words: Mark Clavin
photos: Peter Cirilli

With 10k in cash up for grabs, the best of the best from the 2016 Burton Qualifiers tour met up to test their skills on metal in The Rust Belt last weekend. After six previous stops across the U.S., the final showdown of the contest, Settled at Seven, sounded too perfect to pass up. Seven Springs, about an hour south of Pittsburgh, PA, has built up their reputation as a park powerhouse the past few years, and had no problem living up to the hype for the finals.

The set up included a creative gap to down-flat-down, a quarter pipe with a "floating" wall ride, metal barrels placed in every direction, and a smooth hip that Springs is ideally known for. Thanks to the stellar park crew even with the 70 degree weather, it was hard to guess that it was also the last day of the season. Judging was based on the creative use of the course and the riders did not disappoint.

The 15 & Under division went first. Thirteen riders had an hour to slice up the course in any way they saw fit, and it took only minutes to see that the session was going to be heavy. Cooper Whittier, who earned his way at the Woodward stop and ended up with third, pulled a switch lip 270 out of the down-flat-down, followed by some impressive maneuvers on the A-frame. Storm Rowe grabbed second place after blasting methods higher than any other rider on the day, and (Editor's note: check the water at Loon because that kid is too big for his age.) a huge 50-50 back rodeo 720 out of the barrel jam. First place for the 15 & Under went to Dylan Okurowski, Colorado local, after a front Nose Blunt with a 450 Out of the A-Frame and a smooth back three set up after the stairs onto the down-flat-down. Also, props go out to Athena Comeau, the only lady holding it down in the finals.

The Open Division kicked off right after and in my opinion, should have continued until there was no snow left to ride on. The hour was packed with jaw droppers and knuckle biters. The sun beamed down and strategic drops to garner speed for every inch of the course were made. Twenty-two riders competed in the invite only finals and it was no shock when Ryan Paul and his beard ended up on top and earned a trip to the Burton Rail Days in November. Paul landed a huge backside 450 on, gap 270 out on the down-flat-down, and then kept charging on every feature within the course limits, proving quality and quantity play an important role at the Burton Qualifiers. If he ever competes at the Burton U.S. Open, I would like to be on record saying a Ryan Paul/Paul Mitchell beard endorsement should be on the table.

Other huge stand outs go to a bloody Matt Shaffer going hardway back 270 on the down-flat-down, Christian Connors getting the highest plant on the wall ride, and bendable Benny Milam landing a back 270 gap out of the down-flat-down after a gnarly taco that took not only his, but everyone's breath away. Kael Hill was going absolutely mental across the course and lost a pair of sunglasses in the process. After picking them up only to realize they had been crushed by a competitor, he seemed to channel any anger into a ridiculous 630 on, Opp 180 out on the A-Frame. Judges where psyched to see him ride away after a few close calls on the hip.

All in all, the finals qualified as a huge success and reinforced what we all love about snowboarding. Competitors gave high fives in the sun as they hiked throughout the day, judges were stoked to ride the course as soon as the podium was torn down, and everyone lapped the resort until the last chair emptied for the season. Definitely want to thank all the sponsors; Burton, Anon, and Snowboarder Mag, for the fun time, and can't wait to see this series again next year!

15 & Under
1st – Dylan Okurowski – $2,000.00
2nd – Storm Rowe – $1,000.00
3rd – Cooper Whittier – $500.00

Open Division
1st – Ryan Paul – $3,500.00
2nd – Matt Shaffer – $2,000.00
3rd – Benny Milam – $1,000.00