Slopestyle competition starts Wednesday at the Burton US Open
VAIL — Golden Peak is now Golden Peaks, with three mountains of snow set up to test the world’s best snowboarders beginning today at the Burton U.S. Open Snowboarding Championships.
Those snow mountains, visible from much of town, are actually jumps in a slopestyle course of Olympian proportions, which snowmakers in Vail have been preparing for all season. The jumps measure 55 feet, 65 feet and 75 feet from takeoff to landing. Preceding them is a section of rails, some measuring longer than 30 feet.
Slopestyle riding starts Wednesday at Golden Peak with semifinals beginning at 10 a.m. A field of 16 women and 32 men will vie for the final 16 spots — six women and 10 men — compete in the finals on Friday. Each rider will get two attempts to put down his or her best run, which will be scored by a panel of judges based on a 100-point system.
“It’s going to be a tough contest because all the best riders in the world are here,” said Peetu Piiroinen of Finland, an Olympic silver medalist in halfpipe who will be competing in slopestyle Wednesday. “I will try to do my best.”
Another element of the contest that will make things difficult for big air athletes like Piiroinen is the hectic travel schedule this event falls within. After competing in Shaun White’s Air & Style event in Los Angeles Feb. 20-21, Piiroinen and the other big air athletes traveled to Oslo, Norway, the following weekend for the European X Games. Next week, they will head to China next for the FIS World Snowboarding Championships March 9-16.
“It’s been an exhausting season, but also very fun,” Piiroinen said.
Piiroinen and company will square off against last year’s winner Yuki Kadono, who also won the Air & Style event in Los Angeles. Kadono’s run at last year’s Burton U.S. Open is often cited as the best run ever completed in a slopestyle competition, as Kadono landed back-to-back triple cork 1620s to claim the win. Humbled by the victory, the 18-year-old snowboarder from Japan told reporters that while he knew he wasn’t the best rider in the field, he made up his mind that he wanted to win. The favorite, Mark McMorris, said he thought back to back 1620s would never be accomplished in the sport.
“He did something I thought would never be done,” McMorris told reporters.
McMorris is sitting this year’s event out due to injury.
On the women’s side, Olympic gold medalist Jamie Anderson won again, solidifying her dominance in the sport. But following the 2015 Burton U.S. Open, invitationals like the Nine Queens photo shoot in Italy showed another talent was nipping at her heels as Spencer O’Brien landed three different variations of the 900 at the event.
“It was the best female session of all time,” O’Brien told reporters.
O’Brien went on to upset Anderson at the X Games Jan. 29, winning her first ever X Games gold. The two will rematch for the first time since that event starting Wednesday.
HALFPIPE STARTS THURSDAY
Piiroinen’s 2010 Olympic silver medal was second to Shaun White, who won the gold that year. Speaking from the base of Golden Peak on Monday, White said he was excited to be back in Vail for the U.S. Open.
“It should be a good time,” he said.
While White may be semi-retired from snowboarding at this point, he’s still a serious threat in competition. In December he won the Dew Tour against much of the same field he will face here in Vail when halfpipe semifinals kick off on Thursday.
On the women’s side, you can watch defending champion Kelly Clark go for her ninth U.S. Open halfpipe title. She will have to square off against 15-year-old phenom Chloe Kim, who has won every competition she’s entered in 2016. In the past few weeks, Kim won the halfpipe competitions at the Aspen X Games, Park City Grand Prix, Youth Olympics and Oslo X Games.
Halfpipe action is scheduled to start at 10 a.m. on Thursday.