The U.S. Grand Prix events at Copper Mountain, Colo., Northstar, Calif., Park City, Utah, and Mammoth Mountain, Calif., will round out the U.S. Olympic team selection process. Park City will serve as the final event for freeskiers, while Mammoth will be the last stop for snowboarders. The final rosters for the U.S. Olympic team will be announced on January 22, prior to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, taking place February 7-23.
The Dew Tour will be bringing in more international judges than in the past to meet International Olympic Committee standards and will be making some small tweaks to conform to USSA judging criteria, although full details of those changes are still being worked out.
"The big thing for us is delivering the most fair qualification and selection process that we can," says USSA spokesman Michael Jaquet. "It is also our goal and responsibility to deliver world-class venues for all of our competitions at the elite level."
All of the U.S. team Olympic qualifying events will be covered live on NBC, the Dew Tour's broadcast partner as well as the rights-holder for the Olympic broadcasts. Jaquet says the increased exposure benefits USSA financially and will help support the team headed into Sochi. More importantly, he says, the fifth event will help make sure the very best athletes make the trip.
"Just being able to throw down one or two great runs doesn't set us up as well for Sochi," says Jaquet. "It's a pretty tangled web when you're trying to make sure that everybody is given a very fair opportunity to qualify ... while also making sure that you meet all the criteria put forward by us and by FIS and the IOC and the USOC."
Jaquet says discussions with Alli Sports to partner with its Dew Tour event have been ongoing since well before the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. After those negotiations fell apart, several top snowboarders including Shaun White skipped the Dew Tour halfpipe event that year to focus on Olympic qualification.
A draft of the design for the proposed slopestyle course in Sochi was released last month, and Kenny Mitchell, general manager for the Dew Tour, believes there will be more attention than ever on the slopestyle courses at every major competition this year as both ski and snowboard slopestyle athletes prepare for the discipline's Olympic debut.
"Our course last year was lauded by both snowboarders and freeskiers as a top-notch course -- even in a year with warm weather and poor snow conditions in the early season," Mitchell says. "The team over at Breckenridge … has unbelievable technical abilities in terms of snowmaking and snowmoving, and they're pretty unique in their ability to put on such an event so early in the winter season."
Jaquet believes that the sensible strategy for U.S. athletes heading into the five-event selection process will be to make a big impression early on.
"I really do think it's going to take all five events for most of these athletes to state their case," Jaquet says. "It's really going to be a dogfight for those top spots to make each of these teams."