This weekend on the road to the Olympics: Shaun White faces halfpipe favorites at Laax Open

Shaun White will take part in a snowboard halfpipe final at the Laax Open that's shaping up to be the first true preview of the upcoming Winter Olympics. (Getty Images)

This weekend marks a major milestone on the road to the 2022 Winter Games, as the Olympic qualifying period will largely come to an end. In many sports, this will be the final opportunity for countries to earn Olympic quota spots, and for many U.S. athletes, this will be their final opportunity to make the Olympic team.

One athlete who has not yet secured his spot on Team USA is Shaun White. While he's a virtual lock to receive one of the discretionary selections from the coaches, a strong performance against a stacked field at the Laax Open could help reestablish him as a gold medal contender. Elsewhere, Russian dominance is expected to be on display at the European Figure Skating Championships, and several U.S. Alpine skiers have podium potential at World Cup events. Here's what's happening in winter sports this weekend (January 14-16) and how to watch all the action.

Snowboard Halfpipe & Slopestyle

Switzerland’s Laax Open, the final of three halfpipe World Cups and third of six in slopestyle this season, provides an 11th-hour opportunity for some U.S. snowboarders to show their worth.

Last weekend’s Mammoth Grand Prix closed out the U.S. Olympic snowboarding team’s four-stop halfpipe and slopestyle/big air selection event tour, providing American park and pipe riders a tryout system through which to lock up spots for the 2022 Games. Since half of the 16 total spots remained unclaimed – three in men’s halfpipe, two in women’s halfpipe and women's slopestyle/big air, and one in men’s slopestyle/big air – athletes who didn’t make the criteria are now vying for coaches’ discretionary picks.

Three-time Olympic gold medalist Shaun White, who made the final at Mammoth but dropped out due to concerns over a training fall, made the trip to Laax and successfully advanced out of Thursday’s qualifying. White is not yet qualified for the U.S. team, but given his legendary resume and top-three U.S. standing for most of the season, is an odds-on lock to receive a coaches’ pick; still, his presence proves he’s leaving nothing to chance — and, concurrently, ready to battle some familiar foes.

White will take on both of the riders with whom he shared the podium at the 2018 PyeongChang Games: Japan's Ayumu Hirano and Australia's Scotty James. Hirano won last weekend’s Mammoth competition, while James hasn't competed in a major snowboarding event since last year’s world championships. It's the first time all three riders will be in the same field since the last Olympics. The other Olympic favorites, Yuto Totsuka and Ruka Hirano of Japan, will also compete in the final. 

White’s compatriot and fellow reigning Olympic halfpipe gold medalist Chloe Kim is also in town, making just her second appearance this season. Kim, who won December’s Dew Tour, has already qualified for the U.S. team along with teammate Maddie Mastro, who isn’t in Laax.

In slopestyle, reigning world champion Marcus Kleveland of Norway makes his second start of the season, and several men square off in hopes of earning the final spot on the U.S. team.

Sat, Jan 15M/W Slopestyle Finals7:15 a.m., Peacock
 M/W Halfpipe Finals11:30 a.m., Peacock
  11:30 a.m., Olympic Channel

Figure Skating

The European Figure Skating Championships in Tallinn, Estonia are underway, and world records have already been shattered. Russia dominated pairs, going one-two-three on the podium; even bronze medalists, Aleksandra Boikova/Dmitrii Kozlovskii, were more than forty points ahead of Georgia’s fourth-place finishers.

Friday will see the rhythm dance and men’s free skate. On Saturday, the free dance will precede the women’s free skate.

If the Championship results resemble last year’s, Russians should sweep each discipline. However, the women’s singles free skate should prove the competition’s highlight. For one, it will provide a glimpse into which techniques and routines the world’s best female skaters – including Anna Shcherbakova, Alexandra Trusova, and Kamila Valieva – could bring to the 2022 Winter Olympics. But the results will also help the Russian figure skating team determine which three skaters out of their treasure trove of world-class athletes to invite to the Games.

Fri, Jan 14Rhythm Dance5:20 a.m., Peacock
 Men’s Free Skate11:00 a.m., Peacock
  11:00 a.m., EI
Sat, Jan 15Free Dance6:35 a.m., Peacock
 Women's Free Skate11:30 a.m., Peacock
  11:30 a.m., E!

Alpine Skiing

A busy weekend of multi-disciplined racing is already underway in Wengen in the Swiss Alps. On Thursday, Swiss phenom Marco Odermatt continued his breakout 2021-22 campaign with a win in super-G, his sixth World Cup win of the season to extend his overall season lead. But as the competition switches to downhill for Friday and Saturday, the door might be cracked open for American Ryan Cochran-Siegle to snatch a podium and continue his strong Olympic-year season. The weekend concludes with slalom racing on Sunday, broken up into two runs.

