The twenty-first annual US Open halfpipe, held March 15 at Stratton Mountain, Vermont, will go down and history as the event that set new records for how bored you could get watching a snowboard contest. We can blame this not on Burton, Stratton, or any of the riders, but rather on the fact that the competition was made for live television. It was like a football game, complete with drawn-out commercial breaks during which everyone just stood around staring at each other and the empty pipe and probably just wishing they were snowboarding themselves. Finally the organizers turned a blind eye to a bunch of poachers to help liven up the downtime.
But despite the painfully slow delivery, there was definitely some wicked good riding going on. The first round of the finals was knock out, meaning the first seated rider dueled it out directly with the last seated from yesterday’s semifinals, then the second seated went against the second-to-last seated, and so on. This was to cut it down to three riders in a sort of “super finals” that was judged best run out of two. Kind of confusing, but good for TV, I’m guessing.
In the women’s event, Hannah Teter wound up and let rip a frontside 540 at the top, a 900 midway down the pipe, and a 720 at the bottom. Damn that’s a lot of frontside spinning. Natasza Zurek was rewarded by the judges for stepping up to some inverts in her superfinals runs, including a McTwist and a Crippler 720. She also did a smooth-as-hell, quarked-out frontside five. But Gretchen Bleiler, who’s single-handedly paying the salary of her hometown IRS agent with all the prize money she’s been winning lately, had an unbeatable combination. This included a Crippler off her first hit (a trick that seems to gain more amplitude every time I see her do it), then on to back-to-back fives and a gigantic Crippler seven at the bottom. That’s right, unbeatable.
The men’s competition was somewhat of an upset. Shaun White fell (yup, I’ll say it again: Wonderboy actually fell!), cracking the door for fifteen year old Japanese powerhouse Kazu Kokubo, the undeniable sensation of this year’s Open. All people could talk about afterwards in fact was how big this little ripper went on his last run: every hit was through the roof, including double overhead McTwist, a quarked 900 a billion miles in the air, and a bigger than big backside air to finish things out.
Ross Powers’ smooth as ever run (you know the one: McTwist, fronside nine, switch McTwist) reigned supreme in the judges’ eyes, however, Kazu won the best trick award for the big-time McTwists he was busting all day.