VAIL, Colorado - If you thought the tricks were big on Thursday, wait until you see the show these professional snowboarders put on today.
The men and women will compete in the finals today for the 31st Burton U.S. Open halfpipe title. They'll go as big as they can to fight for the first place prize money of $45,000 (the second place prize is $20,000 and third place is $10,000).
In Wednesday's semi final, six-time Winter X Games gold medalist Shaun White went so high on a backside air that he lost some control and came down hard on the landing. He ended up on his backside and quickly rode down to the bottom of the pipe. He was touching his tailbone area and was visibly in pain, but didn't appear to be seriously hurt. White could want redemption today for that run.
The biggest score from Wednesday's semi final came from Scotty Lago, who wasn't having a great week during practice runs. He Tweeted after Wednesday's semi final that his competition run was the only run he landed all week, so there could be redemption in order there, too.
Another rider to watch today is 14-year-old Japanese rider Ayumu Hirano, who got massive air out of the pipe in semi finals and has been having a stellar season that has included a Winter X Games silver medal in halfpipe.
For the ladies, familiar names like Kelly Clark and Gretchen Bleiler are in the finals, and teenage superstar Arielle Gold, who at 16 years old, is having a killer season. The Steamboat Springs rider won halfpipe gold at the Burton European Open in Switzerland a month ago, the FIS Snowboard World Championships, a silver at the U.S. Grand Prix in Park City and bronze at the Winter X Games in Aspen.
"I feel really good - I think it's going to be an awesome contest," Gold told the Vail Daily earlier this week.
And at 29, Clark's career is also still soaring. She has more halfipipe wins than any woman in the sport, and she'll be looking for another one today in Vail just two weeks after winning the Olympics test event in Sochi, Russia.
Clark's biggest trick right now is her "front 10," which is a frontside 1080, meaning she does six 180-degree rotations. She told the Vail Daily this week there's "no doubt" she'll be throwing it at this week's finals.
Clark rides with style and ferocity. She's petite and fairly soft spoken, but she holds nothing back when she's riding the halfpipe. She also knows that there's stiff competition out there.
Women's snowboarding is at an all-time high right now, she said.
The comeback story of the halfpipe finals is no doubt the story of Gretchen Bleiler. After a training accident last summer that left her with a concussion and broken eye socket, among other injuries, Bleiler just competed for the first time since those injures at the test event in Sochi.
During practice runs on Wednesday morning, Bleiler said she had one of the best runs she's had all season. She couldn't keep it as clean for the semi final, but Bleiler's confidence is coming back and she's riding with something to prove - not to the crowd, but to herself - in today's final. Bleiler was in sixth position Wednesday and thought Elena Hight might knock her out of the final, but Bleiler made it in.
Both the men and the women are calling this Golden Peak halfpipe the best pipe they've ridden all season. They love the slope, the pitch, the snow conditions - everything.
And when riders love the halfpipe, it means they're having fun - and when they're having fun, they're going to throw big tricks.
Stale Sandbech, who finished second in the first heat in the semi final, said this Burton U.S. Open halfpipe is the fastest pipe he's ever ridden. He said it could be the pipe that makes White go bigger than ever.
With the competition so fierce, expect massive air, technical tricks and a lot of style. The winner on the guy's side will likely do at least three doubles, said Finnish rider Peetu Piiroinen. And we already know Clark plans to do a frontside 1080.
Assistant Managing Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or firstname.lastname@example.org.