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Irving, Blunck Jump Start Season at Winter Games NZ World Cup

By Andrew Gauthier
September, 7 2019
Birk Irving podium NZ
Noah Bowman, Birk Irving, and Aaron Blunck on the podium at the Winter Games NZ World Cup halfpipe at Cardrona Alpine Resort. (FIS Freestyle - Chad Buchholz)

Under blue skies, no wind, and a perfectly sculpted pipe, U.S. Freeski Team member Birk Irving (Winter Park, Colo.) earned his second FIS World Cup victory at the Winter Games NZ halfpipe season opener on Saturday with an unprecedented line up of tricks at Cardrona Alpine Resort. 

“I have been wanting to do a 1440 and the double-cork-720 in a run for a long time,” said Irving. “I am so surprised and psyched I was able to put them both down together. I’m probably the most hyped I have ever been about a run.”

The double-cork-720 may not be a high degree rotation, but the air awareness and execution required to land back on his feet due to the axis of the spin is second to none. Prior to dropping in on his final run, Irving ignored the leaderboard. 

“I wasn’t really thinking about where I was standing in the rankings,” he said. “I just tried the run I thought I needed to win and it worked out.”

Teammate and double-FIS Halfpipe World Champion Aaron Blunck (Crested, Butte, Colo.) also wasted no time finding his way to the podium this season finishing third. Blunck could not put together a complete run on his first two attempts, but reached deep and pulled it out on his last opportunity. 

“I just wanted to land a run,” Blunck said. “I didn’t care where I finished. My real goals were to make finals and put down a run I’m happy with. It’s a cherry on top to make it onto the podium. Noah (Bowman) was oozing style and I couldn’t be happier for Birk. It was amazing to watch him progress the sport today. I knew he wanted to try the down the pipe double-cork-720, and I just thought to myself - just land it, I don’t care what the score is, but just land it because it’s such a high consequence trick.”

Lyman Currier (Boulder, Colo.), who has been plagued by injury since his ACL tear at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games, put down two commendable runs. He may not have broken into the top-three, but that does not mean it was an unsuccessful day for the U.S. Freeski Team veteran.

“It feels amazing to be out here today,” said Currier. “I came to New Zealand hoping to make finals. I checked that off my list and now I’m just having fun. It feels great to get the competition nerves flowing again. I’m stoked to land two out of three of my runs.”

Canadian Noah Bowman of Canada finished in second-place landing back to back switch double corks on his final run. 

For the women, Birk’s sister, Svea Irving (Winter Park, Colo.) put down a solid first run complete with a left side 900 and beautiful flare but was unable to break into podium contention. Kexin Zhang and Eileen Gu of China took home the gold and silver medals respectively, while Russian Valeriya Demidova closed out the podium earning the bronze. 

Unlike many of the early events of the season, there seemed to be very little rust to shake off for the majority of the field. The athletes were motivated to make their mark at the outset of the 2019-20 season and came out with high energy, great attitudes, and execution at a level that resembled mid-season form. With only three events in the books, U.S. Freeski and Snowboard athletes have collected five podiums, signaling a very successful start to the season. The future looks bright as we move towards the northern hemisphere winter. 

Men’s freeski halfpipe finals
Women’s freeski halfpipe finals

Birk Irving’s winning run
Aaron Blunck’s third-place run