It’s ON! If there’s an event to tune into…this is the one! 2022 Laax Open is set to go down with slopestyle and halfpipe World Cup events across January 13-15.
Men’s and women’s halfpipe semifinals, along with men’s slopestyle qualies, are scheduled for Thursday, Jan 13th in Laax, followed by women’s and men’s slopestyle semifinals on the 14th. Slopestyle and halfpipe finals are both slated to take place this Saturday, January 15th – slopestyle beginning at 8:15PM AEST, followed by pipe at 12:30AM on Sunday January 16th.
The Laax Open will be the final World Cup event tune-ups before the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games get underway on February 4th – and also the final World Cup halfpipe competition of the 2021/22 season, meaning that the crystal globes are set to be handed out on Saturday evening. Game on.
While most nations’ Olympic rosters are pretty well established at this point, there are still some important decisions to be made, critical World Cup points to be won, and game-changing momentum to be established as we head into the all-important quadrennial that is the Olympics.
In what has to be the of the most anticipated halfpipe event since the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games, all three of the reigning Olympic podium athletes are set to square off in competition for the first time in almost four years.
All the boys are back in the ring for this one – Shaun White (USA), Ayumu Hirano (JPN) and Scotty James (AUS) are all on the scene in Laax and ready to duke it out in what is regarded by many to be the world’s best halfpipe, setting the stage for an epic show in the final tune-up before we return to Olympic halfpipe competition in Beijing from February 9-11th.
Hirano is fresh off a mind-blowing win in Mammoth, where he needed only four explosive hits to take what was his first major international victory since 2018. The fact that he was able to do so without dropping the triple-cork that he become the first rider ever to land in competition (at the Dew Tour back in December), means that the 23-year-old has plenty more to give, and there’s a good chance we’ll see just what that entails this week.
Now we need to talk about Scotty James some more, who has not competed since finishing runner-up to Yuto Totsuka (JPN) at the Aspen 2021 World Championships last March.
James’ sole World Cup start last season was here in Laax, where he also came second to Totsuka. It was the same story at the X Games last season – Totsuka first, James second. You may be noticing a pattern here.
In fact, it’s now been nearly two years since Scotty has stood on the top of a major podium, when his run of 11-straight international competition victories came to an end in February 2020 at the hands of Ruka Hirano (no relation to Ayumu) at the Calgary Snow Rodeo. The odds-on favourite for Beijing 2022 gold through the first half of this Olympic cycle, Scotty James’ place in the halfpipe hierarchy is now a bit of a mystery; what will he deliver this weekend? Pressure is on. We reckon’ he’s got some hidden gems ready to reveal though.
Another standout rider to keep your eyes peeled on is young buck and Aussie superstar Valentino Guseli. It was exactly this time last year, same pipe, where Valentino BLEW MINDS with his qualifying run boosting him into first spot. At the casual age of 15. Val has secured a spot on the Aussie Olympic team and is looking to put down a solid run for this event.
Upping the Laax Open star power even higher this weekend is the presence of PyeongChang 2019 Olympic gold medallist, two-time World Champion and reigning Laax Open winner Chloe Kim (USA), who’s riding a streak of five straight victories since she returned to competition last season after a sabbatical of her own.
Kim’s biggest rival is likely her U.S. teammate Maddie Mastro, the one other women who we know has the dub cork in her arsenal. Unfortunately for us, Mastro suffered a heavy crash at the Dew Tour and is still working on her recovery ahead of the Games. We won’t see her here in Laax this week.
The above-mentioned Castellet is here in Laax, however, and she’s one of the few riders who can push Kim to her limit. Laax is something of a second home for the Spaniard, and her win here back in 2020 was a dream come true for the rider nicknamed “Cannonball.” Now set to drop in on her fifth Olympic Winter Games next month, the 32-year-old just seems to be getting better with age, and she’ll be looking for her first Olympic podium in Beijing. Expect Castellet to pull out all the stops over the next couple days in Laax and head into the Games with some momentum.
Also on hand here in Laax and looking for their own respective pieces of the podium are the Chinese powerhouse duo of Cai Xuetong and Liu Jaiyu. Cai has three previous podiums here in Laax and is fresh off a second-place result in Mammoth last weekend, while Liu is the 2018 Laax Open winner and PyeongChang 2018 silver medallist who’s looking to warm things up ahead of her fourth Olympic start in Beijing.
Thanks to FIS Snowboarding for all the info, insights and live links.