Here comes the air: It’s Session time
VAIL ” Before heading over to Golden Peak for this weekend’s fourth annual Session, you may want to do a few neck stretches. Yes, and not just the competitors, but the audience, too.
With jumps bigger than dump trucks, the course is sure to provide riders with the opportunity to pull off runs better than Shaun White’s memorable run last year of three 900s and a 1080.
“It’s ridiculously huge,” said John Dakin of the Vail Valley Foundation. “Hats off to the slopestyle guys because I wouldn’t want to fall off one of those jumps, let alone launch myself off one.”
Even if the event didn’t attract some of the best snowboarders, Dakin thinks the course alone is compelling in itself.
“What would make someone want to come out and watch the event? Just come over and just take a look at the course,” Dakin said.
Oh, and, then there’s the competitors.
This year, in continuing the tradition of keeping The Session, of, by and for the boarders, organizers instituted a new selection process. For the men’s field of 40, the top-five finishers from the rails and slopestyle were invited back, 20 spots were given to riders selected by the boarding industry, and 10 spots were given to wild-card selections. The same formula applies to the women’s field.
“You’ve got three different elements,” Dakin said. “We went to the industry and said, ‘You’ve got spots for riders on your team.’ So they can put in their top guys or some up-and-commers. Then with the wild-card side, there’s an opportunity for riders not covered by the first two criteria.”
The favorite for this year’s event on the men’s side is White, who has dominated the event since it started in 2003.
But with changes to the course, and riders like J.J. Thomas and Travis Rice on the hill, it could be anyone’s for the taking.
Back for their fourth year are course designers Ryan Neptune and Pat Malendowski.
This year’s course has features that should speed up the rails runs, Malendowski said.
“We put in an 18-foot quarterpipe, which should give more speed because you need to come in faster,” he said. “Also, you get more air off the quarterpipe. In the past, we used plastic quarterpipes, which didn’t led to getting much air and you didn’t see as explosive tricks.
This year, you’ll see guys doing tricks and getting back onto the rail.”
Malendowski said they brought in two 20-foot picnic tables and a bus-stop rail, in addition to the rails already on Golden Peak.
For the slopestyle event, the course designers had plenty of snow to work with, which translates into the riders have plenty of space to practice their art.
“The jumps are about 65-feet wide at top,” Malendowski said. “The idea is to make racers as comfortable as possible. Also, there are tons of options, so every time they come down they can try a new line and will have a chance to get creative.”
After four big jumps, riders will have a chance to hit the six different rails at the bottom of the course.
Fire and ice
The fire’s back. Like last year, a fire cannon will erupt every 15 minutes to signal the payout of hard cash.
And what would another Session be without more money? This year’s prize purse is $121,500.
Riders hit the hill today with a practice session from 1-3 p.m. Friday, the women’s rails go from 4:30-5:30 p.m., followed by the men from 6:30-8 p.m.
Before Saturday’s slopestyle, there’s another new element fan’s can enjoy: A free concert featuring Digital Underground from 5 p.m.-6 p.m.
The slopestyle then kicks off at 6:15.
Then on Sunday, test your skills in the public rails competition from 11 a.m.-1 p.m.
Sports Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14631, or firstname.lastname@example.org.