U.S. Snowboarding's Zack Black (Breckenridge, CO) jumps on the Woodward at Copper trampolines while ski halfpipe athlete Jess Cumming (Wilton, CT) watches. (Laura Johnson)

U.S. Snowboarding's Zack Black (Breckenridge, CO) jumps on the Woodward at Copper trampolines while ski halfpipe athlete Jess Cumming (Wilton, CT) watches. (Laura Johnson)

COPPER MOUNTAIN, CO (Sept. 20) – Colorado’s Copper Mountain, a traditional gathering spot for early season skiers and snowboarders, will kick off the winter competition year with a pair of events in the Visa U.S. Halfpipe Grand Prix Friday and Saturday, Dec. 10-11. The season opener will feature both a return of the snowboard Olympians plus a ski halfpipe event that will serve as a qualifier for the upcoming World Championships.

The weekend will also feature one of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association’s most popular series for developing athletes, the Paul Mitchell Progression Session, with a slopestyle event under the lights on Saturday night.

“Copper is ideally suited for this event, having made a major commitment as the first Colorado resort to build a 22-foot halfpipe making Copper the early season home for both top snowboarders and skiers” said the USSA’s Snowboarding and Freeride Director Jeremy Forster. “Given the diversity of snowboarding and skiing in the pipe at Copper, it was a natural progression to be able to showcase both events at the Grand Prix.”

In the past few years, Copper Mountain, with its Woodward at Copper training center, has established itself as the go-to resort for early season pipe training and competition for skiers and snowboarders. Copper joined the U.S. Snowboarding Grand Prix in the 2009-10 Olympic season as the kickoff Winter Games qualifier. The U.S. Snowboarding Grand Prix has been used as an Olympic halfpipe qualifier for the last four Games, dating back to the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan.

“Copper is looking forward to hosting the Visa Grand Prix once again this season especially with the addition of a ski pipe event,” said Copper Spokesperson David Roth. “We feel like we are on the forefront of the ski and snowboard industry with Woodward at Copper and committing to a 22-foot halfpipe for both skiers and snowboarders. Copper is dedicated to working with the Grand Prix again this year to make it bigger and better.”

Copper is committed to the partnership with athletes not only on the USSA ‘s Grand Prix but also its annual U.S. Revolution Tour development series, which is also adding skiing to the mix this season. Along with producing great events, Copper Mountain has been an annual stop for early season training for top U.S. athletes. Proving its commitment to athletes and the growth of halfpipe, Copper has grown its infrastructure investment in the 22-foot pipe, including a recently purchased pipe cutter to provide an even higher quality training and competition venue.

The Grand Prix series, established in 1996 as a premier snowboarding halfpipe athletic competition, will showcase both skiers and snowboarders in the pipe for the first time. The ski halfpipe finals are set for Friday, Dec 10, followed by the snowboard halfpipe finals Dec. 11.

“Over 14 seasons the Grand Prix has always been focused on providing athletes the highest quality competition venues and a legacy of one of the best series in our sport,” said Grand Prix Tour Manager Eric Webster. “We’re excited to welcome skiers and to provide them to our Grand Prix brand with that same high level of competition quality.”

In the snowboarding halfpipe, watch for Olympic medalists Kelly Clark (Mount Snow, VT), who will be looking to throw down back-to-back wins and Olympian Louie Vito (Sandy, UT), to go big with sights set on victory. The ski pipe will be a tight battle. Among the favorites will be Walter Wood (Evergreen, CO) and Jen Hudak (Salt Lake City), who was bronze medalist at the 1999 World Championships and has five World Cup podiums to her credit.

The event will carry into the night on Saturday featuring the Paul Mitchell Progression Session under the lights, where the audience can watch the future of the sport unfold before them. The Session is a standalone exhibition event designed to showcase standout athletes, not necessarily halfpipe riders. In previous years, the Paul Mitchell Progression Session has been a big air or a modified slopestyle contest, each year putting on a great show for the crowd.

The 2011 Visa U.S. Halfpipe Grand Prix is the perfect stage for continuing the international showcase of ski halfpipe, with the event being considered for the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi by the International Olympic Committee ski halfpipe is on the program for the International Ski Federation’s World Championships this February at Deer Valley Resort in Park City, UT, with the pipe event being held at Park City Mountain Resort. The International Olympic Committee is considering ski halfpipe for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia, with a decision that could come down as early as this fall.

“Ski halfpipe has become a major international event with a strong following of athletes worldwide,” said Forster. “Fans can expect to see some amazing performances, which is one of the reasons the IOC is taking a look at the event for the 2014 Games.”

The Visa U.S. Halfpipe Grand Prix is set to air on three different dates. NBC will feature same weekend coverage with both ski and snowboarding on Sunday, Dec. 12 at 2 p.m. ET followed by snowboarding halfpipe on Versus Dec. 18 5 p.m. ET and ski halfpipe on Versus Dec. 25 at 4 p.m. ET.

Visa U.S. Halfpipe Grand Prix Schedule
Copper Mountain, CO

Dec. 10, Visa Ski Halfpipe Finals
Dec. 11, Visa Snowboard Halfpipe Finals

Paul Mitchell Progression Session
Dec. 11, Paul Mitchell Progression Session