words: Mary Walsh
photos: Aaron Blatt and Mary Walsh
captions: T. Bird and Pat Bridges
The morning of March 4th began in stark contrast to two days prior, when high winds had shut the slopestyle course down completely, pushing the semifinals out into the period that had been scheduled just for finals. Flash forward to Friday and the field was loaded with sixteen women and thirty-one men who were on hand to compete in a larger-than-usual two-run superfinals instead of the two-step process that thins the group in preparation of a three-chance final. But, it was preferable; the weather was good and the course was perfect. The sun was shining, clouds rolled quietly through, and temperatures warmed the snow just enough to eliminate brick landings, yet still keep speed fast.
Still, the newly minted finals day was a long one. The packed scheduled necessitated an early start, so the ladies' field took to the start gate at 9:30am. With only two runs to make moves, there was a bit more pressure to perform in each individual run, though the larger schematic of the competition opened up the field wider than usual. At the top of the course, USO veterans Jamie Anderson, Spencer O'Brien, Cheryl Maas, Enni Rukajarvi, and Sarka Pancochova were joined by up and comers Hailey Langland, Julia Marino, Karly Shorr, and Katie Omerod, among others.
The Open has made a point, especially since landing in Vail, Colorado, of expanding on the expected of a traditional slopestyle build, deviating further from the norm while still maintaining an air of consistency with each passing year. The cat crafters of Snowpark Technologies built extra transition into the 2016 course, offering a multitude of options for the riders. Of course, the lane started off with two rail plazas, each offering a variety of options. The third feature was the most creative, a double set of pipe-tranny hip jumps that could be taken front to back or the preferable inside-to-outside. Following that was a line of three jumps, the first with tranny on either side additionally and then the final two made of traditional shape. Options abounded.
Ten years ago, Cheryl Maas won the first-ever women's TTR Champion title and in 2016, she is still a torch bearer in women's snowboarding. Coming off a big air win in X Games Oslo last week, Cheryl put down a back nine tail on the last jump, rounding out a run that included a boardside to frontlip in the rail zone, a back one on the Red Bull transition feature, and a switch back five and front three on the first two jumps. The Nederlander was awarded a 76.35 and would take home third place.
Coming in second for the day was Red Wings jersey-clad, Detroit native Karly Shorr, whose ample style earned her accolades at last year's Amusement Park at Mammoth, but who had yet to podium at a major competition. Karly was one of the few riders who hipped the first kicker, putting down an easy back one nosegrab. This, along with a back three double tail on the final jump earned her high marks from the judges and her first experience in the top three of the US Open.
Jamie Anderson claimed her sixth US Open gold (her record includes four previous wins in slope in 2007, 2012, 2014, 2015 and one in the rail jam in 2010) with her first run, which was customarily consistent and smooth. Jamie's score of 86.85, six points higher than any other competitor, was owed not only to the cab five, front seven, back five that she strung together on the three jumps, but also due to the fact that she put together a frontlip to back blunt 270 out in the rails, the only girl to get the two-seven. For her efforts, she was rewarded with another golden USO trophy to add to her collection.
The men were up next and while the conditions and course were both pristine, they were faced with a challenge in keeping momentum, as over an hour would elapse between each rider's first and second run. This, along with the two-run format and unique course build, loaded with transition made for a contest that exciting in the variety of tricks that were thrown but also saw many riders who normally exist in the top ranks of the field end up on the lower side of the scoring as usually consistent riders like Max Parrot, Yuki Kadono, and Sven Thorgren had trouble finding the landing gear. Slope phenoms Mark McMorris and Stale Sandbech, as well as newcomer to the podium Mons Roisland were all out with injuries, which further opened up the field. The US Open maintains a reputation as fostering some of the most interested slope riding of the contest season as the SPT-created course is always inventive. While the biggest spins are still paramount on the lower jumps, the rail trick selection has been elevated by all parties overall (hardway spins onto the jibs were thrown multiple times, as an example) and this year, as riders preferred the in-to-out line of the double-sided Red Bull tranny feature in the middle of the course, a variety of slower-spinned, poked out grabs was presented. Once again, the USO continued its pedigree of providing a slopestyle set up that deviated from the norm and catalyzed a unique breed of riding from the entire collective.
The roster of riders was rife with talent, from young phemons like Brock Crouch, Tomoki Wakita, and Judd Henkes. Red Gerard was beaming after he landed a back triple fourteen (note: it's fairly insane that this has become a standard trick for a fifteen-year-old and with it, his run was placed in fifth overall). The stalwarts of slopestyle were also represented. Style masters Sven Thorgren and Torgeir Bergrem were keeping the Scandinavian side alive and the Canadians were well-represented by Darcy Sharpe, Tyler Nicholson, and Mikey Ciccarelli. With the conditions, the course, and the competitors involved, it was anyone's day to claim the top ranking in Vail.
Quebec’s Seb Toots has been known as a talented jumper for quite some time, but recently he has let his jibbing talents shine more and more and in the context of slope contests, it is his ability to add a complicated rail trick into a gnarly jump line that continues to elevate his contest ranking. On Friday, Seb came through on his second run with a solid frontboard to front 270 hardway on in the upper rails to a front five on the Red Bull feature to a cab twelve, frontside double cork ten and backside double cork ten on the jumps. With an 80.95, he won third place for the day.
Eric Beauchemin had taken a twenty-five dollar bribe to wear a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle onesie while competing and it seems that the extra Turtle Power helped him out as in his first run he would move into the second place spot and remain there for the rest of the extended contest. Beauch started his run with a cab 450 on 270 off on the first jib, continued with a half cab on back three out on the second, stomped an alley-oop rodeo seven and rolled into a back seven, front ten double grab and back seven, making his one of the only runs without any double or triple corks to place in a slope contest in recent memory.
Kyle Mack is no stranger to the Open—2016 marked his eleventh year competing in the contest, but while his moniker has long been on start sheets, this winter has been his most explosive to date. The Michigan native has been coming into his own over the past few months and the transition laden course, which posed an exciting, yet multifaceted challenge for all the riders, fared well for Kyle, providing him the arena to stomp his first-ever backside triple cork Japan on the final 80-footer on his first run. The final trick bolstered an already impressive run which included a hardway back one on the first rail, a back rodeo five on the tranny feature, and a switch back five to frontside fourteen tail on the first two jumps. Mack was only the thirteenth out of thirty-one to drop into the course and after scuffing during his second run, the score of his first go would hold for the duration of the contest, though surely his nerves were high while waiting for the rest of the field to take their turns. As the final rider entered the corral at the bottom of the course, Kyle’s score was unmatched and the Midwestern rider took home his first US Open win, deserving and hard earned at a contest that holds so much esteem within the snowboarding community, but equally so personally for the young snowboarder who has thrown on a USO bib for over a decade.
Congrats to Jamie, Kyle, Eric, Seb, Karly, and Cheryl, as well as all of the riders who competed today in Vail. Stay tuned to Snowboarder.com tomorrow for men’s and women’s halfpipe finals and go to the Burton US Open website to watch the live webcast, beginning Saturday, March 5, 2016 at 11am EST.