Shaun White dropped in first for the men's halfpipe finals at the 30th anniversary Burton U.S. Open on Saturday at Vermont's Stratton Mountain, setting the bar high with a score of 90.44 that would stand up through three rounds of competition. The rest of the field was left chasing after him and battling it out for second and third place, with Louie Vito and Benji Farrow stepping up in their third and final runs to round out the podium.
"It's funny because I used to be cursed at this event," White said, in a podium interview after the competition. "I could never make finals, and then I had this one breakthrough year where I actually got to finals. I won, and then I was on a roll: I kept winning and winning."
White won the halfpipe event at the U.S. Open three years in a row, from 2006-2008. "I took a couple years off from the Open because of my skating career, but now I'm happy to be back," White said.
Back, indeed: White landed a huge method air nearly 20 feet above the lip on his first hit, kicking off a run that featured a massive frontside double cork 1080 stalefish grab, Cab double cork melon grab, frontside inverted 540 stalefish, backside double McTwist, and alley-oop backside rodeo. That's the state of men's halfpipe competition, circa 2012: White's "safety" run is often enough to win a contest.
"I really like coming in and throwing my best stuff and getting out of here," White said. "For me I think it was an all-time run ... it was like the perfect scenario: I came out and stuck it. I was fresh, I was ready, and I hammered it. I just knew what I came here to do."
Unlike at Winter X Games Aspen 2012 -- where White used his victory lap to throw down his best run, ultimately earning his first perfect 100 -- on Saturday he was content to have some fun in the spirit of the U.S. Open, blasting high out of the pipe and throwing some slush around as if he were one of the U.S. Open's notorious pipe poachers. "I rarely take advantage of just taking some slashes and messing around, so that's what I did," White said.
Louie Vito came closest to giving White a run for it, improving his score in run three to 89.38, less than one point shy of White, after throwing a run featuring a double crippler, double cork backside rodeo indy grab, frontside double cork 1080 indy, Cab double cork 1080 indy, and frontside inverted 1080 tailgrab.
And, in perhaps the biggest surprise of the day, Vermont local Benji Farrow made his first podium on the Burton Global Open Series and the TTR World Snowboard Tour with a run that included a frontside 1080, Cab 1080, frontside 1260, and backside 900.
"Amazing," said Farrow, catching his breath after the final results shook out in the heated finals competition. "You know, the past two years I've been doing the TTR tour I've been making every final and just haven't quite gotten the podium. To get it at the U.S. Open, in my home state, is incredible. My coach at the top was like, 'Do you want to tone it down and land your run?' I was like, 'No, man, this is the U.S. Open! We're going to go as big as possible!' And it worked."
The American riders swept the podium, with Swiss rider Christian Haller falling just short in fourth place, followed by American Greg Bretz, Japanese rider Taku Hiraoka, and Swiss rider Iouri "I-Pod" Podladtchikov.
I-Pod had some big tricks in his second run, including the double McTwist 1260 that many of his fans hoped would be enough to challenge White, but earned low "flow score" marks from the judges for his run. Still, his seventh-place finish on Saturday was enough to secure his overall wins on the Burton Global Open Series and the TTR World Tour slopestyle ranking, after wins at the Burton European Open on his home turf in Switzerland last month and a win at the 6Star TTR World Snowboarding Championships in Oslo, Norway.
Norwegian rider Stale Sandbech -- who could be seen poaching the pipe all day on Saturday in between finals runs -- ended up with the overall TTR World Tour win on the men's side as one of very few riders competing in slopestyle, big air, and halfpipe events during the 2011-12 season; Sandbech earned points in 15 TTR events this season. Slovenian rider Cilka Sadar took the overall title on the women's side after finishing in sixth place in the TTR halfpipe rankings and ninth place in the slopestyle rankings.
Women's HalfpipeElena Hight ended Kelly Clark's reign of terror in women's halfpipe competition on Saturday, winning the 30th anniversary Burton U.S. Open with a run that left commentators wondering if it was "the best women's halfpipe run ever."
Clark -- who had won 16 out of 17 contests in the past two years before the U.S. Open -- came out strong in her first of three runs, dropping first and taking an early lead over Hight and Hollingsworth with a score of 83.56. But Hight fired back in her second run, launching a huge method air on her first hit before heading into a progressive, technical run that featured a frontside 720 Japan air, Cab 7 mute grab, back-to-back 900s (frontside 9 melon grab and backside 9 mute grab), and a stylish alley-oop backside rodeo on her final hit, posting a score of 86.50 to take the lead. In her second run Clark fell on the frontside 1080 that has become her signature, then fell just short of Hight on her final run, leaving Hight to take a rare victory lap and claim her first U.S. Open win.
"It was definitely an amazing day out here and all the girls are just pushing it," Hight said, in a podium interview after the competition, as surprised as anybody to have disrupted Clark's winning streak. "Kelly is the level that we've all been trying to reach. ... Kelly's been inspiring for the last two years, to all of us, and it's definitely been something to strive for. I couldn't be happier."
Clark's second-place finish secured her overall win on the 2011-12 Burton Global Open Series, which concludes Saturday, ahead of Gretchen Bleiler and Japanese rider Yuki Furihata (Blelier was injured in practice before finals and ended up watching from the sidelines). Clark also secured her overall win on the 2011-12 TTR World Snowboard Tour, ahead of Bleiler and Spanish rider Queralt Castellet, who won the Burton Canadian Open in January after Clark was injured in practice.
Clark decided to leave the frontside 1080 out of her third and final run, throwing a frontside 900, backside 540 mute grab, frontside 720 mute grab, Cab 720 mute grab, and frontside inverted 720 stalefish grab. The run fell just short of Hight's, scoring 86.19 to Hight's 86.50.
"I had a hard time putting down some runs today, but at the end of the day landing the run that I landed is really what I'm measuring myself up against and that was a great thing to overcome after my practice and after how my runs were going," said Clark, a Vermont local, after the competition. "I love being in Vermont because everybody's so supportive. I guess if I was going to break my streak I might as well break it here 'cause they're still gonna love me."
Ellery Hollingsworth made the podium in third place with a run that included a Michalchuk backside rodeo that won her the $5,000 Creative Use of Space award from Mini, a presenting sponsor of the Burton Global Open Series. "That's icing on the cake, right there," Hollingsworth said, after the competition. "My Michalchuks were feeling really good today."
Hight, Clark, and Hollingsworth made for an all-American podium, with 16-year-old rookie Arielle Gold from Steamboat Springs, Colo., just off the podium in fourth place. Swiss rider Ursina Haller and Japanese rider Yuki Furihata finished fifth and sixth, respectively. Local Vermont hero Hannah Teter hit the deck in her first run, went down hard, and left the venue on a backboard after being attended to by medical staff at the event. She was waving to the crowd on her way out, but as of this writing no official update on her condition had been released.