words: T. Bird
photos: Ryan “Huggy” Hughes and Mark Imanuel
captions: Pat Bridges
The U.S. Open is the first place that I fell in love with snowboarding.
It was 1996 when I found myself standing directly behind a Burton banner on the side of the halfpipe when Terje Haakonsen aired directly overhead. The sound of his binding squeaking as the crowd went silent was twice as powerful as the ensuing reverberation of ten thousand roars when he landed high on the transition and pumped into the flatbottom, taking more speed into the next wall. I was fourteen years old and had only seen the likes of legends like Haakon, Richards, Franck, Lynn, Palmer, Brushie, Rippey, and the other handful of snowboarding's elite icons, in videos that I would rewind until the VHS tape was so grainy that I was forced to head to the local shop to buy another copy. Everyone was drunk. I wasn't. Even the riders would pause to swill a sip from a random spectator's can of suds–still foaming at the mouth from being shaken so violently in excitement–as they hiked up the side of the pipe.
After the finals, the riders would gather in the hotel at the clock tower in Stratton's village and fling their gear three stories down to the eager crowd. A scuffle erupted over a snowboard that had been hurtled toward the gathering below. A young kid clutched the deck, beaming with excitement as he ran away, knowing all too well not to stick around with it after a ten minute battle. One of my most vivid memories was Jim Rippey's goggles coming right for me and missing the tips of my outstretched fingers by what seemed like millimeters, when in all actuality it was more than likely feet. I stole a beer out of a random backpack and sat down in a stairway when the mayhem was over, and it was then, at that precise moment, that I realized I had gotten myself into something special.
In the years to come, I would continue my annual pilgrimage to Stratton and as I got older, snowboarding became more mainstream, but the US Open never lost its edge. I remember Ross Powers as the first person I've ever seen go twenty feet out of a halfpipe. A dirty little misfit from Jersey named Danny Kass that took the snowboard world by storm like no one ever has, together with his band of vagrants terrorizing the village. The trips I took to the Open in college were almost as memorable (I say "almost" solely due to long nights at The Green Door) as my first foray in '96 and every year, it personified my love for snowboarding, in turn keeping my stoke level high enough to stick with it and eventually get me to where I am today. I owe a lot to the US Open, and also to Burton Snowboards for supporting a single event for so long.
Fast-forward to 2013 and the US Open is now the longest-running contest in the history of snowboarding. I'm thirty-one now and have transitioned (albeit flabbergastedly so) from a teenager drinking in a stairway in Stratton to the Senior Editor of SNOWBORDER Magazine, yet the weight of this event has still not escaped me. Sure, times have changed. Snowboarding is a non-endemically accepted mainstream sport. Shaun White is a brand, fully equipped with products ranging from bed linens to chewing gum. Pro snowboarders train and get rest, rather than rolling the odometer the night before and dropping into the pipe in a hallucinogenic, alcoholic haze. No one builds chicken wire cages framed by shotty two-by-fours on the side of the pipe. Wu-Tang and The Misfits have been shelved as post-contest entertainment, for the likes of Macklemore. But, things naturally evolve. The paramount point to remember is that the effect that the US Open has on the "sport" of snowboarding is still the same, and so long as Burton continues to support professional snowboarders, the brands they ride for, and the fans that they cater to, that will never change.
Up at the halfpipe this afternoon, twelve of the best men and six of the best women pipe riders in the world converged on Vail's superpipe, and although Shaun never dropped in shirtless donning just a bib a la Shaun Palmer, and no intoxicated slid head first down the pipe during finals, everyone in attendance shared the common ideology that the US Open still epitomizes the snowboarder spirit.
Fourteen year-old Ayumu Hirano will soon be a legend, and is the one rider that will undoubtedly unseat Shaun in the coming years. Watching girls of all ages screaming for his attention as he walked away with second place, after consistently boosting nineteen-plus feet out on every hit, justified my sentiments. Shaun White putting down the best pipe run in US Open history did the same. Watching Kelly Clark attempt a cab ten on her victory lap, only to send it into the slush and wash out, was refreshing (side note: Kelly became the winningest US Open pipe competitor—male or female—today with her sixth win, beating out Danny Kass and Shaun White, who have five titles). The thousands of fans lining the sides of the pipe and packing into the bottom corral gave it that pre-2000 feel. Kaitlyn Farrington upping the level of progression in women's pipe riding by stomping a back ten in her second run reminded me that the Open is where riders come to unveil the tricks they work so hard to learn. Seeing Louie Vito's new (and massive) finals run. Witnessing the rapid rise of Arielle Gold. The cataclysmic crashes of Queralt Castellet and Spencer Shaw were morbidly intriguing, and both were okay, and both are certified badasses in my book now. And watching the triumphant return of Hannah Teter, who is riding better than ever. That's what the US Open was, and still is, to me.
The 31st US Open is over, and I'll be damned if things haven't changed. Vermonters are pissed, but Vail locals are stoked, and to be honest, it's a nice change of pace. It was sunny, warm, rowdy, and the riding was all-time today at pipe finals. Hell, I even had time to sneak a quick beer in a random stairway without being hassled by village security.
Men's Halfpipe Results:
- Shaun White
- Ayumu Hirano
- Louie Vito
Women's Halfpipe Results:
- Kelly Clark
- Hannah Teter
- Arielle Gold