Meanwhile, the world’s best women’s speed specialists are in Austria for a weekend of downhill and super-G in the Salzburg region… save for American Breezy Johnson. Johnson, who currently holds the No. 2 spot behind Italy’s Sofia Goggia in the downhill season standings, scraped her knee in a training run and will sit out the weekend. That opens the door for Goggia to extend her lead in the downhill and close the gap between her and Mikaela Shiffrin in the overall standings. Shiffrin has also chosen to sit out the action in Austria, electing to focus on training before rejoining the World Cup circuit January 25 in Italy.

Fri, Jan 14Men’s Downhill6:30 a.m., Peacock
Sat, Jan 15Women’s Downhill4:45 a.m., Peacock
 Men’s Downhill6:30 a.m., Peacock
Sun, Jan 16Men’s Slalom, Run 14:15 a.m., Peacock
 Women’s Super-G5:30 a.m., Peacock
 Men’s Slalom, Run 27:30 a.m., Peacock

Moguls

The three-day Deer Valley World Cup aerials and moguls event — officially the Intermountain Healthcare Freestyle International — concludes Friday with its second set of competitions in men’s and women’s moguls; the first were held on Thursday and were preceded by men’s and women’s aerials on Wednesday. Deer Valley is the last stop on both disciplines’ U.S. Olympic qualifying paths.

Several athletes have already made the team via their world rankings (Jaelin Kauf, Hannah Soar, Megan Nick, Justin Schoenefeld, Chris Lillis, Winter Vinecki), while at least one spot per gender in both disciplines is available for athletes with one or more podium finishes at U.S. selection events such as this one. Any remaining spots will be decided via coaches’ discretion.

No Americans made Wednesday’s podiums in aerials — China swept the men’s side, while reigning world champion Laura Peel of Australia earned her first World Cup win of the season, besting Olympic medalists Kong Fanyu and Hanna Huskova. Kaila Kuhn was the top overall U.S. finisher in 10th.

Fri, Jan 14M/W Moguls, Run 24:00 p.m, Peacock*

*NBC will air a broadcast of freestyle skiing from Deer Valley this Sunday at 1:30 p.m. ET

Freeski Slopestyle

France’s Font Romeu hosts the third of six freeski slopestyle World Cup competitions this season. Estonian Kelly Sildaru, a four-time X Games champion in the discipline, is perfect on the circuit, having won both the Stubai and Mammoth contests. On the men’s side, the Americans, Norwegians and Canadians each own two of the six podium spots earned this year.

Sun, Jan 16M/W Slopestyle Finals4:30 a.m., Peacock

Ski Cross

Kananaskis, Canada’s Nakiska ski resort hosts a pair of World Cup competitions in ski cross, the first since season-opener Secret Garden not at a venue along the Alps and the last that officially count toward Olympic qualification. Two-time reigning world champion Sandra Naeslund of Sweden, who won the last Nakiska title in 2020, sits atop the women’s World Cup standings having won five of this season’s six competitions. Switzerland’s Fanny Smith has been a clear No. 2, finishing runner-up in five of six races herself. On the men’s side, there has been a different winner at all six World Cups this season.

Fri, Jan 14M/W Ski Cross Finals2:15 p.m., Peacock
Sat, Jan 15M/W Ski Cross Finals2:15 p.m., Peacock

Bobsled

The eighth World Cup stop in St. Moritz, Switzerland, will see the final races of the 2021-22 series. In addition to finalizing series podium spots, these races will finally reveal who qualifies for the 2022 Winter Olympics.

Two-man races have been dominated by Germany’s Francesco Friedrich and Alexander Schuller all season, with a sole loss to Russia’s Rostislav Gaitiukevich and Mikhail Mordasov at Sigulda 1. (Thorsten Margis also swapped places with Schuller for two wins.) Expect big things from Friedrich/Schuller, as well as frequent runners-up Johannes Lochner and Florian Bauer from Germany and Brad Hall and Greg Cackett from Great Britain.

As for the four-man race: Friedrich and his German teammates haven’t lost all series. In addition to potentially topping both the two-man and four-man podiums, Friedrich is a hot favorite to repeat as Olympic champion in both events at the 2022 Winter Games following a pair of golds in PyeongChang.

The two-woman and monobob races have been a bit more fluid this season, but currently, the only mother in the field tops the rankings: the United States’ Elana Meyers Taylor. Taylor will have to keep an eye on competitors Alysia Rissling and Christine de Bruin of Canada in monobob, as well as Germans Laura Nolte and Deborah Levi in the two-woman race.

Sat, Jan 15Women's Monobob, Run 13:00 a.m., Olympics.com*
 Women's Monobob, Run 24:30 a.m., Olympics.com*
 Two-Man Bobsled, Run 17:00 a.m., Olympics.com*
 Two-Man Bobsled, Run 28:30 a.m., Olympics.com*
Sun, Jan 16Two-Woman Monobob, Run 13:00 a.m., Olympics.com*
 Two-Woman Monobob, Run 24:30 a.m., Olympics.com*
 Four-Man Bobsled, Run 17:00 a.m., Olympics.com*
 Four-Man Bobsled, Run 28:30 a.m., Olympics.com*

*Olympic Channel will air broadcasts each day starting at 6 p.m. ET

Skeleton

The last stop on the 2021-22 Skeleton World Cup is in St. Moritz, Switzerland. Eyes are on multiple prizes: topping the multi-race series rankings, winning this weekend’s European Championships, and earning Olympic berths.

