Howelsen course challenged Alpine snowboarders, but two racers repeatedly found victory

Ran Nozaki of Japan takes a sharp turn around a gate during the Race to the Cup at Howelsen Hill on Saturday, Jan. 14, 2023. Nozaki finished eighth overall in the race.
Tom Skulski/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Coming down the face of Howelsen Hill at top speeds, some of the best Alpine snowboarders on the planet assembled in Steamboat Springs for the Race to the Cup event Thursday, Jan. 12, to Saturday, Jan. 14. 

The Race to the Cup series hosts three total event weekends, the first of which was in Steamboat Springs. The first two days, athletes raced for NorAm Cup points with the third day being an FIS parallel giant slalom race. 

Collecting multiple victories throughout the week, both Canadian Jules Lefebvre for the men and American Alexa Bullis for the women felt a major confidence boost from the competitions and look to use that as a driving force for the remainder of the winter season. 

“Honestly, I needed these two races for confidence,” Bullis said. “I was in the World Cup back in November and December, training. I had an awful start to my season with no confidence so being able to come here and put down clean runs and actually follow through with it, I’m really happy with myself.”

Bullis took wins in both the parallel slalom event on Friday and the parallel giant slalom on Saturday. 

In Saturday’s final head-to-head race, Bullis edged out her opponent Aurelie Moisan by just four-tenths of a second to take gold. 

Similarly, Lefebvre’s win over Vail’s Steven MacCutcheon came by less than a second. Lefebvre said it was nice to wrap up the event with a second victory. 

“It feels good, we’re headed to Canada for some World Cups in two weeks so I’m looking forward to that,” Lefebvre said. “This gives me a good confidence boost and it’s always nice to race at Howelsen, it’s a fun hill. Challenging, but it’s fun.”

Already a difficult course, the snowy weather earlier in the week made it even harder on the athletes for Thursday’s race. Bullis and Lefebvre agreed the course conditions got better as the week went on, with Saturday offering the best. 

“The conditions today didn’t break apart like it has,” Bullis said. “Red course all week has been really chunky and falling apart so it’s basically survival, especially yesterday. Today, it happened to hold together and blue was much better, I knew the last run I just had to kind of stay with her to get through.”

Both athletes are energized to push through the rest of the year but with so many runs in just three days, Bullis and Lefebvre will take some well deserved rest before their next events. 

“We did a two-run elimination where usually we do one run in the normal Olympic format,” Lefebvre said. “That was 10 runs today and 10 runs yesterday for me, so my legs are definitely feeling it.”

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