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Breaking down the pro ski, snowboard 2015-16 season: A hot winter ahead

A look ahead at some of the top storylines heading into the winter season. 

Don’t let the balmy temperatures of the Northeast Corridor fool you. Winter is coming. In some places, it’s already here.

On Nov. 17, some of the most popular ski and snowboarding slopes in the country had various amounts of snow dumped on them by the first major storm of the year. The totals ranged from an inch to a foot and a half; typical of snowfall in the mountains, it’s all about altitude. The snowfall at Aspen Mountain was so significant that the slopes there and at nearby Snowmass opened over the weekend instead of the 28th when they were originally scheduled to.

Those two slopes are just a few miles from the base of Buttermilk Mountain, the site of the Winter X Games. As the public straps on the poles and boards for another season, so too will the pros. The snowboards will start flying this week in Beijing, but the skiers have already gotten their party started.

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Air + Style Beijing

Dec. 4-6

Dew Tour Breckenridge

Dec. 10-13

LAAX Euro Open

Jan. 18-24

U.S. Grand Prix Mammoth Mountain

Jan. 21-24

Winter X Games

Jan. 28-31

U.S. Grand Prix Park City

Feb. 1-7

Air + Style Innsbruck

Feb. 6

U.S. Grand Prix Snowboarding

Feb. 11-12

Air + Style Los Angeles

Feb. 20-21

Burton U.S. Open

Feb. 29-Mar. 6

Air +Style kicks off an action-packed international snowboarding season in Beijing on Dec. 4 (with later stops in Innsbruck and Los Angeles). Stale Sandbech will begin the defense of both his Beijing ramp and overall competition titles against a roster of more than 20 riders that includes X Games regulars Sage Kotsenberg, Max Parrot, Sven Thorgren, Kyle Mack, Mark McMorris and Sebastien Toutant.

The 8th iteration of the Dew Tour's winter sport competition (the summer tours began in 2005) will descend on Breckenridge Ski Resort on Dec. 10. The season's first major competition on U.S. soil will feature the top international men and women’s snowboarders and skiers to compete in the half pipe and slopestyle events. Snowboarders Jamie Anderson (female slopestyle) and Talyor Gold (men's half pipe) won their only gold medals of last season at Dew Tours. But the victorious skiers were usual suspects: Torin Yater-Wallace and Maddie Bowman in the half pipe, Gus Kenworthy on the slopes.

The first major European competition begins on Jan. 18, in Switzerland with the event now called the Laax Euro Open. Don’t get too comfortable with the name, though: There is speculation that the title sponsorship is an as open a race as the competition itself. The format, however, will remain the same no matter the title. The slope style and half pipe competitions for pro and amateur riders and the 500,000 in prize money remain intact.

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had done at the X Games the week before. Clark won the half pipe ahead of defending X Games gold medalist Chloe Kim in a rematch of their duel in the X Games super pipe.

The U.S. snowboarding Grand Prix makes its first stop on Jan. 21, on Mammoth Mountain. The tour arrives at Park City on Feb. 1, and finishes up in spectacular fashion in Fenway Park on Feb. 10. That’s right. Fenway Park, the 103-year-old home of Major League Baseball’s Boston Red Sox. Why not? Professional snow makers can build these ramps just about anywhere now. New England in February is much more hospitable to a big air jump than, say, Pasadena, but more on that in a moment.

The second leg of the Air + Style competition, also won by Stale Sandbech last season, will kick off on Feb. 6, between the second and third U.S. Grand Prix legs. The final leg of Air + Style brings us back to the concept of snow in Southern California. Shaun White’s second iteration of Air + Style Los Angeles will look to build on the success of the inaugural run earlier this year. It was the only leg that Sandbech was not able to conquer. Honors went to Yuki Kadono instead.

The crown jewel of the snowboarding season is still the Winter X Games, especially since the IOC pulled snowboarding from the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. The event will return to the base of Buttermilk Mountain on the final weekend of January, with no shortage of storylines to fuel the excitement. Danny Davis will once again face a stacked men’s super pipe roster, while fans can look forward to the latest installment of the budding rivalry between young champion Chloe Kim and her mentor and friendly rival Kelly Clark.