In the men’s event, Latvia’s Martins Dukurs – the 2010 and 2014 Olympic silver medalist – is the favorite to win the World Cup. It would be his 11th victory in St. Moritz and 12th European title. Martins has won two of eight events this season, playing second fiddle to his brother, Tomass, last month in Sigulda, Latvia.

Meanwhile, the Netherlands’ Kimberley Bos looks to claim a first World Cup for both herself and her country. She’ll have to defeat reigning European champion Elena Nikitina of Russia. Bos finished eighth at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, while Nikitina earned bronze at the 2014 Sochi Games.

Fri, Jan 14Women's Skeleton, Run 13:00 a.m., Olympics.com*
 Women's Skeleton, Run 24:30 a.m., Olympics.com*
 Men's Skeleton, Run 17:00 a.m., Olympics.com*
 Men's Skeleton, Run 28:45 a.m., Olympics.com*

Olympic Channel will air broadcasts starting at 6 p.m. ET on Friday

Luge

The 2021-22 Luge World Cup continues in Oberhof, Germany this weekend. Men’s singles star Johannes Ludwig, the current favorite and two-time medalist at PyeongChang 2018 (gold in mixed team, bronze in singles), looks to earn his first win since Winterberg on his home country’s turf, though he faces stiff competition from countryman Felix Loch and Austrians like Wolfgang Kindl. Women’s singles could also see another German winner in Julia Taubitz, who has won Winterberg and Sochi gold this season. She faces another Austrian threat in Madeleine Egle, who won bronze in team relay at PyeongChang 2018.

In Sigulda last weekend, Germany’s Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken won the doubles race over Latvia’s first-place brothers, Andris and Juris Sics. The Latvians turned the tables in the sprint, and hope to gain the upperhand in Germany – which would mark just their second singles victory this season.

Four different countries have won each of the team relay races this season. Last week, the United States earned bronze with a foursome of Summer Britcher, Tucker West, Chris Mazdzer, and Jayson Terdiman. Mazdzer received some mixed news when USA Luge announced its 2022 Winter Olympics roster this week, but the team will look to power to another podium finish as they prepare for the world’s biggest sporting event.

Sat, Jan 15Men's Run 13:15 a.m., Olympics.com
 Men's Run 14:50 a.m., Olympics.com
 Doubles Run 16:30 a.m., Olympics.com
 Doubles Run 27:50 a.m., Olympics.com
Sun, Jan 16Women's Run 14:15 a.m., Olympics.com
 Women's Run 15:40 a.m., Olympics.com
 Team Relay7:35 a.m., Olympics.com

Alpine Snowboarding

St. Urban, Austria’s Simonhoehe ski resort hosts the penultimate parallel giant slalom competition of the snowboarding World Cup season, as well as its only contest in mixed team, a non-Olympic event. Five of the six reigning world championship medalists are set to compete, including Russians Sofiya Nadyrshina, winner of the women’s season-opener, and Dmitrii Loginov, last week’s Scuol World Cup victor.

Fri, Jan 14M/W Parallel Giant Slalom Finals8:15 a.m., Peacock
Sat, Jan 15Mixed Team Parallel Giant Slalom3:15 a.m., Peacock

Biathlon

Biathlon’s World Cup circuit stays in Germany for a second week before making its way to Italy, the last leg before the 2022 Olympics. Ruhpolding’s first events, the women’s and men’s 7.5km/10km sprints, were won Wednesday and Thursday by Sweden’s Elvira Oeberg and Frenchman Quentin Fillon Maillet — their third and fourth of victories of the season. Competition continues through the weekend with relays and sprints, all of which include American starters.

Fri, Jan 14Women’s 4x6km Relay8:30 a.m., Peacock
Sat, Jan 15Men’s 4x7.5km Relay8:30 a.m., Peacock
Sun, Jan 16Women’s 10km Pursuit6:45 a.m., Peacock
 Men’s 12.5km Pursuit8:45 a.m., Peacock

Ski Jumping

After a dominant performance at the Four Hills tournament over New Years, Japan’s Ryoyu Kobayashi is your new leader in the men’s overall ski jumping World Cup standings, overtaking Germany’s Karl Geiger. The duel continues this weekend in Zakopane, Poland. In addition to the men’s large hill event, the weekend also features the third team event of the season and the final tune-up for teams before the Winter Games next month. Austria has won each of the two competitions contested so far this season.

Fri, Jan 14Men’s Large Hill Qualifying12:00 p.m., Peacock
Sat, Jan 15Men’s Team10:00 a.m., Peacock
Sun, Jan 16Men’s Large Hill Final10:00 a.m., Peacock

Nordic Combined

Sat, Jan 15Men's Ski Jump3:45 p.m., Peacock
 Men's 10km7:45 a.m., Peacock
Sun, Jan 16Men's Ski Jump5:30 a.m., Peacock
 Men's 10km9:30 a.m., Peacock