Whiteless session opens up spot on top
Vail, CO Colorado
VAIL ” One thing is for sure in this weekend’s Honda Session ” there will be a new rider on top of the podium after the men’s rail and slopestyle competitions.
Sean White, who has won the rails and slopestyle events the past three years of the event, and grabbed a gold medal in Torino for the halfpipe, won’t be shredding Vail’s Golden Peak this year.
So what will it take to replace White and bring home the cash?
Creativity, big air, big spins and, as they say in snowboarding, a lot of the gnar gnar.
For today’s men’s and women’s rail session, there will be plenty of opportunity for riders to strut their ingenuity. On Thursday, the competitors got a chance to practice in the giant rail park, which features park benches, gap jumps, gap rails and two bowl rails flanked with a grippy, synthetic surface.
“There are only a certain number of tricks you can do in snowboarding, but the lines you decide to take, and how you differentiate yourself, is the coolest element,” said Pat Milbury, who took third in last year’s rails session and won the Malay Factor for the best trick. “The Session provides us with such an amazing playground to define yourself as a rider.”
Marie-France Roy, the 2006 third-place finisher in the women’s rails, got her bearings on this year’s rails Thursday.
“It’s more original (than last year),” Roy said. “I’m excited to see what’s going to happen on this.”
One feature that may spark a few unique moves is the synthetic bowl.
“It’s got fingers on it that allow riders to edge into it, and they can enter any which way,” said competition director Greg Johnson. “It’s like what you see in bowls in skate parks.”
A demanding part of the course is the one-piece down-flat-down rail.
“Most of the rails you see are wider than that, or double tube, but with a single tube, it’s harder to maintain your balance,” Johnson said. “At the linkages in the rail is where the tech stuff is happening.”
While there is $124,000 total cash at stake, many of the riders are more stoked about the setup of the event and aren’t too worried about where they finish.
“We’re here to ride and chill out,” said Danny Kass, who took silver in the halfpipe at the 2002 and 2006 Olympics.
“My biggest goal is just to have fun and have a good night,” said Laura Hadar, who won the women’s rail session last year and hasn’t snowboarded that much this year after coming back from a head injury.
For the one-hour rail jam, the top five riders in the men’s and women’s competition will be awarded cash prizes every 15 minutes. The rider with the best trick will be given $1,500 for the Josh Malay Factor, honoring the Vail rider who died in a skiing accident in Spain three years ago.
In Saturday’s men’s slopestyle, riders will launch off four jumps that range from 55 to 70 feet in hopes of picking up part of the $80,000 purse. And just because White isn’t there to spin his way into first doesn’t mean it will be any easier to win.
“Have fun with Andreas (Wiig),” Milbury said. “That dude’s insane. He’s a jump destroyer.”
Last year, Wiig took a close second, falling on his final run.
More likely than not, the way to get to the top will be through plenty of revolutions.
“You’ll need a bunch of 10s,” said Michael Goldschmidt, referring to tricks that include at least a 1080. “It’s going to take a lot of style and stomping everything, for sure.”
Milbury plans on offering a different look.
“I’m going to ride the whole course switch,” Milbury said. “I’m going to try and ride every jump doing switch tricks. I hope I can earn respect from the judges.”
One of the announcers for the event, Dingo, likes Wiig’s chances but thinks if someone can pull a 1440, that would win it.
“I saw David Benedek cruising around, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him get it,” Dingo said.
All four jumps have 36-degree landings and wide takeoffs to accommodate riders’ arched approaches and switch riding.
Following today’s men’s afternoon qualifier, the women kick things off at 6 p.m., while the men start at 7:15. on Saturday, the men’s slopestyle qualifier goes from 2-4:30 p.m., and the finals run from 6:15-7:45 p.m.
And as always, Milbury insisted, “Let’s make sure to keep this event so gnar.”
Dingo likes 17-year-old Lucas Magoon in the rails and thinks Chas Guldemond could be one to watch in slopestyle … At 14, Ski and Snowboard Club Vail’s Broc Waring, and Ellery Hollingsworth are the youngest competitors … Unlike last year, all riders are required to wear helmets … On Sunday spectators can become competitors in the public rail’s competition starting at 11 a.m.
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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.