Words & Photos: Noah Wallace
Three hours northeast of Beijing, near the city of Chongli, lies the ski resort known as Secret Garden. For the past three years, Secret Garden has hosted a World Cup halfpipe event right before Christmas. In those three years, more and more top athletes have flocked to this area to compete and get an idea of what to expect at the venue, which will host the 2022 Olympics.
The stunt ditch at Secret Garden.
If this last week is any indication of what to expect, the athletes had better dress more warmly than usual. After a harsh week of temperatures averaging around -20 Celsius, high winds, and snow storms during practice & qualifications, it’s safe to say that optimism for some decent conditions during the contest was running low until right before practice started. Throughout the morning, however, the weather improved drastically, and turned out to be the best day all week for the third stop of five in the World Cup halfpipe season.
Jaxin Hoerter of the US enjoys the break in the weather.
With a stacked finals start list for both men & women, this was guaranteed to be a great event. Starting off with the women’s first runs, Valeriya Demidova of Russia led the pack early with a variety of solid grabs, rotations and smooth style that put her above the rest with a score of 92. Close behind her with a score of 88.75 was Rachael Karker of Canada, who led off with a massive left flair and kept the amplitude up throughout her entire run with back-to-back cork 900s, a cork 720 and a switch alley-oop 540. Li Fanghui of China, also no stranger to big amplitude, started her run with a huge air to fakie, and rounded out the top three with a score of 86.50 on her first run, putting her one place ahead of teammate and two-time winner of this event, Zhang Kexin.
Li Fanghui leading off her run with a big air to fakie.
During the second run, Zhang Kexin looked to step up her run with a right 1080 on the first hit, but under-rotated slightly and remained in the 4th spot. Valeriya was able to up her score to 92.50 with a run consisting of a flair truckdriver, left 720 mute, switch alley-oop 360 japan, left 540 Japan, right 720 tail, switch right alley-oop 360 mute and ending with a left alley-oop 720.
Valeriya Demidova on her way to her first World Cup victory.
Coming into the third and final run, Zhang Kexin tried again to improve but fell on her right 1080, dashing her hopes of a three-peat at this event. With Li Fanghui & Rachael Karker also unable to improve on their final runs, Valeriya was able to take her first victory lap, as well as her first career World Cup win.
“It’s a great day, so sunny, and everybody was skiing so well, and I am so excited that I landed all of my runs,” Valeriya said after the contest. “After my first run when I saw my score, I was like, “What, I’m first? No way.’”
Birk Irving led the men's pack after the first run.
On the men’s side, Birk Irving led after the first round with a very clean run that included a massive left double cork 1440. Noah Bowman followed close behind, adding his signature switch style and multiple double variations to the course, while Taylor Seaton maneuvered into third with a massive right double cork 1260 and his signature alley-oop 720s and 900s to finish out the run. Lyman Currier, who is back from a two-year competitive hiatus due to injuries, put down a solid run as well, until he came up short on his second-to-last hit and landed with one foot on the deck.
Lyman Currier, back like he never left.
Run 2 not only shook up the podium rankings, but also saw some of the event’s craziest tricks, like Hunter Hess’s incredible double cork 1620. Hess put the trick to his feet, but unfortunately had his ski pop off as he was riding away one-footed to the finish. Noah Bowman stepped up his run with a right 360 tweaked stalefish, switch left double 1080, right 1080 tail grab, a massive switch 540, and a switch alley-oop double 900, and moved into first place with a score of 91.50. Following Bowman, Lyman Currier got redemption from his fall on his first run, and moved into second place with an action-packed run: switch left 720 truck driver, right double cork 1260 Japan, left double cork 1260 mute, right 900 truck driver, left 900 Cuban and a left alley-oop 540 nose.
Noah Bowman in the paint.
On the third run, everyone in the men’s category either had a fall or a bobble, until Aaron Blunck dropped in. Though he qualified in first, Aaron had some issues on his first two runs. But on his third and final go, he put down a run featuring a switch left double 900 japan, switch right double cork 1080 safety, double flatspin safety, right double cork 1440, and sealed the deal with a switch alley-oop 540. At the bottom, everyone waited patiently until the scores came in, with Aaron scoring a 90.75.
With the final results in, Noah Bowman claimed the day’s top honors, with Aaron Blunck in second and Lyman Currier in third. This is Noah’s first win since the 2018 World Cup in Tignes. “It feels amazing to be back on top,” Noah said. “I was struggling through the training with the conditions we had. So I’m really happy to put down the run that I did.”
The women's podium: Rachael Karker, Valeriya Demidova, Li Fanghui.
The men's podium: Aaron Blunck, Noah Bowman, Lyman Currier.
With three stops now completed in the World Cup season, there was an exchange of bibs as well. Valeriya’s win today put her into first overall as she claimed the golden bib from Zhang Kexin, who slid to second in the rankings. Noah Bowman & Aaron Blunck, who have both had a tremendous season and made the podium at every World Cup so far, and are sharing the men’s Golden Bib as they go into the holiday break. With only two remaining halfpipe World Cups in Mammoth & Calgary, it’s going to be a great show to see who will come out on top in the battle for the Crystal Globe.
The current holders of the golden bib: Blunck, Demidova and Bowman.
OFFICIAL RESULTS: World Cup SKI Halfpipe – Secret Garden – Men
OFFICIAL RESULTS: World Cup SKI Halfpipe – Secret Garden – Women