VAIL, Colorado - Recent slopestyle competition cancellations at the Burton European Open and the Olympics test event in Sochi made Wednesday's semifinal runs fairly unpredictable at the Burton U.S. Open.
The best results to compare to when trying to determine which riders are on fire right now were from the semifinals at the European Open in Switzerland earlier this month, which put Norwegian Torstein Horgmo on top.
He still had his mojo Wednesday and put down the biggest score of the day with 87.93 out of a possible 100 points on his first run.
"I wanted to get a really good trick on that first rail, but I couldn't do it," Horgmo said after his first run. "That was the only thing I messed up on - everything else worked out, though."
Maybe it was Horgmo's casual, laid back attitude about the competition that helped propel him into the lead. He said he just wanted to "keep it chill."
"It's only the semis, and it's only a contest - I just wanted to make it clean and make it feel good."
The men competed Wednesday in two heats and were judged on their best score out of two runs. A total of 42 guys competed and 12 advanced on to Friday's finals. The top three finishers from each heat secured their spot in the final, and the next 6 top finishers total across both heats rounded out the top 12.
American Eric Willett was the top finisher from Heat 2, and he could hardly believe it. He flew in from Japan last and missed the first two practice days, but was able to get seven runs in on the course Wednesday morning.
"It's probably the least amount of practice I've had in a long time," Willett said. "I got messed up on flights, showed up last night and now I'm stoked to be No. 1 (in Heat 2) right now."
American Chas Guldemond could relate - he said he only got five total practice runs in before the semifinals, but was still able to finish fifth overall. He had a funny way of describing how his body felt during his first run:
"The first run, dropping into the course, my legs were like - it's like I was having sex or something - my legs were so confused," Guldemond, 25, said. "It was so weird, it wasn't a good feeling. I mean if you're in the bedroom it's one thing, but (on the course it was) so awkward. That might have been why I fell on my first run."
Also coming in hot was 16-year-old Japanese rider Yuki Kadono. He went huge during his first run and threw down a frontside 9 (two full rotations) double cork on the first jump, a cab (switch-frontside spin) 12 (three-and-a-half rotations) on the second jump and a backside 10 (three full rotations) on the third jump. Those jumps and some stylish rail tricks were enough to put Kadono in second place for his heat, and third place overall going into the finals.
American Mark McMorris, who won Winter X Games gold this year in slopestyle, had an OK first run but brought his A-game for the second run.
"I changed the double backflip to a frontside 1080 double cork," McMorris said about his second run. "I think I would have been in (the finals) either way, but I needed that (score) for my confidence. I feel good about everything I want to do on Friday and I'm just happy that I'm for sure going to be there."
While some riders said the wind was affecting how they approached their jumps, McMorris said the wind made things a little bit slower but speed was still good enough to get through the course.
The men did deal with wind that picked up late morning. After the women's round, men increasingly complained about the weather as the day went on. Even Horgmo, who finished first overall, said it affected his second run a lot.
"Last run, I was chilling into the first jump," he said. "This time, I felt (the wind) right away after the first rail - I didn't even clear (the first jump) with a 180."
That first jump seemed to be where the wind caused the most problems. Maxence Parrot, who finished seventh overall, said riders had to land that last rail perfectly and smoothly transition into that first jump or they'd find themselves in trouble.
Peetu Piiroinen, of Finland, called the wind a bit "sketchy," but the weather was generally welcomed by most guys - they were pretty happy to have sunshine Wednesday, something they said wasn't always plentiful when the Burton U.S. Open was held in Vermont.
"I'm stoked to come here and have it be sunny and have such a sick course to ride," said Sage Kotsenburg, who finished ninth and advanced to the finals. "It's really fun."
Assistant Managing Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or firstname.lastname@example.org.