Brothers discuss Burton U.S. Open halfpipe
VAIL — Ben Ferguson is keeping a close eye on both the young and the experienced in today’s halfpipe field.
His younger brother, 15-year-old Gabe Ferguson, is now a force to be reckoned with in halfpipe snowboarding after making his Burton U.S. Open debut at the event’s first appearance in Vail in 2013.
A Ferguson or two is always making finals in one top-level halfpipe comp or another on the pro circuit. At this year’s Dew Tour, it was Ben. At X Games, it was Gabe. Last weekend, it was Gabe at the Grand Prix World Cup in Park City, Utah.
“He’s been shredding hard this season, he has that (natural) talent that just comes out in his riding, it just comes easy to him,” Ben said on Wednesday.
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Gabe says he tries not to let the stigma of being a young talent in the field get to him, but there is some pressure.
“It’s crazy riding with all the pros that you’ve seen on TV forever, when you know they’re up there and they’re watching you,” he said Wednesday.
One of the pros Gabe has been watching on TV forever would be 26-year-old Danny Davis, who started competing in the U.S. Open when he was still in high school. Both Ferguson brothers are impressed with Davis’ style and the difficulty of his tricks.
“If you look at Danny Davis, he’s blazing his own path with not so many gnarly tricks,” says Ben, “but still really hard tricks (really hard tricks, Gabe chimes in) that are focused on style and different — it’s not add another spin, it’s do the same trick switch, or do a 16-foot McTwist with a chicken wing, which no one’s really doing.”
Today, the Ferguson brothers will join a field of 32 of the best halfpipe riders in the world, including 2014 Olympic gold medalist Iouri Podladtchikov and the two rivals who just tied for the No. 1 spot on the halfpipe World Cup circuit, Taylor Gold and Yiwei Zhang.
Zhang has certainly captured the Fergusons’ attention as of late.
“Yiwei’s crazy,” said Ben. “He’s from China, so there’s that language barrier, but he speaks pretty good English and he’s really funny. He’s not at all scared to go big and he has a strong gymnastics background. It’s crazy the way the Olympics changes everything. Honestly, Yiwei would have never had snowboarded before if it wasn’t for the Olympics. I don’t think it’s a bad thing, it’s just a thing.”
The World Snowboarding Championships will head to China’s largest and highest resort, Yabuli, in the Northeastern province of Heilongjiang in 2016.
“We might be there on Yiwei’s turf,” Ben said.
Also representing the Asian continent, Sochi silver- and bronze-medalists Ayumu Hirano and Taku Hiraoka — both of Japan — will present tough competition for the Ferguson brothers today.
On the women’s side, three-time Olympic medalist Kelly Clark will be attempting a three-peat when she goes for her eighth title in the event. But Clark, 31, will have to contend with one tough Asian-American, as 14-year-old U.S. phenomenon Chloe Kim — the daughter of Korean immigrants — will compete today. Kim topped Clark on the podium at January’s X Games and became the youngest athlete to ever win the event. She also would likely have qualified for last winter’s Olympics but at 13 did not meet the age requirement.
Taylor Gold’s 18-year-old sister, Arielle, will be in contention as well, coming off of a second-place finish of her own in last week’s Grand Prix, behind Clark. Arielle also came in second behind Clark at December’s U.S. Grand Prix at Copper and finished third and fourth in the Dew Tour and X Games, respectively.
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Jeff Shiffrin, with his wife, Eileen, made the Vail area their home decades ago, and together raised Mikaela and Taylor Shiffrin, who was a member of the two-time NCAA Champion University of Denver Ski Team.