The next generation of pipe snowboarding charged ahead at the 2013 Burton European Open on Friday, where 14-year-old Japanese rider and X Games Aspen silver medalist Ayumu Hirano and 16-year-old Arielle Gold took the top spots in the Men's and Women's Halfpipe Finals in Laax, Switzerland.
The day began with a fresh accumulation of snow and low wind with clouds and fog obscuring the panoramic views of the Swiss Alps, but it didn't affect visibility in the pipe. However, the fresh snow in the flat bottom made for slower speeds despite regular maintenance from the event crew, and all the competitors fought to maintain speed.
"It was a little bit hard to get the speed for all your tricks. Basically, I was doing my run of last year and it was just too slow to do the double combo. In the end, I decided to just go with one," Swiss rider Iouri "I-Pod" Podladtchikov said.
You wouldn't have known it was his first Burton European Open Finals or that Hirano's 14-year-old legs could be capable of boosting so high out of the pipe with such smooth style. His winning run started with the biggest air of the day, a styled-out method. Then it was into a frontside 1080 tail grab to Cab 1080 nose grab into a double cork 1080 double grab, finished off with a Haakon flip 720 at the bottom of the pipe. His best score was 87.60, and he walked away with a $15,000 check for his performance.
Arielle Gold continued the momentum from her X Games Aspen bronze medal and took the Women's Finals lead early on with stylish airs a frontside 540 lien, a backside 540 mute grab and back-to-back 720's. She remained on top through two heats, and the anticipation built as the crowd waited to see if five-time BEO winner Kelly Clark would put together a run to reclaim the top spot. But it wasn't her day. Clark's best score of 75.03 included a front 9 to backside 5 followed by front 720 and Cab 7, but it relegated her to second place.
Elena Hight was hanging onto third place until the final heat when Ellery Hollingsworth dropped in second-to-last and got inverted with a backside rodeo 540 on the first hit and an inverted fronside 720 lower in the pipe.
Laax local Ursina Haller was the only Swiss rider and the only European rider in the Women's finals. She charged into the pipe with an impressive frontside 900 on the first hit, and the crowd went wild. A few sketchy landings and some speed issues kept her in the back of the pack, but her riding was still an inspiration for the next generation of Swiss female riders, who were gathered near the pipe waiting to get her autograph.
With three continents represented, the final podium was truly international. I-Pod followed in a close second place with a final run of back-to-back 9's and back-to-back 1080's for a score of 87.10.
American rider Scotty Lago, who won bronze at the 2010 Winter Olympics, took the third spot on the podium. His frontside 540 Indy nosebone to backside 900 mute followed by a frontside 1080 double grab, Haakon flip 720 and frontside 900 double nose grab assured the 10 percent rule will be in effect with his $4,000 prize.
Most of the riders will head to Sochi, Russia, on Saturday for the first event organized to prepare for the 2014 Olympics.
The resort of Laax catered to riders' needs throughout the week and proved to be a hospitable host for the 6 Star TTR stop. The privately owned resort's reputation for supporting snowboarding and snowboarders continues to grow throughout Europe but is still relatively unknown in North America. Imagine someone took Baker, Brighton and Big Bear and threw a dash of Breckenridge or Mammoth in the mix and you have Laax, a resort with endlessly good natural terrain and a diverse offering of parks, jibs and halfpipes.
"Laax is a freestyle destination and always has been. We started in 30 years ago, and I love that the Burton European Open is an open contest. That's what freestyle is all about. It's a grassroots movement, and we've always supported that. When you see the faces of the people and the riders, I just love it. We're going to continue with BEO and the next steps will come," Laax owner Reto Gurtner said.
Lago moved in to first place on the World Snowboard Tour Halfpipe ranking with Hirano climbing up to fourth with his win. The Men's Halfpipe Championship will be determined at the two upcoming 6Star competitions at the Burton US Open and The Arctic Challenge in Oslo, Norway. The Women's World Snowboard Tour Halfpipe Champion will be crowned at the Burton US Open in Vail, Colorado, and it will be a tight race between current leader Clark and Gold who is in second place.
Burton European Open Men's Halfpipe
Burton European Open Women's Halfpipe