words and photos: Mary Walsh
On March 1, 2016, the Junior Jam made its return to the line up of events at the Burton US Open Snowboarding Championships. On a gray morning in Vail, ten boys and five girls, all under the age of fifteen, crowded the start area of a massive, SPT-built 22-foot behemoth of a halfpipe for the first edition of this fabled grom event since the Open left Stratton, Vermont.
The Junior Jam has a storied heritage of riders who have stepped from within the pipe walls on this former end-of-the-USO event into the spotlight as adults. Pat Moore won in 2000, Jake Blauvelt won in 2001, and Hannah Teter, Luke Mitrani, Mikkel Bang, John Jackson, Nils Mindnich, and many more have stood atop the podium during the early stages in their snowboarding tenures. In 2013, during the most recent Junior Jam prior to this year, Ayumu Hirano set new expectations for how high a fourteen-year-old could boost out of the pipe, earning a spot in men's finals and hanging tough with the established professionals.
So it is exciting that Burton brought the contest back in 2016, offering the up and comers of halfpipe riding a chance to compete alongside their idols and influencers. On both the girls' and boys' sides, the top finisher earned a spot in Thursday's semifinals. Every rider was given three runs to prove their mettle, dropping in order for the first two, and then ascending by score for the final drop, per the rules of the main event later this week. For the girls, Lydia Silber, Isabella Gomez, Tessa Maud, Payton Bacca, and Kailey Bogart had their eyes on the podium. On deck in the boys' competition were, Fletcher Craig, Valentino Guseli, Judd Henkes, Hans Huber, Taiaroa Tait, Griffin MacFadyen, Jack Coyne, Hunter Goulet, Slater Johnson, and Jack Warble. Any of these names that are not familiar will surely be during the coming seasons as these kids collectively possessed a solid amount of transition talent.
The thing about being under five-feet tall, as many of the riders were, is that going head high out of the halfpipe is no small feat. But these mini individuals were not short on talent, boosting promising frontside airs, lofty methods, and going upside down like it was no big deal. The youngest rider on the ladies' side, ten-year-old Hawaiian boarder Kailey Bogart was getting out on her first hit despite her diminutive stature, beaming with an enormous smile every time she dropped in.
Both the boys and girls' fields boasted impressive riding for such young snowboarders, but it was Mammoth Mountain's day in the sun as riders from this Eastern Sierra park paradise would take the win in both the boys and girls divisions. For the ladies, twelve-year-old Tessa Maud took the lead with her second run, when she scored a 65.49. She wouldn't look back, earning a victory lap at the end of the event. Not bad for her first major contest win. On the boys' side, it was clear from his first drop that Judd Henkes was in it to get into men's pipe semis. No stranger to the Junior Jam, Judd had competed in Stratton when he was an even younger grommet. In the event's first Colorado appearance, the Californian rider dropped in heavy, sending a 15-foot air out of the pipe on his first hit, and losing hardly any altitude as he made his way down the tube, even when on his second to last wall he took the landing super deep, practically into the flats, Judd was able to muscle out a proper overhead air to finish things off. "The pipe was amazing," commented Judd. "The walls were perfect, it was super fast, perfect for boosting." It was Judd's second run where he would capitalize on a combination of height and technicality though, earning a 95.62 form the judges and moving high in the top spot for the rest of the contest. For his ballsy riding, Judd was rewarded with a victory lap where he sent it to the moon on every hit, not unlike previous victor, Ayumu Hirano, whose all-time airs provided inspiration for young Henkes. As for Thursday, when both Judd and Tessa will enter the arena alongside the USO veterans? "I'm just going to try to go big," said Judd, "throw a dub in there and step everything up a bit."
Congratulations to not only the six riders who stood atop the podium and earned their first US Open trophies, but to all fifteen riders who dropped into the superpipe at Vail, providing a keen look at the next generation of up and comers.
Stay tuned to Snowboarder.com for the rest of the week for more from Vail and tune into the Burton US Open live webcast beginning tomorrow where SNOWBOARDER’s own T. Bird will be hosting the
First – Judd Henkes
Second – Taiaroa Tait
Third – Fletcher Craig
First – Tessa Maud
Second – Isabella Gomez
Third – Payton Bacca