words: Mary Walsh
photos: Mike Yoshida and Aaron Blatt
captions: day 2 of a contest at altitude

Mother Nature brought some speckled, white fury to Breckenridge, Colorado on Saturday, December 12th. With at least eight inches of fresh and more falling consistently all day, there were powder turns a plenty, but the conditions were not exactly ideal for halfpipe finals. Gray skies impaired visibility and the constant snow slowed everything down within the 22-foot walls. As the day wore on, the ability to find speed would be a deciding factor in landing on the podium. The eighteen riders, six women and twelve men, who were set to compete in finals, though, are all adept at their professional and handled the changing and challenging conditions as best possible.

The ladies started out the day at Breck, a field of six who had qualified through to Saturday’s final round. Kelly Clark, Arielle Gold, Liu Jiayu, Chloe Kim, Xuetong Cai, and Maddie Mastro strapped in at the top of the pipe for a best-of-two runs format to determine the winner of the first competition of the season.

We have said it before, but it bears repeating, Kelly Clark is the winningest snowboarder of all time. During Dew Tour pipe finals, she added to her podium count by remaining undeterred by the winter weather and sending her first frontside air high above the deck before launching into a back five, front seven, cab seven, and final front seven. Kelly was awarded an 80.40 and a solid third place at the first event of the season.

Mammoth Mountain local and young halfpipe phenom, Chloe Kim started off her competitive season with a solid second place, darting between the snowflakes and boosting out of the pipe during her first run. Chloe's riding was consistent and smooth as she ticked off a front five, McTwist and back-to-back sevens, finishing the day with an 89.6 and a new piece of hardware for her trophy room.

China's Liu Jiayu was the breakout of the weekend so far, clenching a last minute spot in finals via the Last Chance Qualifiers and then emerging from the fray for her second run, stomping a big front nine of her first hit and following it up with a back five and back to back sevens. The judges award Jiayu with a hefty 91 and she moved into first place, never looking back. "It was hard. It was a powder pipe, but still, I feel happy," said Liu, stoked. "All the girls are really good and with today's pipe [conditions], you can do what you can do, but I feel lucky."

As the ladies wrapped up their portion of the contest, the weather continued to worsen as the men took to the drop in. An hour of practice runs and intermittent slipping didn't do much to help the speed within the walls, but the riders remained optimistic and determined. "It was very, very challenging, of course," commented Iouri Podladtchikov. "It is pretty to easy to see that there's a lot of snow in the pipe and that makes it a lot slower than it would usually be, but it was still really interesting to compete because everyone was here everyone had the same challenge."

The field was stacked. 2014 Dew Tour pipe winner, Taylor Gold was in the mix, along with Chase Josey, Christian Haller, Gabe Ferguson and Jan Scherrer. Ben Ferguson and Arthur Longo, both ridiculously fun to watch in the pipe as they always exude copious amounts of style, rode well but were slowed by the sticky snow and didn't land in contention. Brett Esser and Matt Ladley also had banner runs, Ladley putting his best down after a fairly gnarly fall in the beginning of the contest, much to the excitement of his super sized cheering section.

While heavy tricks were on display throughout finals, the three riders that landed on the podium were able to find lines through the tough snow and retain as much height as possible on the tricks they put down.

Halfpipe veteran, Iouri Podladtchikov linked a back nine to front ten, cab double ten, to front double ten to secure an 84.20 and third place for the day. Said IPod about the lackluster conditions, "In the end, the way you chose your line today and the way you kind of pushed the tranny made a huge difference and that makes it interesting. It makes it different, and different is good."

Young Japanes rider Ayumu Hirano seem to have an endless supply of loft to his airs and boosted as best possible on the stormy day, putting down a massive crippler Japan on his first hit into a back nine, frontside double cork ten to cab double ten, and finishing his run with a final ten. Ayumu was awarded a deserving second place for his efforts.

Shaun White dropped into the pipe with added incentive, as rumor has it he has not yet secured an invitation to this year's X Games. Shaun was able to work the walls of the pipe effectively, boosting him literally into the top position after his first run with back-to-back double cork tens and a double McTwist. His second go in the pipe would be a crowd-pleasing victory run. Rumor also has it that Shaun was offered free carriage rides anywhere in Breck from a local business owner, to celebrate his win.