words: Mary Walsh
photos: Mary Walsh and Mark Clavin
captions: Pat Bridges
When Mark McMorris came tearing down the landing of the final jump just before 4pm on Friday, March 3rd, there was a smile plastered across his face. He sent an overhead spray into the crowd as he came to a stop in the corral, dusting the cameramen and creating a singular, brief cloud in the bluebird sky. Mark has won slope contests before--to be specific, he's won every major slopestyle event that exists--but today at Vail Mountain in Colorado, at the Burton US Open Championships, there was a palpable electricity in the air when Mark touched down from the last hit of his victory lap. Because the Open is, in itself, a specifically important contest within a season stacked with scored runs. It's the annual event made for and by snowboarders. And this appreciation and dedication to our shared craft runs deep through all aspects of the contest week. Burton has been holding the US Open Championships of Snowboarding for over three decades and while the venue has changed from Vermont to Colorado, the March contest has retained the community-focused, snowboarder-made mentality as it has grown in size, scope, and popularity. It's an event where the weight of the medal isn't in its composition but in the heritage the vessel contains. As Mikey Ciccarelli and Sven Thorgren joined Mark, bottles of champagne in hand, for their first time up on the USO podium next to the three-time winner, the crowd went nuts, camera shutters whirred, and the rest of the men's slope field shared the excitement of their three friends who had earned the tops spots in the 2017 USO.
The sky was US Open blue on Friday as five of snowboarding's most accomplished ladies of slopestyle gathered at the drop in of the Snowpark Technologies-built course for slopestyle finals. Jamie Anderson, Spencer O'Brien, Enni Rukajarvi, Anna Gasser, and Miyabi Onitsuka had qualified through Wednesday's semis. Julia Marino, suffered a rattling crash and withdrew from the competition. The USO course always offers up something a little different than the rest of the slope events of the calendar year and this year, SPT changed up the flow, offering the field of riders an opportunity to further get creative with multiple options and a rail hit in the middle of the lower jumps. Two tables lined with jibs were followed by a set of jumps, the first with a trannied rider's left side and the second with the extra tranny on rider's right, offering the option for going up and over or transferring. The Red Bull rail set up, with pole jam, high rainbow and tube, was next and the final hit was a booter with the front, right and left sides all cut for launching off of. Each year, as the level of jump tricks on both the men's and women's side has gotten higher, the tricks a rider is able to put down off the rails is more and more paramount to their overall finish. The USO course further allowed the jibbing portion of slope to shine.
With the sunny, cool day, the conditions were absolutely ideal, providing the perfect opportunity for the riders to really send it. Anna Gasser, Austrian wunder rider who has been making a name for herself this season in both big air and slope, dropped in for her second of three runs and went cab 270 on the DFD and 270 out on the rainbow, then put the landing gear down on a cab double underflip, the trick that served her well at X Games Aspen in January. The 24-year old rider followed that with a back seven, a quick boardslide on the Red Bull rainbow and finally, a front seven on the final jump. It was one of the biggest runs ever to be put down on the women's side of slope and the judges agreed with the raucous fans at the bottom of the course, awarding Anna an 83.85 and her first USO win.
Jamie Anderson, who is no stranger to the Open podium, landed in second for the day, notching an 81.55 on her final run--no small feat considering she was riding with a broken elbow. Her rail game was high, including a backlip and an effortless tail 270 out on the second rainbow up top and a heavy boardslide 450 out on the Red Bull island. Canadian Spencer O'Brien, a quiet destroyer on the slopestyle circuit secured the third spot of the day with her second run with a frontboard on the top rail section, a boardslide pretzel out on the rainbow, a switch backside five to front seven on the top two jumps, a frontboard on the Red Bull rainbow, and a massive back seven on the final jump. Spencer's riding, was, as usual, incredibly fluid and loaded with style.
As the sun rose higher in the cloudless sky, the line up of ten took to the top for the men's side of the day. Stale Sandbech, Sebastien Toutant, Mikey Ciccarelli, Mark McMorris, Sven Thorgren, Brandon Davis, Mons Roisland, Sebbe De Buck, Red Gerard, and Chris Corning. With three runs each to put down a favorable score, perfect snow and a pristine course with the long, steep landings needed for multiple off-axis rotations, the 2017 iteration of the US Open men's slope finals was set to be one of the best yet. And as the afternoon wore on and the ground ballooned in size, fueled by Pacificos and brandishing the giant cut out faces of Mark and Mikey, this group of snowboarders who collectively possess practically infinite talent, provided proof positive why the Open is always one of the best slopestyle events of the year.
The landscape of the current slope circuit continues to deepen in talent with every passing season. Veteran competitors Mark McMorris, Stale Sandbech and Seb Toots are far from the apexes of their contest dominance; Sven Thorgren and Mons Roisland are the riders in the next wave who have established themselves with ample trick selection and insane style; and the latest crop of up and comers, riders like Red Gerard, Mikey Ciccarelli, Sebbe De Buck and Brock Crouch, are quickly rising into the ranks of the elite alongside those with heavy medal collections. In Friday's finals, Red, Mikey and Sebbe offered up their proficient style alongside Colorado local and standout newcomer, Chris Corning, a seventeen-year-old who put down a flat frontside 1620 on the final hit during his second run, turning heads and providing ample introduction of his snowboarding skill.
While it goes without saying that the snowboarding was mental, it was the cohesive elation that was paramount during the entire contest. From the announcers calling tricks providing the play-by-play, to the media pointing their lenses and furiously recording what was going down, to the riders at the drop in, who celebrated their peers' successes as much as they did their own–with every successful full pull through the course, and there were many throughout the afternoon, the level of stoke rose higher and higher. By the time Mark McMorris touched down on his final run, his first time atop the USO podium since 2014, and the cap to a more-than-impressive season only a year after he broke his leg, the entire Golden Peak base area was losing it. It was really, really cool and quintessentially USO.
It was Mark's first go through the set up that earned him an 86.95 and another gold for his extensive medal collection. Switch back 270 on the first rail, a cab 270 on 450 out on the top rainbow into a backside triple 1440. Off the pole jam, Mark sent a boardslide 810, an NBD phrase here on Snowboarder.com and closed out his fun with a switch back triple sixteen.
Mikey Ciccarelli, young Canadian upstart, went from tenth place to podium on his final go, earning an 82.65 with a run that included a switch back 270 on the first rail, and a cab triple 1620 on the final jump. For the newly coined, Money Makin' Mikey, second place was extra sweet as he started his competitive career as a Junior Jammer years ago. Rounding out the top three was another USO podium first-timer, Swede Sven Thorgren, whose tech rail abilities coupled with a ridiculous ability to put down the landing gear and a prolific Scandinavian style have already distinguished him on the slope circuit the past few seasons. His first run was his best of the day, as well as one of the most fun to watch: front 270 on the DFD, 270 on and off the second, frontside double ten mute-to-tail double grab on the first jump, back 1440 stale on the second jump, 50-50 double rodeo off the pole jam and a cab twelve roastbeef on the final jump.
Massive congratulations to all of Friday's winners and to all the riders who sent it down the 2017 Burton US Open Snowboarding Championships slopestyle set up. Halfpipe finals are live for Saturday under blue skies once again, so stay tuned to Snowboarder.com for the full recap.