Grand Prix joins FIS World Cup

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Louie Vito styles a run out at the 2011 Copper Grand Prix.

The International Ski Federation (FIS) and the United States Ski & Snowboard Association (USSA) have announced that the 2012-2013 U.S. Grand Prix events in Park City, Utah and Copper Mountain, Colo. will also be FIS World Cup events, for the first time in the 17-year history of the Grand Prix series.

Points from FIS World Cup events -- starting with the World Cup halfpipe event taking place in New Zealand this weekend -- will determine which nations will be competing at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, as well as how many riders each country will be able to send. Countries get up to four spots, per event, depending on how many riders they have at the top of the FIS points lists when the Olympic Qualification period ends in January 2014.

There are 40 available slots, total, for men's halfpipe, and 30 for women's, as well as 30 for men's slopestyle, and 24 for women's at Sochi. After the spots have been allocated to qualifying nations, it will be up to each country to determine which snowboarders get those slots. However, only riders with at least one top 30 finish in a World Cup event will be eligible for consideration.

In English: What this means is that there will be a lot of heavy hitters at the Grand Prix this year.

"The Grand Prix events being designated as World Cups this season helps our athletes earn those Olympic Nations Quotas at home," explains Jeremy Forster, director of USSA. (World Cups have been mostly overseas in years past.) "As the host nation we are also able to enter additional athletes so more U.S. athletes will be able to achieve their top 30 individual result requirement through the Grand Prix events."

Park City will host halfpipe competitions for both snowboarding and freeskiing from December 19-22; Copper Mountain will host halfpipe and slopestyle competitions from January 9-12. Both events now appear on the most recently updated schedule for the 2012-2013 FIS World Cup, which also includes halfpipe and slopestyle competitions at Ruka, Finland (halfpipe, December 7-8); the Olympic site test run at Rosa Khutor in Sochi, Russia (all disciplines, February 10-17); and the 2012-2013 FIS World Cup conclusion at Sierra Nevada, Spain (all disciplines, March 18-25).

We'll be back with coverage from the kick-off event in New Zealand this Sunday.

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