Scotty James, Chloe Kim top halfpipe semis
VAIL — Eagle resident Jake Pates earned hometown hero status on Thursday by flying out of the halfpipe and making the finals at the Burton U.S. Open Snowboarding Championships.
Taking sixth in Thursday’s semifinal event, Pates will compete on Saturday against a stacked field which includes Shaun White, who qualified second, and Scotty James, who took wins at X Games and the Olympic test event recently to become the top-ranked snowboarder in the field. As such, James was the last to drop into Vail’s halfpipe on Thursday, and maintained his last-to-drop position for Saturday’s finals by finishing first in the semifinals. Chloe Kim finished first for the women.
Pates said of all the competitions he does, performing well at the U.S. Open is among his highest priorities.
“I know so many people out here in the crowd, so I just want to do well and show some love to everybody for showing up,” he said.
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Tenth-place qualifier Danny Davis, himself relieved to sneak into finals as the final qualifier, was excited to see Pates land an impressive run in the halfpipe.
“Jake surprised me today,” Davis said. “He’s always got really good style, but he’s one of those kids who has to learn to put it together for a contest and not let the nerves get him. Today he rode really well, and the judges liked his stuff.”
Pates said he was surprised to see himself scored as well as he was by the judges.
“Honestly, I feel like maybe I got a little hooked up on my score,” Pates said. “But that’s never a bad thing.”
Pates’ aunt flew in from Chicago to watch him on Thursday and was one of several family members including his sister, Charlie Sue, parents, Amy and Chris Pates, and grandfather, Bob Pates.
With the long view in mind, Jake Pates summed up the day with an existential view of life and snowboarding.
“I’m just glad to be alive,” he said.
Local Zoe Kalapos missed finals on the women’s side, taking seventh in an event that takes six to the big show. Her father, Steve Kalapos, said their family was excited to see Zoe right there in the mix for most of the competition.
“She rode well against a tough field,” he said.
Vail Mountain School senior Rakai Tait suffered a slight concussion in training and was not cleared to compete in semifinals.
“We were super bummed but oh well,” his brother Taiaroa Tait said from the top of the halfpipe Thursday.
Edwards resident Ryan Wachendorfer established himself as a favorite before even dropping into the U.S. Open halfpipe when he finished second behind Shaun White at a World Cup event in February. Coming as close as possible to a clean run, Wachendorfer landed four double inverts in a single run but dragged his hand in his first attempt and fell suddenly in his second attempt after appearing to ride away clean.
“It’s a new run that I’ve been working on, that was the first time I’ve put it all together,” the former Ski & Snowboard Club Vail athlete said. “So I was really happy to do that, even though I didn’t quite complete it.”
For Saturday’s finals, “I’m going to be out here shirtless with ‘Go Jake Pates’ written on my chest,” Wachendorfer said with a laugh.
‘HUNGRY FOR IT’
James, of Australia, described the U.S. Open as the most special of the various contests that snowboarders compete in throughout the season.
“It’s the longest running snowboarding competition, it’s got a lot of history and a lot of legends of snowboarding have won this event, so it’s one that all of us snowboarders strive to do well at,” he said. “I did the Junior Jam at the U.S. Open when I was 13. … I’ve watched it a lot, from back when it was in Vermont and the pipe tiny and hand dug, to now where you have the most amazing halfpipe that’s perfectly cut with a straight arrow down the coping. It’s just amazing to see the evolution of snowboarding.”
James has had a breakout year, which he attributes to hard work during the off season.
“Obviously the biggest thing has been snowboarding as much as I can, I got a lot of time in the halfpipe and worked on new tricks,” James said. “I’m pretty hungry for it, so I think that’s probably what has been my fuel this season.”
CLARK HEALTHY, YET SICK
On the women’s side, there has been a budding rivalry between veteran halfpipe competitor Kelly Clark, the most decorated woman in snowboarding, and up-and-comer Chloe Kim, who won every competition she entered throughout a one-year period in 2016-17. Clark won the U.S. Open in 2015 to claim her eighth victory in the competition, and Kim bested her in 2016. Following that 2016 contest, Clark found out she had been competing on a bad hip.
“I got surgery five days after the U.S. Open last year,” she said.
Fortunately, she didn’t have to travel far to get fixed.
“I came back to the Philippon clinic here and they just did an amazing job,” she said.
Clark had a fast recovery and was back on snow for this season.
“I didn’t know what it was like to be healthy and not injured,” she said. “I feel better than I did before I got hurt.”
Clark qualified in third on Thursday, despite dealing with a bout of the flu.
“I was hoping I wouldn’t have to do both runs but I didn’t have it secured after the first run,” she said. “I was vomiting at the top of the pipe.”
Catch Clark, James and company at the halfpipe finals on Saturday in Vail, scheduled for a 11:10 a.m. start.