While she has been one of the most consistent skiers on the World Cup tour since her debut back in the 2017/18 season and has not missed out on finals in four seasons, Friday’s competition in Mammoth was Zhang Kexin’s first time on the podium in nearly four years.
And a well-earned podium it was, as Zhang attacked the Mammoth halfpipe fearlessly in both of her first two runs, with her high-scoring second run especially strong.
Leading off with a huge right 720 tail grab, Zhang then went switch left 540 Japan, then a switch right 360 mute, a left 720, a switch right 540 safety, and finally switch left 360 Japan to finish it all off for a score of 93.50 and the World Cup season-ending victory.
Runner-up from the women was Great Britain’s Zoe Atkin, who capped off a huge week for herself with her second-straight podium after she claimed the win at the X Games last weekend despite sitting out the first half of the season to focus on her university studies.
Leading things off with a big left 540 mute and including a right 720 opp tail and a switch right 720 safety later in her run, Atkin would earn a score of 92.75 for her third career World Cup podium
Third place would go to Canada’s Rachael Karker, who entered the competition all but guaranteed of earning her first career halfpipe crystal globe and left Mammoth with the globe and an exclamation mark. Rachael Karker earned a score of 91.75 for a second run that featured her signature amplitude from top to bottom, back-to-back 900 Japans - first right, then left - and a stylish corked 720 safety.
The podium was Rachael Karker’s 11th straight on the World Cup, dating back to the start of the 2019 season, and the 25-year-old was finally rewarded for her consistently elite pipe skiing with the trophy that has seemed to just slip her grasp at the end of the past few winters.
“I came into this season just really wanting to get the globe,” Karker said from the finish area, “I was nervous coming into today’s competition, because of the wind, and I’m feeling the wear and tear of the last few weeks on my body. I just wanted to stay safe today and get through in one piece, and it feels pretty good to get another podium and get the globe.”
Behind Rachael Karker’s 320 points on the 2022/23 halfpipe World Cup standings would be her teammate Amy Fraser, with 216. Friday’s winner Zhang would round out the season podium in third with 205 points.