Saas Fe, Switzerland—Olympic silver medalist Gretchen Bleiler (Aspen, CO) and X Games bronze medalist Scotty Lago (Seabrook, NH) opened the World Cup halfpipe season with Thanksgiving Day victories in the first of two contests set for the Swiss glacier.

“It’s always good to start with a win,” said Bleiler,, who won the event by 2.5 points over Soko Yamaoka of Japan. “I really haven’t ridden pipe since August in Australia so I’m pretty pumped. The weather was pretty gnarly with some heavy wind picking up toward the end of the day and visibility was tough at times, but it’s still good to have a win to open the season.”

Bleiler is coming off a storybook season that included victories in four out of five Chevrolet U.S. Snowboard Grand Prix Olympic qualifying events en route to a silver medal in Italy. She then won the final World Cup of the season in Lake Placid, NY, before taking second at the U.S. Open only a week later.

After stomping her winning run of frontside air/backside 540/frontside 540/backside air/frontside 720, Bleiler enjoyed a victory lap courtesy of the flip format where the top score from first finals run is last rider in the second run.

“Gretchen and Scotty both had victory laps,” said Head Coach Mike Jankowski. “They nailed their first runs and the scores held up. Gretchen didn’t miss a beat from last season and Scotty is riding really technical right now and stomping it. This is his first World Cup win and his first pro win, so this should give him the confidence he’s been looking for – you should see his face right now, the guy has been grinning ear to ear all day.”

The stacked international field included Olympic bronze medalist Markku Koski of Finland, who finished fifth ahead of ’04 X Games champion Steve Fisher (Breckenridge, CO) in sixth and Tommy Czeschin (Mammoth Lakes, CA) in ninth. On the women’s side, current World Championships silver medalist Manuela Laura Pesko of Switzerland was third with Yamaoka, a five-time World Cup winner in second.

“I’m so excited, I can’t believe it,” said Lago, who landed podiums over the summer at the Abominable Snow Jam and New Zealand Open. “I knew it was possible and I’ve been close a couple of times, but this feels really good. I’ve been riding well all summer and maybe the difference today was that I was well rested for this event.”

Lago’s winning run included a frontside air/backside 540/frontside 1080/cab 720/frontside 900/backside air, good enough for 45.3 points and a victory lap that included one big frontside air followed by a slash session to celebrate the win.

“Today was an awesome way for U.S. Snowboarding to open the season against such a solid field of riders,” added Jankowski, “I’m looking for Gretchen and Scotty to continue doing what they’re doing on Saturday, they really didn’t miss a step and their confidence is so high right now.”

World Championship Sports Network will carry streaming video coverage from Saas Fee online at http://www.wcsn.com/sport/index.jsp?id=34226. A second World Cup halfpipe is slated for Saturday, Nov. 25, also in Saas Fee.

For photos from Saas Fee: ftp://ftp.fisski.ch/Snowboard/photos/s0607/04 Saas-Fee, Switzerland/HP 1, Thursday/

World Cup Snowboarding
Saas Fee, Switzerland – Nov. 23, 2006
Halfpipe No. 1

Men
1. Scotty Lago, Seabrook, NH, 45.3
2. Markus Malin, Finland, 44.6
3. Daisuke Murakami, Japan, 44.3
4. Peetu Piroinen, Finland, 44.1
5. Markku Koski, Finland, 43.1
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6. Steve Fisher, Breckenridge, CO, 42.0
9. Tommy Czeschin, Mammoth Lakes, CA, 37.0
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Women
1. Gretchen Bleiler, Aspen, CO, 41.0
2. Soko Yamaoka, Japan, 38.5
3. Manuela Laura Pesko, Switzerland, 37.6
4. Shiho Nakashima, Japan, 32.7
5. Holly Crawford, Australia, 28.8
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32. Tricia Byrnes, Stratton Mountain, VT, 12.9
33. Clair Bidez, Minturn CO, 7.5

For complete results:
http://www.fis-ski.com/uk/604/1228.html?event_id=22034_suchsector=SB