Over the years great snowboarders have come to Breckenridge to test themselves against the best in the world. Shaun Palmer and Craig Kelly have won world titles here. And while it may not be talked about openly, there is a certain mystique to competing in the world famous Breckenridge halfpipe.
At their core, halfpipe competitions are rarely about placings. Sure, they give the money to the rider who scores the highest, but this year’s event meant even more than money because the Vans Triple Crown of Snowboarding halfpipe had the deepest talent pool in years. Sure, the riders came to have fun snowboarding together, but in the Breckenridge pipe they ended up telling the world a lot more about themselves and the state of competitive snowboarding than they would ever admit. The event seemed to pull greatness out of riders who really didn’t plan on being a part of something that was larger than just a halfpipe contest.
Daniel Franck arrived with his daughter Sophie on his back saying, at least symbolically, that he’s taking the business of snowboarding seriously as an adult. His presence was also a reminder that thankfully not all great Norwegian snowboarders have burned out on halfpipe contests. Daniel couldn’t walk anywhere without being mobbed by smiling Japanese girls who just wanted to get their pictures taken with he and Sophie.
Shaun White’s huge airs and spot on frontside nines seemed to say that he shouldn’t be thought of as a kid who is “good for his age,” but rather that he be taken seriously as a professional snowboarder. It doesn’t matter that he was less than half the age of the guy who finished in front of him, or that the announcers kept taunting the crowd into chanting “Future Boy, Future Boy, Future boy” before each of his runs. Shaun White arrived at Breck and rode like a man.
Xavier Hoffman had everyone freaking out about what an amazing halfpipe rider he is. Whether it was the 1260s he threw on the last hit, or his amazing style, no one could stop talking about him. Todd Richards gave him the biggest compliment when he said, “Xavier has the best style in the halfpipe.”
JJ Thomas, who has been on the verge of breaking through for years, was able to send a little reminder to Burlington as to why he was worth sponsoring in the first place. His smooth style and effortless airs almost made his runs look too easy.
Danny Kass was a whole different story. He rode the pipe with authority blasting huge stale rodeos twelve feet out on the first hit of each run and sticking everything he pulled the rest of the. “You know the funniest thing,” his older brother Matt said. “He doesn’t even care, he really doesn’t care.”
And then there’s Todd Richards. Once most snowboarders hit 30 they start looking around for something else to do. Todd Richards just keeps getting better. He’s won this event before, but this time the win seemed even sweeter. All weekend he kept trying fake himself out of feeling the pressure that is always with him when he competes at his home mountain. First, he said he was only doing the big air to keep his mind off the halfpipe. Then he ended up taking second place. After the big air it was all about the pipe. When it came time for his final run he connected with back-to-back 900s–first a backside, then a frontside¿and kicked down the best halfpipe run in Breckenridge history. “I don’t know,” he said after his winning. “I think I do better when I do an event that I’m not supposed to do well in. I’m thinking about entering some slalom or maybe BoarderCross in the future. I don’t think I’ve ever had a pipe run that clean.”
Everything that could work together for the event did. On Thursday afternoon riders and organizers were worried that the weather would shut the entire contest down. Saturday and Sunday were supposed to be blizzards with temperatures nearr zero. But nothing could be further from the truth. Sunday morning the sun was shining down on the pipe. It was cold, but the wind from the day before had died down and the pipe was in perfect condition. The cat crew from Breckenridge had spent the night with Frank Wells making sure it was perfect for the day’s competition.
On the women’s side Tricia Byrnes and Barrett Christy reminded us that while it’s no surprise to see them on the podium, it isn’t because they have no competition. Young riders like Gretchen Bleiler and Kelly Clark are forcing the old guard to keep progressing, lest they get pushed aside.
It’s difficult to say exactly what made this contest so amazing. Was it the weather and perfect snow? Was it because all the riders in the final were able to throw down their best? Was it just that this was the first event of the season? Or, could it have been that we were all high on the thin air? I’m sure everyone has a different opinion, but few who were at the bottom of the Breck pipe would disagree that this was the best season opener in snowboard history.
Which leaves me wondering: just think what the rest of the season is going to be like.
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