Michigan men, women claim 3 top-two finishes
VAIL — After a decade of expectations forecasting him to one day be the best in the world, Kyle Mack finally reached that high platform on Friday.
Competing against a tough field of 32 riders at the Burton U.S. Open Snowboarding Championships slopestyle competition, Mack, 18, landed the run of his life to claim the first big win of his career.
“There were a few guys who could have topped my run,” he said after the competition was over. “I was definitely nervous watching it … All the riders here are top notch, best in the world. So it feels good.”
After completing an impressive run early in the competition, Mack was forced to watch as rider after rider started off looking like they could top him, then faltered along the way. Slopestyle snowboarding requires a snowboarder to put together a flawless run from top to bottom, incorporating two rail sections of features, two transition sections with side-hit jumps, and two traditional big air jumps. Mack’s run contained some of the best tricks on all sections of the course, ending his performance with back-to-back triple cork 1440s, a trick that spins a rider around four times and sends him inverted three times, on the same trick.
If Mack was nervous watching Yuki Kadono, who won last year’s competition with back to back triple cork 1620s, and Max Parrot, who landed a quadruple flip in 2015, then it was nothing compared to how nervous his family was.
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“I went back to the condo, I couldn’t watch it,” Mack’s father, Tod Mack, said after the competition.
“It was nerve racking, for sure,” Mack’s mother, Connie Mack, added. “I don’t think I’ll ever stop being nervous.”
Watching from the sidelines, Mack’s childhood coach, Chris Laske, said he knew as soon as Mack landed that it was the best run of his life.
“He’s never put down a run like that before,” Laske said. “He did the hardest rail trick out there.”
Laske, who is now the Snowboarding Program Director for Ski & Snowboard Club Vail, starting coaching Mack when Mack was 6 years old. After winning some big comps as a pre-teen, including one here in Vail when he was 12, Mack was poised to be the world’s best by the time he was 15.
“When I was younger, I kind of blew up,” he said. “But then there was a point in time where I plateaued, I wasn’t making finals and I wasn’t landing runs.”
Now this season, with a second-place finish at Shaun White’s Air & Style big air competition in Los Angeles Feb. 21, and a win at the Burton U.S. Open on Friday, Mack appears to be reaching the potential many saw out of him at such a young age.
“Now that he did it, the rest of them are all bonus,” Tod Mack said Friday of Mack’s career. “He got his win.”
Mack earned $45,000 for the victory.
“That will be helpful, for sure,” Connie Mack said.
Laske also used to coach Friday’s second-place finisher, Eric Beauchemin, who grew up riding Mt. Holly in Groveland Township, Michigan.
“To have two of my athletes go one-two, I can’t even describe the feeling,” Laske said. “I’m so proud of these guys.”
Saying the goal was just to have as fun as possible, Beauchemin competed in a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles one-piece pajama suit.
“It’s like my lucky suit,” he said after claiming second place and $20,000.
Mack and Beauchemin said having the support of Laske and Ski & Snowboard Club Vail at the bottom of the course was reassuring.
“He was like an older brother to me,” Mack said. “Vail’s got a good coach now, so I’m hyped to see that.”
“Chris is a good coach and he’s a good guy too,” Beauchemin added. “It was good to have him around.”
Of the four top-two spots available in the men’s and women’s slopestyle competitions on Friday, three of them went to riders from Michigan, as women’s second place finisher Karly Shorr hails from Commerce Township, Michigan.
ANDERSON WINS WOMEN’S COMP
On the women’s side, Jamie Anderson reasserted her dominance in slopestyle snowboarding Friday by winning with ease.
In a straight-final format, where each of the 16 semifinal competitors were given two attempts at a winning run, Anderson completed that winning run on her first attempt, performing two 540-degree spins and a 720 off the jumps on the Golden Peak course. It was a relief for the seven-time Burton U.S. Open winner who just last weekend smacked her face down hard on a big air jump in Oslo, Norway, and is coming off a tough month of travel.
“It was fun, but definitely hectic. I think all of us are pretty beat up,” Anderson said after the competition. “The jumps were pretty massive.”
Wednesday’s semifinals were canceled due to snowy conditions on course. A testament to just how big the jumps are, Anderson said the snow wasn’t even slowing things down enough to prevent the course from being rideable.
“It was a whiteout blizzard and we still had speed to be able to hit the jumps,” she said.
Anderson said the course took some figuring out, with two sections of rails containing several options of flat-to-down slanted and rainbow rails, two sections of transition jumps with a 13-foot mini pipe feature and a 55-foot jump with side hit options. The final two jumps measured in at 65 and 75 feet from takeoff to landing. She took two practice days with 15 to 20 runs each day.
“I’m sure if all of us could ride it for a week and get comfy on it, it would be a totally different ballpark of riding,” she said.
The Burton U.S. Open follows an intense couple of months of competition for Friday’s podium finishers, which also included American Karly Shorr in second and Cheryl Maas, of the Netherlands, in third. The competitors were in Korea for the 2018 Olympics slopestyle test event Feb, 21, which Anderson won. The following weekend they were in Norway for the European X Games big air contest, which Maas won. They’ll hang around Vail on Saturday before taking off for the FIS Snowboarding World Championships in China.
“We leave on Sunday, so we get one day off,” Anderson said. “We’ll be able to celebrate in the halfpipe though, hopefully try to poach a couple of runs.”
Saturday’s Burton U.S. Open halfpipe competition begins at 10 a.m. on Saturday with Chloe Kim trying to make it five straight halfpipe wins. Shaun White and the men follow starting at 12:30 p.m.
O’BRIEN BANGED UP, DOING OK
Following the competition, Anderson thanked Maas for her contributions to snowboarding over the Dutch veteran’s long career in the sport. Maas, a mother of two, landed a 900 off the final jump on Friday to secure her spot on the podium.
“Watching you ride in Oslo and watching you push the level and doing all these crazy new tricks … always motivates me to get better,” Anderson told Maas after the competition.
Earning X Games gold last weekend and a podium here on Friday, Maas told reporter Henry Jackson her motivation to keep going comes from her love of snowboarding.
“It gives me such a pleasure and a thrill,” Maas said. “There’s great people around in this scene, so I don’t want to quit.”
Maas wasn’t the only competitor to outperform the dominant Anderson recently. At the X Games in Aspen in January, Canadian slopestyle rider Spencer O’Brien rode away with the win. On Friday, O’Brien went down hard in her first run, laying motionless on the course for a scary amount of time.
“I knocked the wind out of myself pretty good,” O’Brien told reporter Jack Mitrani between runs. “I stretched the nerve plates underneath my muscles … so I had some crazy sensations going down through my arms and I couldn’t really lift them.”
Courageous as ever, O’Brien got back out for her second run.
“It’s always a challenge to jump ahead of Jamie,” O’Brien said. “She’s such a talented rider and she put down a great run.”