VAIL, Colorado - Ski and Snowboard Club Vail has qualified 12 athletes into the Burton U.S. Open this week, giving snowboard program director Ben Boyd a chance to show the world his squad.
"It's such a great thing to have it on our home mountain, but also to have such a good representation from our program,"-he said. "Twelve of our athletes out of a program of 60 is a pretty good percentage, and we're very proud of these young riders."
Indeed, he has much to be proud of. Among the accomplishments on his riders' lists is Kaitlyn Farrington's win at the Dew Tour earlier this year, Ayumu Hirano's runner-up finish to Shaun White at X Games, and Taku Hiraoka's recent World Cup victory at the Sochi test event.-
He has transplant athletes - like Zack Black, a Summit native who came over to train with Ski and Snowboard Club Vail this year - and homegrown talent like Ryan Wachendorfer, who's been in the program since he was 6 years old.-
On Wednesday, Ski and Snowboard Club Vail slopestyle rider Mikaela Casey put a solid run together but fell trying a frontside 360 off the the third jump, nixing any chance she had at making Friday's finals.-
"She rode really well, I thought she looked great," Boyd said. "She looked solid on the rails and she was one of the only girls spinning off of all three jumps."
Casey's spins off the three jumps consisted of a big backside 180, followed by a backside 360 into a frontside 360.-
"If she could've held it together on the last jump it would've been close," Boyd said.-
Slopestyle aside, the real meat of Boyd's program will be competing today in halfpipe - look for a total of 11 Ski and Snowboard Club Vail athletes flying out of the pipe at today's semifnials.-
Five of those riders are part of Ski and Snowboard Club Vail's Japanese crew. The group includes 14-year-old superstar Ayumu Hirano, fresh off his win at the Burton European Open, as well as X Games bronze medalist Kazu Kokubu, Taku Hiraoka, who just won the Sochi test World Cup event, Olympian Kohei Kudo, and Hirano's older brother Eiju.-
"It's a really nice mix," Boyd said. "Everyone rides together and is great teammates ... We communicate with smiles, high fives and hugs."
Boyd says the young guns - Wachendorfer, 16, Hirano and Jake Pates of Eagle, another 14-year-old Ski and Snowboard Club Vail athlete who qualified for the open, have one more thing in common aside from their skills in the halfpipe. -
"They all come from very humble families, very good people," Boyd said.-
Pates took third at the Burton U.S. Open-qualifying-event-Feb. 3 in Seven Springs, Pa., to secure his entry into today's semifinals. Teammates Joey Mensch and Kelly Marren also qualified at that event.-
"Vail was never ranked up there next to the other resorts for snowboarding talent, but they've always had a good core scene," Boyd said. "Now it's taken a quantum leap forward, and hopefully this event will let the local community know there's one of the best snowboard programs in the world right here. Also, with the 22-foot pipe and the Burton Open, it lets local kids see the world's best. This field is better than the Olympic Games."