words: Mary Walsh
captions: T. Bird
photos: Ryan “Huggy” Hughes, Mark Imanuel, and Mark Clavin
After a season that has been so focused on the #roadtosochi, the archetypal contest for snowboarders by snowboarders that is the US Open was positioned perfectly in the afterglow of the Olympics to provide a competitive celebration for riders and spectators alike. This was evident Friday morning as slopestyle finals kicked off under snowy skies.
"More than anything this year, with all of us doing the FIS events and the Olympics, it's never felt better to come back to the US Open and have that snowboarding energy," said Jamie.
It's practically a tradition that Mother Nature likes to send out the snowguns for the slope riders at the US Open Snowboarding Championships and for the 32nd year of event, the falling flakes didn't slow any of the riders down. A buttcheck or fall on one jump didn't prevent the competitors from being able to send it off the next hit, a testament to both the riders as well as the SPT-built course, on which steep transitions catalyzed a strong flow and prevented speed loss despite the light snowfall. The creative course moved downhill toward the Golden Peak base area, the upper rail section containing a flat down option, a second section with a flat-gap-flat and a battleship, and a step up option with an up-flat on rider's left and a pole jam to pill jib on rider's right. Three large cheese wedges measuring 55 feet, 65 feet and 70 feet respectively rounded out the bottom half of the course.
Jamie Anderson first competed in the US Open at Stratton in 2006. As a wildcard competitor new to the field, she earned third place and returned the next year to top the podium. Since then, Jamie has won women's slopestyle three more time in 2011, 2012, and now, in 2014. After qualifying first in semis earlier this week, Jamie set the bar for the podium with her first run, which included a strong showing in the upper rail section and a cab five, frontside seven, and backside five on the jumps. With a score of 85.3, Jamie moved into first place and never looked back. On her second run, she nailed a gap to boardslide on the first rail, a 50-50 to frontboard on the battleship, a tail tap back one on the pole jam to pill, and a cab seven, switch backside five, and frontside seven on the jumpline. The purposeful run improved her previous score by 2.2 points.
Spencer O'Brien has one of the best-looking front sevens in women's snowboarding and during women's finals she put down the rotation with ease. She displayed her off-the-toes version of the trick at Vail in a run that included a frontboard on the first rail, boardslide on the second, frontboard to fakie on the pill, and then switch back 540, frontside 720 and backside 720 on the jumpline. Her second run of the day, it bumped her into the second spot on the podium.
Isabel Derungs has made a name for herself in the slopestyle circuit this season, going from a relatively unknown rider to a consistent competitor. At Vail, Isabel's signature backside rodeo cemented a run that included back-to-back sevens and earned her third place. Also notable was the riding of Miyabi Onitsuka. At only age fifteen, this Japanese rider was sending big threes and fives. While she wasn't able to keep her feet under her to earn a spot on the podium, she is undoubtedly a new face to watch in women's slopestyle.
During the men's finals, safety runs were immediately tossed aside as Mark McMorris dropped in second with no holds barred. Mark is no stranger to being the pace-setter and while he dragged a hand on the last jump, his run of a switch up on the flat down, 50-50 to backflip on the second rail, boardslide 450 off the rainbow on the MINI Creative Use of Space feature, followed by cab twelve, frontside double cork ten, and backside triple cork 1440 made it clear that he was at Vail to win. On his second drop, he nailed it, earning a score of 87.5 that would remain the high score number to beat for the rest of the competition.
There were a few riders who were hot on Mark's heel edge during the event and despite the déjà vu-esque weather that blanketed the course, the conditions were actually much better than in 2013. "This year, we had speed and they built the course well," commented Stale Sandbech. Seb Toots was in podium contention for a portion of the contest with a run that included a cab 1260, frontside double cork 1080, and a backside triple cork 1440. Stale bumped Seb into third place when he moved a slot below Mark by only three tenths of a point. Stale's trick score was one of the highest of the day after a switch up on the flat down, 50-50 front three over the second jib, 50-50 backside one switch 50-50 on the pill, into a cab 1260, frontside 1080, and a backside triple cork 1440. On his last drop, Stale intended to affect his rail section to improve his score, but bobbled. "I was changing up my rail run in my head [before dropping in] and I tried to do a different trick on the first rail, but I couldn't get my weight over it and kind of just messed up on the first rail," said Stale. There's no shame in a second place finish for this Norwegian wünder-rider, especially since his podium today earned him the Overall TTR Championship for 2014.
Max Parrot, who's uncanny ability to throw triples on command has buoyed his season, earned third for the day and though a fall ended his first attempt on the course prematurely, he put down his second run to solidify his podium position. As double and triple corks cement themselves as ubiquitous in the snowboarding lexicon, it makes sense that elements of slopestyle runs would be similar from time to time between competitors. And of course there are plenty of riders that distinguish themselves and assert their style through trick and grab selection—there is no denying that. But today in Vail, a unique scenario emerged when Max Parrot's run was nearly identical to that of Mark McMorris, who had dropped earlier in the start order. When posited about the run, Max humbly stated that "it was a coincidence. When I saw [Mark's] first run doing the backflip on the second feature, I had thought I was the only one who was going to do it." The high level and pressure of competition is no doubt responsible for some of the trick overlap that is present during contests, but the similarities between the runs were striking when considering the possible outcomes in a given contest based on the current state of men’s slopestyle snowboarding.
Unique to the Burton US Open, the start list is reorganized for the final runs in point order with the top rider dropping last. It is in this format that Mark McMorris achieved a victory lap exactly one year after the last time he sent it down a slope course devoid of scoring pressures. Unleashing two methods on the final jumps, Mark careened to the lower corral the winner of back-to-back titles at the US Open and the sole champion of men's slopestyle since the contest moved to Colorado. Like numerous other contests that Mark has dropped into, his ability to stomp technical runs with a heavy dose of style have contributed to the overall high-level of snowboarding.
Mark was modest about his victory post-contest, but stoked to wrap up the competition season on a high note before taking off to Hawaii for some R & R. "I've always been one to have success in bad weather," said Mark. "I was going to do that run if it was the best weather in the world and to do it in really tough conditions meant a little bit more to me. I 'm just really happy about the way it went."
1st – Jamie Anderson
2nd – Spencer O'Brien
3rd – Isabel Derungs
1st – Mark McMorris
2nd – Stale Sandbech
3rd – Max Parrot
Stay tuned for the slopestyle finals video and for more from the Burton US Open tomorrow when halfpipe finals commence.