Despite an uncharacteristic fall on his trademark monster backside air on his second run in the Burton U.S. Open halfpipe semifinals on Thursday, Shaun White's first-run score was more than enough to qualify him in one of the top slots for Saturday's finals. He'll be dropping second-to-last in Saturday's finals.
2010 Olympic bronze medalist Scotty Lago, who has foregone filming in the backcountry in order to focus on competition this year, qualified in the top position with what his Frends Crew cohort Jack Mitrani called out during the event's live webcast as one of "the best pipe runs he's ever seen" Lago do.
This is the first year in the U.S. Open's 31-year history that the event is not being held in its original home of Vermont. Though Burton's initial announcement this summer of its intention to move this iconic contest to Vail, Colo., was met with protest, experiencing the event in its new location makes it hard to find fault with the decision. The Vail village is set up perfectly to host the throngs of people who are already flocking to the resort for the contest, and at the base of the pipe and slope courses, the party vibe is in full swing.
"The move is hard because it's a break in tradition," said Lago, a New Hampshire native who grew up going to, and competing in, the U.S. Open. "It's sad to see the Open leave the East Coast. But it's good here. The pipe is great and it's just going to keep getting better as the week goes on."
Rider reactions to the slopestyle course build have been less positive than the response for the pipe.
"Everyone had a lot of big expectations for this course," said Spencer O'Brien on Tuesday, the night before she qualified first in women's slopestyle semifinals. "They used to have the Vail session here and that course was really progressive and really big so I know a lot of people were expecting a super high-caliber course. It isn't quite what we had hoped for. I think a lot of it has to do with snow conditions."
Colorado is currently experiencing a low snow year, which has affected the course build. The jumps are smaller than the riders were expecting, and in Wednesday's semifinals, speed through the jump line changed from run to run, depending on wind (which has been gusty) and sun. Many riders either landed on the highest, flattest part of the transition on the final jump and bounced or flew to bottom of the transition.
However, "[the course builders] have been winching cats up the jump landings," reported Ståle Sandbech Wednesday night, "and I think by finals things are going to be much better."
Sandbech, it must be noted, is one of only two competitors to qualify for the finals in both slopestyle and halfpipe (Peetu Piiroinen is the other). Sandbech, who was set to win gold in Big Air at X Games Aspen, before Torstein Horgmo and Mark McMorris pulled brand-new triple cork variations out in the final moments and bumped him into bronze position, is a triple threat, and on course to win this season's TTR World Snowboard Tour Overall Champion title. If he wins it, it will be his second in a row.
The Burton U.S. Open slopestyle finals are set to kick off at 10:30 a.m. MST Friday, starting with the men's competition. Halfpipe finals start with the men as well at 10:30 a.m. MST Saturday. Both events will be broadcast live on Universal Sports.
That said, Jack Mitrani has moved from pipe competition to the webcast announcing booth. He is currently doing the play-by-play on the contest's live feed at Burton.com/USO, and it is incredibly entertaining. If you must watch the action on TV, it is suggested you put it on mute and queue up the webcast in order to let Mitrani's hilarious commentary guide you through.
Burton U.S. Open 2013 Men's Slopestyle Qualifiers
Burton U.S. Open 2013 Women's Slopestyle Qualifiers
Burton U.S. Open 2013 Men's Halfpipe Qualifiers
Burton U.S. Open 2013 Women's Halfpipe Qualifiers