The legendary likes of Terje, Franck, Brushie, Noah Brandon, and Ingemar Backman were in the midst of high scores at the 18th Annual U.S. Open Snowboarding Championships halfpipe qualifiers taking place at Stratton Mountain, Vermont.
But this didn’t stop new upstarts like Teter, Mueller, Migneault, and Costandache making heads turn, photographers flashes pop, and spectators ask, “Who was that? He was going huge!”
With the mix of legends and upstarts, Americans, Canadians, and Europeans, there was nothing but giant action in the first-ever Super Pipe built on the East Coast. This size pipe, built with the Super Pipe Dragon, is quickly becoming standard at contests and many competitors have said they’ll never compete in a regular size pipe again. Indeed, all major snowboard halfpipe contest should be held in Super Pipes, and the real question should be, why has this taken so long to happen?
And the scope of riding has improved greatly, with an edge going to riders who are simply bigger and who have more experience. The riders keep saying that they want more time to practice in these bigger pipes, to make things even that much more exciting. Some have it down right now.
Leading off the pack of men was Ross Powers. The wonder boy who recently turned 21 was boosting eight- to ten-foot straight airs that few could even come close to. With a score of 32.4, he set the standard for the first of four men’s heats that consisted of twenty riders each. Riders got two runs, with only the best score counting, and the top ten riders from each heat moved on to Saturday’s semi finals and a chance at the finals and the big cash.
US Open 1998 winner Rob Kingwill (30.4) was also in the top five of heat one, throwing more spins than anyone else in the heat. 1992’s second-place rider Jeff Brushie (31.7) spun big 540s to earn a spot in yet another Open. East Coast helmet-posse rider Adam Petraska (30.4), Canadian Trevor Andrew (30.8), and German Christoph Weber (31.3) also looked strong.
On a crash course for the semis with Powers is relatively unknown Nicholas Mueller, who scored a 33.2, the second-highest point total of the day. He was ahead of Canadian Daniel Migneault (32.5), Tommy “the Machine” Czeschin (32), and Norwegian Espen Arvensen (31.7).
East Coast local Abe Teter used his sized to his advantage in the Super Pipe and took the high score of heat three with 33 points. Teter’s huge airs came close to Power’s, but his local crowd cheered more loudly, which surely helped him out.
Pennsylvania homeboy Keir Dillon had second spot with 32 points from three different flipping spin tricks, fending off a rabid pack of Euros who were just getting used to the pipe. If they do get used to it, the likes of Norwegian Arild Brun Kjeldaas (31.2), Swiss Therry Brunner (30.3), and the legendary (’92, ’93, and ’95 Open winner and ’97 and ’98 runner-up) Terje Haakonsen (who scored a 29.8) will surely be contenders for the finals on Saturday.
High score for the day came from a surprising source: heat-four winner and Norwegian Marius Sommer. He sketched on his first run, but put together a huge, slow spinning 720 at the bottom of the pipe on his second to score a 33.9. He was followed by fellow countryman Daniel Franck (30.9). One of the most surprising in the final heat was Swiss Dani Costandache who began each of his runs switch and went straight into a big, impressive 540 on the first hit to score 29.9. He was followed by Canadian Guillaume Morisset who had a 29.9.
On the women’s side, there were two heats of twenty, and like the men, the top ten from each would advance to the semi finals of the top twenty.
Three-time Open runner-up Tricia Byrnes had the high score for the women (and in the first heat) with a 29.3. She was followed by 1994 Open winner Shannon Dunn-Downing, who sketched her first run, but put it all together on her second. For Dunn-Downing, who’s won three Grand Prix contests easily this year, the tougher competitioon will definitely push her. Other standouts in women’s heat one were Norwegian Stine Brun Kjeldass and Mt. Snow local Kelly Clark.
Heat two was a lot tighter, with Kim Stacey, Anne Molin Kongsgard, and ’97 Open winner Barrett Christy all within a point of each other. With the bigger pipe, the women looked impressive and were ready to step up another level after another day of practice.
Coverage of the U.S. Open will continue tomorrow as the Dual GS takes place during the day and the always exciting Big Air finals occur under the lights at night. Jason Borgstead is already claiming he’s going to take it all.