Vail’s notorious slopestyle course may have stifled snowboarders in training earlier this week, but clear skies greeted the women’s field on Wednesday.
Last year’s winner, Zoi Sadowski-Synnott, locked in her final drop position for Friday’s finals by topping semi-finals. Slopestyle veteran Anna Gasser finished runner up with the very first run of the competition.
“Dropping first is pretty nerve racking,” Gasser said. “So I was really nervous to drop in; I’m happy I put it down.”
Hailey Langland, who qualified in third position, had a much different experience than Gasser. She was one of the last competitors to earn her qualifying spot in Friday’s finals.
What started as a 16-person field had been narrowed down to 13 riders before the competition even started. Among those in the original field of 16 was 2018 Olympian Julia Marino, who pulled out after a few practice runs. Marino broke her wrist earlier this season and is still taking it easy.
“I’m just not really feeling too ready, yet, for this course,” Marino said on Wednesday. “It’s just a little much for me.”
Wednesday’s semi-final event qualified six riders for Friday’s finals.
The competitors said after facing an abbreviated round of training due to weather on Tuesday, the course was riding nicely on Wednesday.
“The last few days it was a little challenging because of the weather,” Langland said. “But this is the best I’ve ever seen this US Open course, it’s completely new to everyone.”
The new course format provided quite a challenge, with two mandatory “side hits,” or quarterpipe-style transition features onto a straight landing.
“It’s bringing all those elements from the pipe,” Langland said. “It feels like doing a first hit in the pipe to a second hit. I think bringing that over into slope is really important, because we don’t ride pipe very often throughout the season, and it just separates everyone who can ride a little bit of halfpipe.”
Marino, 22, said with both sides of the halfpipe-style walls being mandatory, the challenge to learn the course was daunting.
“Personally, I think I need to work a little bit more on transition features,” Marino said. “I could definitely use some work on that.”
Synnott, 18, said that in addition to the very first rail section, the side-hit transition features were her favorite part of the course. Gasser, 28, wasn’t as excited about them.
“I hope I get more practice on the transition features,” Gasser said. “Those are pretty new for me.”
The course also breaks up the jump section with rail features on either end of the side hit section of the course. After landing a solid, 270-degree spin off the end of the last rail before the side hits, Langland said she felt amazing heading into the side hits.
“As soon as I knew I had that good, I knew the rest of the run was going to be right there,” she said.