Similar to the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, the US is probably the favorite in halfpipe when it comes to the snowboarding discipline, in both the men's and the women's field, but in slopestyle and big air, we would consider them relative underdogs in the men's field heading into the 2018 Winter Olympics, not because of a lack of skill or talent, but the sheer fact that Norway, Canada and Finland are big time contenders in those fields. With halfpipe and women's slopestyle and big air, the US is relying on the efforts of Shaun White, Hailey Langland, Danny Davis, Kelly Clark, Jamie Anderson, Chloe Kim or a handful of others to bring home the gold and the chances of that happening are pretty good. However, in men's slopestyle and big air, kids like Redmond Gerard, Kyle Mack, Brandon Davis, Chris Corning and Judd Henkes are newcomers to the scene and competing in their first-ever Olympics if they do indeed qualify. It's going to be interesting to see what happens outside of the halfpipe in PyeongChang, but in our opinion, this is the best that the US has ever looked in terms of sheer volume of talent heading into the 2018 Winter Olympics.
The US is allowed to have four athletes per gender, per event, but slopestyle and big air count as the same event. In order to be eligible for the Korea Games, each athlete has to have a top 30 World Cup finish from July 1st, 2016 and January 21st, 2018 and 50 FIS points by January 22nd, 2018. For halfpipe, there will be four events held this season to give the athletes a chance to make the team and for slopestyle and big air, the athletes will be given five events to qualify. Based on top results, three riders per gender per event will be selected for the US Olympic Team and one athlete per gender, per event, will be chosen based on "medal potential" by the Head Coach of the US. It's gonna get confusing and heated, so pay attention in this coming season as the US Team starts to get named heading into the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games.
Favorites in Slope and Big Air
At this point in the qualification process, Red is the favorite going into PyeongChang. A lot can happen in the coming months, but Red has very little to do to make the team and both his stature and his riding have matured over the last two winters. He's got everything it takes to physically qualify but slopestyle and big air is a mental game as well, and Red would be one of the youngest members of Team USA if he makes the squad. His approach is mellow and relaxed, and that's what everyone likes about the kid, however, it's how he rides under pressure that will make all the difference in the 2017/2018 season.
Recently, the hashtag #WhoTheF**kIsChrisCorning has been going around and for good reason. Chris exploded onto the contest scene last year, making his big international debut at the 2017 Burton US Open where he went full cyborg on the entire field and failed to fall in all three of his runs and ended up in 5th place. Since then, Chris has been training and focusing on new tricks, which, quite frankly, should scare the hell out of anyone trying to make the US squad. The kid is consistent and he's very young, and something tells us that he's going to be a big-time underdog threat in South Korea.
New Hampshire-bred veteran Chas Guldemond has been doing this for a very long time. As the oldest rider on the US slopestyle team, he's still around for a reason, which is unusual in competitive snowboarding, where the average career of a slopestyle rider is two or three years. That's exactly why we put him on this list, because in order to have that kind of longevity in this discipline, Chas holds incredible skill and he is one of the strongest riders, both physically and mentally, alive. Of note is that Chas has been perfecting triple corks and incorporating them into his runs, which makes us think that we very well might see him in South Korea in both the slopestyle and big air realm.
Brock is a wildcard, both in a literal and figurative sense. He doesn't take things too seriously, and while that may not work for many riders, it certainly does for him. He might be the most naturally-talented rider vying for a spot on the US Team in slope and big air, so him qualifying for the 2018 Games solely relies on whether or not he can put down the runs he's capable of when it counts, and we think he can. He's got the ammo. All he needs to do is pull the trigger to fire a shot off the bow and shock the world in PyeongChang.
Bold Prediction Alert: Jamie Anderson will win snowboarding slopestyle gold in the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games in South Korea. As bold as this may seem, it's plain stupid to bet against Jamie at this point. Grented, girls like US teammate Hailey Langland, Austria's Anna Gasser and Canadian phenom Spencer O'Brien have been giving her a run for her money, Jamie is still the reigning queen in slopestyle and we don't see that changing any time soon. She's won every mainstream event multiple times at this point and is the defending champion in slopestyle after taking home gold in Sochi and to bet against her is unorthodox and not very smart if you're a betting man or woman.
Another Bold Prediction Alert: Hailey Langland will win snowboarding big air gold in the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games in South Korea. Last February, Hailey landed the double cork heard 'round the world, the first Cab triple ever landed in X Games big air history and with the time she has to learn new doubles (and maybe even triples?) coupled with her age and ability, there aren't many girls out there who can do what she does with the style in which she does them. Again, there's a lot of time 'til Korea comes, but as of right now, we firmly believe Hailey will take home some hallowed hardware at the 2018 Games.
