VAIL, Colorado - The Burton U.S. Open slopestyle competitors know they're in for a challenge in Wednesday's semifinal - the course has a different flow than these riders are used to, and Tuesday's falling snow and flat light means that competition runs aren't likely going to mirror the training runs these riders have had.
The slopestyle course was built over the last couple of weeks by Snow Park Technologies, the company that builds most of the courses for major freestyle skiing and snowboarding events. Vail is the new venue for the Burton U.S. Open after 30 years in Vermont, and with a new venue comes new features.
"It's good, it's different - it's definitely the most creative of the U.S. Open courses so far," said rider Seth Hill. "There's even a section where you go uphill, which I definitely can't say I've ever been on a course where you go uphill, so it's cool - it's definitely unique and it's going to challenge some riders to step out of the box and comfort zone of like your standard two rails and three jumps."
The course starts out with a staircase and rail. The riders slide that rail and then hit what's called a wall ride, putting as much creativity into the run as they want. Then, rider Easton Gilman, from Truckee, Calif., said there's another wall ride followed by another rail section, and then three huge jumps.
"It's pretty fast-paced, pretty large, but it makes for a good course," Gilman said. "It's a step up (from other courses) - the jumps definitely loft you in the air a little higher. It's a great course, I'm happy with it."
The way judges score slopestyle goes like this: Each feature has a point ranking and judges look for amplitude, difficulty and execution. On the Vail slopestyle course, the judges will be scoring up to 10 points each for six features, or sections, that make up the total course.
The men and women were able to practice on the course both Monday and Tuesday. Some riders were positive about the features and the flow of the course, but others had more negative feedback, proving the design of a slopestyle course is a subjective matter.
Based on rider feedback after Monday's practice, Snow Park Technologies made some adjustments to the course Monday evening. Riders still had feedback Tuesday for ways the course could improve, and some expected more changes to be made before the semi final.
"They've definitely tried to be very creative, but some of the aspects need a little work - I don't know, more functionality," said rider Grant Giller, of Evergreen. "It's hard to make it through the whole thing doing solid tricks because there's so many difficult features. The rails are a little funky. ... The jumps are good sized, compared to other jumps. ... Vail and Snow Park Technologies did a pretty decent job, it's just the rails are a little bit hard to work through."
Enni Rukajarvio, of Switzerland, said she loves the first rail on the course. She has one complaint about the course, though - the landings are flat coming out of the big jumps.
"It hurts to land," she said. "It could be better."
The differences in weather conditions from Tuesday's practice to Wednesday's semi final were bigger concerns for some riders. Jordie Karlinski, of Snowmass Village, said Tuesday's snowfall slowed down the first jump and made it pretty hard to clear.
"But the last two (jumps) have good speed, but it's just hard to see - it's pretty flat light today for training, but tomorrow should be sunny and good," Karlinski said, adding that sunshine will be a "game changer."
Karlinski is one of several riders the Vail Daily spoke to who isn't completely in love with the course, but she said it was definitely better for Tuesday's practice based on the rider feedback from Monday and subsequent changes.
"It's maybe not one of my favorite courses, but I'm having fun and trying to make the best out of it," she said. "The rails up top - you're pretty slow into all of them and then you have to go super fast to try and clear jump No. 1, and then you have to slam on the breaks to hit jumps two and three, so it's hard. ... it's a weird flow, but you just have to ride it and get used to it."
As for who to watch in Wednesday's semi final, the Winter X Games podium women - Jamie Anderson (gold), Sarka Pancochova (silver) and Spencer O'Brien (bronze) have all been having strong seasons. Unfortunately, both the slopestyle events at the Burton European Open earlier this month and the Sochi Olympic test event two weeks ago were canceled due to weather, so there aren't any super recent competitions in which to compare this one.
For the men, the Winter X Games podium is also in Vail competing this week: Mark McMorris (gold), Maxence Parrot (silver) and Seppe Smits (bronze). Men's slopestyle finals were canceled at the Burton European Open, but semi final results put Torstein Horgmo, of Evergreen, on top there, followed by McMorris and Sebastien Toutant. Men did not compete in slopestyle at the Sochi test event.
Assistant Managing Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or firstname.lastname@example.org.