VAIL - Burton Snowboarding and Vail Mountain announced a partnership Monday that will bring the Burton U.S. Open Snowboarding Championships to Vail for the foreseeable future, starting this coming season.
The event is second only to the X Games in terms of the most renowned annual freestyle snowboarding competitions, said professional Burton rider and Olympic gold medalist Kelly Clark.
Clark was in Vail last week with fellow Burton pro rider Mark McMorris, as well as Snow Park Technologies, the company that will be building the venue at Golden Peak for the Feb. 25 to March 2, 2013 event. They were getting a sneak peak at the new venue as well as familiarizing themselves with Vail in general.
"(Vail will) give it a different identity for sure, but I think there's a lot of opportunity moving forward," Clark said. "Even today, walking through where the venues are going to be and hearing more about it, I'm more excited than ever and looking forward to it."
The U.S. Open has spent the last 30 years in Vermont - the home of Burton Snowboards - the last 27 at Stratton Mountain. Clark grew up going to the event and watching athletes do things on snowboards she could only dream of at the time.
The company made the decision to move the event and approached Vail, said Vail Mountain Marketing Director Adam Sutner, adding that Vail is fortunate to have been chosen.
Sutner said the Burton brand is not dissimilar from the Vail brand. He calls them both "leader brands" in the snow sports industry and said the partnership is "the perfect marriage."
Jake Burton, the founder of Burton Snowboards, thanked Stratton Mountain in a statement released Monday for 27 years of hosting the U.S. Open.
"Stratton not only hosted the Open for 27 years, but also played a pivotal role in making resort riding a reality," Burton said. "And as we look to the future progression of the U.S. Open, I feel that Vail offers us the ideal venue to host the event. Vail is an incredible mountain and has been my snowboarding home-away-from-home for over 20 years. I have no doubt that the U.S. Open at Vail will only grow in its legacy as the premier rider-driven event in the world."
Being a rider-driven event is something the U.S. Open has become known for over the years, said Burton Global Public Relations Director Anne-Marie Dacyshyn. It's also the longest-running snowboard event in history.
"It is the most authentic, relevant and iconic snowboard event - that we can say; that's untouchable," Dacyshyn said. "It's what the riders want."
Chris Gunnarson, owner of Snow Park Technologies, is tasked with providing just that - what the riders want. He walked around Golden Peak with Clark and McMorris last Thursday to check out the venue and hear from them about what they hope to see built there.
"Here, you've got this awesome spectating amphitheater at the bottom, the proximity to the pipe is incredibly close, (and Vail has) a phenomenal snowmaking system right there," Gunnarson said. "It's got some really good pitch changes. It's a little shorter than some of the other courses, but we have some creative ways because of how wide it is at the top, that we're going to get wide before we get narrow. It's all part of the creative process and I think it's going to be incredible - such a great venue."
Snow Park Technologies is at the top of the game in terms of building snowboarding freestyle features. The company builds everything at the X Games and for the Dew Tour, among other events.
Atop Vail's Golden Peak, Gunnarson likes what he sees.
"It's a pretty ideal piece of real estate right there from every aspect, and so what's great is you have these two venues right next to each other that create one big venue with both courses - that's one of the most refreshing changes (about moving the U.S. Open to Vail)," he said.
Clark is looking forward to the halfpipe, which she said will be steep and long, which caters to rider progression. And Clark, the winningest woman in halfpipe history, loves progression because it's inspiring.
"Having a large event with such immediate access to a large city like Denver will bring a good crowd and maybe give the local kids around here some inspiration - I know, for me, the U.S. Open being in Vermont was a tremendous inspiration," Clark said. "From that perspective, it will be inspiring to the local youth to really show them what's possible to do on a snowboard and inspire them to pursue their dreams."
Clark ranks the top three freestyle snowboarding competitions in order as the Olympics, the X Games and the U.S. Open, respectively. Any rider who wins at those events can call themselves "pretty established," she said.
Vail hasn't had a major snowboarding competition since the Honda Session, which the Vail Valley Foundation canceled after 2008. Vail Valley Foundation Vice President of Communications John Dakin said there was no one thing that contributed to the cancellation of Honda Session, but rather a number of factors.
"It became increasingly clear to both the Vail Valley Foundation and Vail Resorts that while the Session had been a tremendous event for the sport of snowboarding and a wonderful addition to the Vail Valley, the time had come to identify the next generation of customer that would meet the needs of the community," Dakin said in an e-mail to the Vail Daily Monday. "The event was originally created in part to assist Vail Resorts in positioning their mountains within the snowboard community and the Session succeeded in meeting that goal. From the beginning, both organizations acknowledged that the Session would have a definite life span, once it had accomplished its original goal, and that the next generation of cutting edge event would need to be identified."
Bringing the U.S. Open to Vail means that all of the major snowboarding competitions - the Dew Tour, X Games, Grand Prix and U.S. Open - will now be held in Colorado.
From a marketing perspective, Sutner said the event will provide the opportunity for Vail to talk to a potentially new audience - snowboarding destination guests, and specifically snowboarding families.
Sutner said Vail Mountain will "go out of its way to attract snowboarding families" from places like New York or Dallas who might not have visited Vail in the past but would now likely give it more consideration.
Vail's snowboarder mix is about 25 percent to 35 percent, depending on the week, Sutner said.
"Given our overall volume, that's a big number," he said.
The message that snowboarders are not only welcome but are also encouraged to come to Vail is an important one, Gunnarson said, adding that everyone from 3-year-olds to grandparents are picking up the sport these days.
"Burton is clearly, by far, the leader in snowboarding and Vail Resorts as a company, in my opinion, is the leader in resort operations and Vail Mountain is their flagship resort," he said. "So you basically have the biggest and best brand in snowboarding colliding with the biggest and best brand in resorts, and I think that's why it makes such a perfect fit."
Assistant Managing Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or firstname.lastname@example.org.