American halfpipe skiers Brita Sigourney and Wing Tai Barrymore swept the Visa U.S. Grand Prix opener at Copper Mountain, Colo., on Friday, one year after Canadians Roz Groenewoud and Justin Dorey swept the top two spots.
But despite Barrymore's biggest career win and Sigourney's first Grand Prix victory, the happiest person in the sun-kissed Copper crowd may have been Ben Verge. That's because Verge coaches both Sigourney and Barrymore at the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation in Idaho, an almost unheard-of World Cup sweep for a local ski club.
"They're dynamic together," said a visibly excited Verge after the finals, "and the team that they hang with has been really helpful and really positive, with a lot of really good energy. And I think that's the key, really; they're just enjoying it so much."
Although Sigourney's win was impressive -- she finished more than five points ahead of every other woman -- Barrymore's win was a stunner. The 19-year-old qualified 10th on Wednesday and had won just one other professional event: a lower-tier SFR Freeskiing Tour event in La Plagne, France, last spring.
His victory was even more of a surprise considering he opted not to throw his best trick, a double-cork 1260. Instead he stuck to a safer run highlighted by a massive alley-oop double flat-spin 900 that drew gasps from the large crowd at the base of the pipe. That trick was preceded by a 900 and followed by a left cork 540, right 900 and left 1080, earning a score of 87.2.
"I just tried to ski the best I could and grab everything and keep big, smooth, stylish amplitude, and it worked out," Barrymore said. "I'm speechless. It's good energy. I was surprised to see my score, but it was probably the best I've ever skied."
Said Verge: "I've known Tai's had this in him for a while now. He's always been really wild and loose, but he's finally found a rhythm and is getting smooth and solid and is maturing."
Aspen phenom Torin Yater-Wallace took second (84.6) with a typically clean, smooth performance, highlighted by a similar alley-oop flat-spin double to Barrymore's. But his lack of a switch hit on either of his runs limited his result, a fact the 16-year-old acknowledged afterward. "I was just trying to get the feeling back of skiing pipe, and it's easier to do that [skiing] forward," Yater-Wallace said. "But all the next ones, we'll get the switch going."
Summit County local Duncan Adams, whose crowd-pleasing style may be the antithesis of "spin to win," finished third with an 83.8.
On the women's side, U.S. halfpipe team member Sigourney, 21, dominated the final, posting a score of 86.6. Groenewoud took second (81.4) and Switzerland's Virginie Faivre took third, nearly 10 points back.
Contrary to Barrymore's five-hit run, Sigourney landed seven hits: a 540, straight air, 900, alley oop, straight air, alley oop 5, 720. "It's such a relief," the 2011 X Games Superpipe silver medalist said. "I always put so much pressure on myself."
In early season injury news, Frenchman Xavier Bertoni fought through a broken hand to take fourth (79.0), defending Copper Grand Prix champion Dorey sat out with a concussion and U.S. Freeskiing star Jen Hudak was slowed by a shin injury.
The Copper Grand Prix was the first of four freeskiing World Cup events to be held this year, three of which will take place on U.S. snow.