Julia Marino is the women's wildcard in slopestyle. She took home gold at the X Games and it resonated with the snowboard world, but ultimately, she introduced herself to the industry and proved that she can hang with the best on the biggest stage in snowboarding, and that is reason enough to put her in the running in South Korea.
Favorites in Halfpipe
Surprise surprise. It's absolutely insane that Shaun White will be 31 years old by the time the 2018 Games come around and he's still the favorite. His sheer dominance and longevity makes him one of the greatest snowboarders who has ever strapped in, let alone his accolades. Back-to-back gold medals at the 2006 Torino Games and the 2010 Vancouver Games cemented his legacy and although he failed to podium in a shitty Sochi halfpipe, it was widely understood that Shaun lost the gold in those Games, rather than Switzerland's Iouri Podladtchikov won the gold in those Games. There are few descriptors that can be thrown out about Shaun that haven't been written a thousand times over, but just know that he's the favorite at this point and he's been spotted training hard at Mammoth Mountain toward the end of the season and he's already talking about the 2022 Games down the line. Is another back-to-back gold medal win in the cards? Don't cast doubt quite yet, because Shaun is snowboarding's Superman, and he thrives on disbelief like no other rider in history.
Danny Davis is another rider who was hampered by the condition of the pipe in Sochi, as he was largely considered Shaun's biggest threat in the 2014 Games, however, he went down on his two runs because the pipe was garbage, and he's looking for redemption in 2018. Recently, Danny snagged back-to-back golds at the X Games in 2014 and 2015 and were it not for a blinding snowstorm that canceled the halfpipe in 2016, he very well might have three-peated. Danny takes a completely different approach to pipe riding than the rest of the field, with unorthodox tricks that showcase style first and foremost and many times, judges don't award him what they should. However, we're sure that Danny's run from this year's X Games will not be the run he presents in South Korea, but we're also sure that it will be every snowboarder's favorite run from the Games and we hope he's awarded for that.
People often mutter "Always the bridesmaid, never the bride" when referencing Bend Oregon's Ben Ferguson, as he finishes well at nearly every event he enters but is still waiting for that first big international victory, and the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in South Korea may very well afford him that opportunity. Ben is explosive, powerful and fluid, the type of rider that people who have never set foot on a snowboard stop to watch, and he's got one of the deepest bags of tricks in competitive pipe riding. Recently, he's been training in a private halfpipe up at Mt. Bachelor and we're hearing rumblings of some pretty unreal shit that he's been attempting and landing, so keep an eye on Ben in Korea because he could emerge as the face of American pipe riding.
Right now, Chloe Kim is the most dominant halfpipe rider in the world and she's still in her teens. Ever since she became the first woman to ever land back-to-back 1080s in competition, she has been widely regarded as the current queen of halfpipe riding and she's showing no signs of slowing down. Her biggest rival is a woman twice her age in Kelly Clark, yet when they're both on their game, it's anyone's event to win, however, we would still give Chloe the edge due to her technicality and style. She's a new-age pipe rider with the amplitude of a veteran and quite frankly, we don't see anyone taking away her chance of becoming a gold medalist.
While Chloe Kim may be the most dominant halfpipe rider in the world right now, Kelly Clark is the most dominant halfpipe rider in the history of snowboarding, and that includes the men's field. Kelly has amassed more halfpipe wins than any snowboarder alive over the past decade-and-a-half and, coming off a slight injury, she's looking as strong in the halfpipe as she ever has. Kelly's strongest asset is her amplitude, the key element to pipe riding, and while she has a little cleaning up to do in terms of her grabs and tricks in order to catch up to Chloe, we're sure that she's hard at work attempting to do just that. We've learned that Kelly is most dangerous when she's not the favprite going into an event, so take this as an official warning before the 2018 Games: Kelly is very, very dangerous and she may win her second gold medal of all-time.
Odds-On Chances to Medal
The chances of the US medaling in slopestyle, big air or halfpipe at the 2018 Games in South Korea are 99.9%. Whether it's Jamie, Shaun, Chloe, Kelly, Danny, Ben, Red, Chas, or any of the other riders in the endless pool of talent traveling to PyeongChang, it's an odds-on lock to say that they will medal. The only thing that will be up in the air (besides the riders themselves) is where they will fall on the podium.