ASPEN, CO - JANUARY 29: Shaun White soars above the pipe on his final run as he won the goal medal in the men's snowboard superpipe final during Winter X Games 2012 at Buttermilk Mountain on January 29, 2012 in Aspen, Colorado. White earned his fifth consecutive gold medal in the event and scored a perfect 100 points on his final run. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. - The Dew Tour iON Mountain Championships kick off Wednesday, starting the North American season and serving as the first of five qualifiers for the U.S. freeskiing and snowboarding Olympic teams.
The event has drawn the best in the world. As events get rolling, here are some things to watch:
1. Shaun White... on the slope. The two-time defending gold medalist in the halfpipe seeks to qualify in two events for Sochi with the addition of slopestyle to the Games. The event requires riders to navigate a series of rails, boxes and jumps down the mountain.
White was once the reigning king of that event too - winning eight X Games medals in the event, including five gold with three in a row in 2004-06 - but stepped away to focus on halfpipe for the Vancouver Olympics.
Last year's X Games showed White where he stood as he finished fifth. With Canadian Mark McMorris favored to win the event, White will likely have to land the trick McMorris has mastered - a triple cork. An off-axis flip three times around, the triple cork became the must-have trick when several riders attempted it last year.
GoPro, one of White's sponsors, built him a private halfpipe and slopestyle features in Australia, where he trained earlier this fall. Will we see a triple cork from him? Did he invent a different, equally impressive trick? We'll have to see in the semi-finals on Friday or finals on Sunday.
2. Will returning Olympians fall behind? No team will be harder to make than the women's snowboarding halfpipe team. It's going to be a dogfight.
The four members of the past two Olympics - Kelly Clark, Gretchen Bleiler, Elena Hight and Hannah Teter - are all back and are at the top of the sport. Between them, they have two gold medals (Clark in 2002, Teter in 2006), two silvers (Bleiler in 2006, Teter in 2010) and a bronze (Clark in 2010).
Pushing them will be 17-year-old Arielle Gold, who had a breakout year in 2013 that included seven podium finishes and two X Games medals, and Kaitlyn Farrington. Saturday's final won't determine the team, but it's likely to be the first in a series of tough contests leading up to the Jan. 18 announcement of who made the team.
3. Who will fill out freeski superpipe teams? For the Americans, David Wise and Torin Yater-Wallace are heavy favorites to make the men's team, while Maddie Bowman and Devin Logan are expected to make the women's team.
After that, it will be a tough competition to fill out the remaining spot or spots. On the men's side, veteran Simon Dumont is healthy a year after competing with two broken wrists. Gus Kenworthy and Aaron Blunck are also likely to be in the mix.
For the women, Annalisa Drew is coming off a win at The North Face Park and Pipe Open last weekend. Jen Hudak continues he return from a torn ACL and Angeli VanLaanen is in her second season of competition after the three-year hiatus she took to be treated for Lyme disease.
Their final is on Friday.
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