words: Mary Walsh
captions: Tom Monterosso
photos: Ryan “Huggy” Hughes and Aaron Blatt
Clear blue skies and bright sun shone down on a what was described as the best halfpipe of the season, built by SPT, at Vail Mountain today for men's and women's halfpipe finals at the 32nd Burton US Open Snowboard Championships presented by MINI. Saturday morning opened up to the kind of conditions that pipe riders and spectators alike crave and resulted in an epic competition.
The women rode first, a field made up of Kelly Clark, Hannah Teter, Rana Okada, Chloe Kim, Sophie Rodriguez, and Queralt Castellet—five of six were 2014 Olympians and the sixth was not old enough to compete in Sochi. Suffice to say, the field was stacked.
While Kelly Clark didn't debut the cab ten that she has been dialing in, all of her runs were characteristically smooth and enormous. Early on, a first hit frontside 1080 from the Southern Vermont native was easily one of the highest airs of the day. Kelly's first run positioned her in first place, but with each subsequent go, she upped the ante. Here second run was scored highest of the day, and included frontside ten, cab seven, frontside air, backside five, frontside nine, and backside air. Setting up a victory lap for herself, the audience waited with bated breath to see the ten on her last hit, but Kelly ran out of pipe at the end and the cab ten has yet to appear in competition.
"I'm definitely a strategic rider," said Kelly. "I go out and put down the run that I want to do that day and then I give myself an opportunity to push myself and push my riding. I think it's really important to do tricks and push yourself regardless of it being a US Open final. For me, even in my victory lap, I'm still pushing myself because it is all about the riding for me."
Spain's Queralt Castellet set herself up in second place early on with her first run, which included a backside nine, to back-to-back fives, frontside nine, a big method, and a frontside seven. During her next two runs, she wouldn't be able to top her first score, but she remained secure in second.
One of this season's stories in women's halfpipe has been the snowboarding of young Chloe Kim. This Mammoth-based rider has grown up riding alongside Kelly Clark, and while Chloe lists Kelly as one of her favorite riders, the respect is mutual between the women. "I saw her as someone who loves snowboarding," commented Kelly after today's competition, "who loves the sport and is out there when it's foggy and is out there when the pipe's not good—like, let's go ride the minipark."
Today, yet again, it is apparent that Chloe's style and technical prowess goes way beyond her fourteen years and while watching her ride currently is exciting, it's even more so to imagine where her abilities will take her over the next few seasons. Not only is she sending it high in the pipe, but her trick selection is proper. At Vail, Chloe debuted a switch method on her first hit, inspired by men's finals poacher, Danny Davis. "I wish I could have that [trick]!" Kelly beamed post-contest.
"I've had that run for a little bit but I haven't done it at a contest before," said Chloe. Her second run would be her best of the day, starting with the switch method and continuing into a cab seven truckdriver, frontside five, McTwist to Crippler and a switch frontside air. While Chloe has charmed the snowboarding audience with her genuinely sweet personality and easy laughter, her riding speaks volumes and with two switch hits in her run already, we at SNOWBOARDER can't wait to see what this lady is throwing next season. Additionally, Chloe's finish today at the Open awarded her as not only the Overall TTR Champion for 2014, but the youngest rider to ever win that accolade.
This year's US Open men's halfpipe finals was by far one of the most awesome pipe contests to watch this season. Maybe it was the bright blue skies that formed the ideal background to the enormous heights that the riders were boosting over the deck, or maybe it was the spring-pipe-good-vibes that permeated the contest arena, or maybe it was the ridiculous runs that were put down by all of the competitors, but likely it was a combination of all of the above that allowed the event to embody the fun, creativity, and shared enjoyment of shredding. Missing were halfpipe staples like Shaun White, Ayumu Hirano, and Iouri Podladtchikov, but the young riders that populated the finals had no problem showcasing riding of the utmost level. Yiwei Zhang, the top qualifier into finals linked double after double but was unable to land a full run. Bend, Oregon's Gabe Ferguson, the youngest competitor at 14 years old linked back-to-back nines and frontside double tens were consistent and smooth. Gabe's older brother, Ben Ferguson was sending massive cripplers on his first hit, and while Ben didn't make it onto the podium, his riding was standout.
The top three was decided first run, and while there was no shortage of suspense as to whether the three highest scored riders would be bumped out of position, the movement never occurred. Swiss rider David Habluetzel materialized Saturday afternoon as a major player in the line up. He dropped in for his second run sitting just below the podium in fourth place and while his moniker is a new one in the US Open finals, David threw down a run that included a massive frontside ten to cab double cork ten, back-to-back nines, and a frontside double crippler and moved into third place where he would stay for the remainder of the contest. "I just came here for fun and to ride and got in finals and third place just happened. I'm so stoked," said David.
Taku Hiroaka sealed his second place finish with a huge crippler, backside 900, frontside double cork ten, cab double cork ten and frontside 900. His 48.3 trick score translated into an 82.9 overall score. Not bad, considering his podium position finalized his TTR Halfpipe Champion status for 2014.
Throughout the steep competition at Vail, it was Taylor Gold's day to shine. The twenty year old opened up with a huge method, frontside twelve, double Michalchuk, frontside double cork ten, cab ten taipan, and a crippler roastbeef. Taylor's run was not only technical, but his choice of grabs throughout the event was just plain sick. "I was just kind of feeling it out in practice and it felt pretty comfortable," added Taylor. "[The grabs] are harder than the regular grabs I've been doing all season, but I was so stoked I was able to put tem in my run. I saw Danny and Sage doing different stuff and I wanted to do as much as I could to make my riding a little bit different." The strategy and effusive style worked out well for the Steamboat Sprigs, Colorado-based snowboarder, earning a 50 trick score in the SLS format and an 87.6 total for his run, Taylor took first place and never looked back. His last run wrapped up the fourth victory run of the US Open and Taylor celebrated with multiple methods. Said Taylor, the USO halfpipe was "best pipe I've ridden all season, maybe ever."
And that's a wrap on the 32nd Burton US Open Snowboarding Championships. After a long and tumultuous Olympic year, the snowboarding community breathed a collective sigh of relief in Vail this year as the Open, the snowboarder's snowboarding contest, closed out the competitive season.
1st – Kelly Clark
2nd – Queralt Castellet
3rd – Chloe Kiim
1st – Taylor Gold
2nd – Taku Hiroaka
3rd – David Habluetzel