VALLE NEVADO, Chile (Sept. 13) – Andy Finch (Fresno, CA) had a rock-solid first run with several big hits and shook off any Friday the 13th jinx to capture the opening World Cup halfpipe contest of the season under a brilliant blue sky. Canadian Maele Ricker held off four U.S. women to win the women’s event at Valle Nevado resort.

“Good weather, good snow, great day,” said U.S. Head Coach Peter Foley. “Andy had some huge airs, just huge, on his first run and he went last on the final run, so he knew he’d won even before he started. He let out a big yell in the start gate.

“He thought he’d soak the other guys on the podium with champagne, but since he went last, they beat him to the podium and they were ready for him. Andy got the worst of the spraying,” Foley laughed.

Finch, 21, scored 43.9 on his first run, including the first Haakon flip – a reverse flip and double rotation at the lip of the superpipe – he’s ever landed in competition. On the final, run no other competitor could catch him in the better-of-two-runs scoring system; 24 men competed.

“I was surfing before I came here and I’ll go surfing when I get home,” Finch said, savoring the second victory of his career as he noted he’d brought his surfboard with him.

Finch, who also won a halfpipe contest in Sapporo, Japan, last season, worked on his Haakon move during a week-long dryland training camp at the Woodward (PA) gymnastics camp before the U.S. team headed to South America a week ago. He felt confident enough to try it in competition, he said, so he’ll be using the crowd-pleasing trick more this winter.

In the women’s contest, which drew just nine riders, Ricker used the same formula for victory – a strong first run that stood up. She received 41.1 points to 39.4 for Gretchen Bleiler (Snowmass, CO). Third place went to Olympic halfpipe champion Kelly Clark (Mount Snow, VT) with 15-year-old Hannah Teter (Belmont, VT), gold medalist in halfpipe at the 2002 World junior Championships, fourth in her first World Cup HP event. Fifth place went to another U.S. rider, former World Cup champion Tricia Byrnes (Stratton Mountain, VT).

“It was great to see the girls do so well…and see Hannah move right in there in her first World Cup. She rode snowboardcross (Thursday) just for fun (and was 18th) but she was all business today. I think Gretchen had a great first run and should’ve had a higher score – she had a really clean run – but the judges didn’t see it that way. All four of the girls rode pretty well. Kelly wasn’t super clean, she crashed, but it’s a good start.”

The opening events of the World Cup snowboard season conclude Saturday with parallel giant slalom.

SNOWBOARD WORLD CUP
Valle Nevado, CHI – Sept. 13
Halfpipe (Better of two runs)
Men (10 made finals)
1. Andy Finch, Fresno, CA, 43.9 points
2. Jan Michaelis, Germany, 41.9
3. Antti Autti, Finland, 41.7
4. Magnus Sterner, Sweden, 40.5
5. Markku Koski, Finland, 40.4
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6. Seth Wescott, Kingfield, ME, 38.7
10. Wyatt Caldwell, Sun Valley, ID, DNS-2

Women (6 made finals)
1. Maelle Ricker, Canada, 41.1
2. Gretchen Bleiler, Snowmass, CO, 39.4
3. Kelly Clark, Mount Snow, VT, 37.1
4. Hannah Teter, Belmont, VT, 34.9
5. Tricia Byrnes, Stratton Mountain, VT, 32.3– Best in the World! —