​Mark McMorris can cement his place at the apex of the professional snowboarding world with another stellar X Games performance to build on last year’s double-gold showing in Big Air and slope style events, and Jamie Anderson will go for gold on the slope style course after a silver laden 2014 season.

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The professional snowboarding competitions end with the Burton U.S. Open in Vail, Colo., Feb. 29-Mar. 6. Last year in the U.S. Open half pipe, Clark bested Kim as she did in Europe on the women’s side. Neither X Games champ Danny Davis nor Euro Open winner Iouri Podladtchikov were able to reach the podium at last year’s U.S. Open. Instead, Taku Hiraoka, Arthur Longo and Ayumu Hirano took the top spots, claiming a major competition for the underdogs.

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Aspen Ski World Cup

Nov. 28-29

Audi Birds of Prey Race Week

Dec. 4-6

Revolution Tour Copper Mountain

Dec. 6-11

Lake Placid Freestyle Cup

Jan. 14-16

U.S. Grand Prix Mammoth Mountain

Jan. 21-24

Winter X Games

Jan. 28-31

U.S. Grand Prix Park City

Feb. 1-7

Deer Valley Freestyle International

Feb. 4-6

U.S. Grand Prix Skiing

Feb. 10-12

Revolution Tour Winter Park

Feb. 29-Mar. 5

Squaw Valley Cross Cup

Mar. 11-13

Revolution Tour

Mar. 14-18

The first two legs of the FIS Skiing World Cup have already begun. American Ted Ligety kicked the proceedings off in style from an American perspective. He took first place in the Men’s slalom event during first leg of the season long competition a few weeks ago in Austria. His combined time in two runs was 2:23.88, just .14 of a second better than Thomas Fanera of France.

“It was tough. I am a little bit surprised I made it to the finish line as it’s a battlefield out there,” Ligety told NBC Sports. “So many ruts in there and tough to see, so I just tried to hammer and look for speed.”

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​The second leg of the Men’s World Cup, set to take place in Levi, Finland, on the 14th was cancelled.  Replacement competitions were set up in Austria and Sweden that same weekend. In Sweden, countryman MattiasHargin’s combined time of 1:32.90 edged fifth-ranked Norwegian HenrikKristoffersen by 0.33 seconds for the opening victory at the Magic Drum. Austria’s slalom competition went to Hargin’s teammate Andre Myhrer, who, with a combined time of 1:31.56, narrowly bested Sebastian Foss-Solevaag of Norway by 0.09 seconds.

Lindsay Vonn made her long, long awaited return to professional skiing in Aspen, Colo. at the first stateside leg of the FIS World Cup competition. It was not a triumphant return by any means. On Friday, Vonn lost her left ski and crashed into the netting.

"It wasn't even really bumpy," Vonn, 31, said to ESPN after the race. "I'm kind of perplexed how that actually happened. It's never happened to me in a race before. To have it happen in Aspen is definitely disappointing."


Vonn completely tore her ACL in her right knee while training for this very competition in 2013 and had to pull out of the 2014 Winter Olympics. That injury compounded a fractured tibia plateau and partial tears of her ACL and MCL that she suffered during 2013 World Championships.​

Fellow American Mikaela Shiffrin nearly tasted gold in the same race, but also fell on the home stretch of her second run, conceding victory to Switzerland’s Lara Gut. It was Shiffrin who would have the last laugh, roaring back in historic fashion on Saturday. She won the slalom event by a margin on 3.07 seconds, the largest in a women's slalom race in the history of the World Cup. The previous record of three seconds was set in 1968.

"I was really shocked," Shiffrin said to the Denver Post afterwards. "There's a reason people don't win by three seconds. Stars have to line up, and it probably won't happen again."

It also was the first World Cup win for an American in Aspen since Olympic downhill champion Bill Johnson won in 1984, and the first win for an American women here since Tamara McKinney claimed a giant slalom in 1981. Shiffrin shrugged that statistic off by winning Sunday’s race as well.

Askel Lund Svindal of Norway won Sunday’s Men’s Super G event in Lake Louise by a considerably slimmer margin than Shiffrin did in her record breaking run. His time, 1:29:30, was .35 of a second better than the field. Travis Ganong, the lone American in the 20-man field, finished No. 4 with a time of 1:29:81.