Asahikawa (Japan). After the Sapporo-Makomanai stage was concluded last weekend the 2000/2001 Nokia Snowboard FIS World Cup makes its second stop in Japan at Asahikawa on the Hokkaido island this coming weekend featuring Parallel Giant Slalom and Halfpipe. Those who have been there for the first time two years ago recall the venue for great hospitality, good organisation and thousands of spectators, especially at the Halfpipe contest. “It has been a lot fun riding the pipe in front of that crowd,” Sabine Wehr-Hasler from Germany had said in a pre-race press conference, “and we are very much looking forward to it.”

The Parallel Giant Slalom will kick off the competition schedule on Saturday. Mathieu Bozzetto from France is currently leading the Parallel standings, which includes both Parallel Giant Slalom and Parallel Slalom races. If finishing 12th or better he will be safe to keep the yellow World Cup leader bib but especially Richard Richardsson, currently in second place, will try to close the gap. If he won with Bozzetto pulling 13th or less the Swede would take it. Other runner-ups are Dejan Kosir from Slovenia who is in third place so far, French rider Nicolas Huet and Markus Ebner from Germany.

France’s Karine Ruby needed to win on Saturday to keep on leading the womens’ standings. If Carmen Ranigler from Italy claimed the gold it would be her to take first place in the standings also. Even third place ranked US rider Rosey Fletcher could make it up to the very top in the World Cup if she won and both Ruby and Ranigler finished third or less.

The season’s eighth Halfpipe contest will be held on Sunday. The Swedes Stefan Karlsson and Magnus Sterner are most likely the ones to decide the lead amongst each other. However, third ranked German rider Jan Michaelis is another contender after he has collected a couple of top ten ranks already this season. If he won the Halfpipe at Asahikawa it would be him to take the lead in the current ranking and he had already added a win to his scores two weeks ago.

Last year’s Halfpipe World Cup champion Sabine Wehr-Hasler is sitting in the hot seat so far and should be safe to keep the lead if she finished twelvth since second placed Norwegian Stine Brun Kjeldaas didn’t sign on for the race. Lesley McKenna from Great Britain sits in third so far ahead of Japanese rider Michiyo Hashimoto.

While most of the riders spent their afternoon with different kinds of training sessions such as freeriding on the PGS slope, first Halfpipe practice, gym, volleyball or similar, some went shopping for electronics or just took it a bit relaxed. Mathieu Bozzetto from France and Germany’s Sandra Farmand made a special experience this afternoon when they were invited to the ‘Toko Junior Highschool’ to talk to more than 170 kids about their sport and both obviously enjoyed it a lot. “I almost don’t remember when I have been inside a school house, it really is a special feeling,” Farmand said and gave the youngsters some basic information about the difference between Freestyle and Alpine competitions in snowboarding. This PR originally appeared on TWsnow.com. When Bozzetto was asked to get the kids a message he said: “Try to do as many different sports as you can and stay with it ¿ this helps you to stay healthy.”

The school visit was concluded with an autograph session and apart from the Japanese riders also two Europeans can for sure count on their little fans when they get to the slope this weekend…