Faces of competitive snowboarding
Competition class of 2014
When competitors show up to a competition, they get their portraits taken so that the producers of the event can work their mugshots into TV and web broadcasts. Usually they are flashed on a screen one to a few times, and then are never seen again. We thought it'd be fun to gather these portraits from the Burton U.S. Open that just went down in Vail, Colo. As it was the last major contest of the 2014 World Snowboard Tour, it seemed appropriate to use as a look-back at some of the players -- rookie and veteran alike -- who stood out this competition season. Disclaimer: The following is a sampling, not a full roster of people who ruled it this year.
Danny Davis ~ Halfpipe
From 2010 on, Danny Davis' competitive career has been beset by injuries. That didn't stop him from making his comeback this year with arguably one of the most creative halfpipe runs ever done in snowboarding -- including a stylish switch method that has already been emulated by pipe prodigy Chloe Kim, and credited as the inspiration for the old-school grabs thrown into young gun Taylor Gold's 2014 Burton U.S. Open winning halfpipe run. Davis won X Games Aspen Superpipe gold for the first time ever this year, and is one of the driving forces behind the movement to experiment with new ways to ride a halfpipe itself. If ever there was a legend in the making, this is it.
Rana Okada ~ Halfpipe
According to professional snowboarder and webcast commentator Jack Mitrani, Rana Okada has one of the best frontside 900 tailgrabs in halfpipe snowboarding. Added to this, she's the only one throwing massive suitcase grabs into her contest run, which made her an easy crowd favorite this month at the Burton U.S. Open.
Ståle Sandbech ~ Slope/Pipe/BA
Stle Sandbech is not a stranger to contest podiums, but this has been a breakout year for the Norwegian quadruple threat. Aside from solidly winning a silver medal in snowboard slopestyle's Olympic debut in Sochi, he won bronze in both big air and slopestyle at X Games Aspen 2014, and nearly beat Mark McMorris for the slopestyle win at the 2014 Burton U.S. Open. Because he also competes in halfpipe when the mood strikes, as he did this year at the U.S. Open, Sandbech ended the competition season with both the TTR World Snowboard Tour "Overall" and "Slopestyle Champion" titles. Then he hopped a plane to finish out the winter riding powder in the backcountry, because he happens to be good at that, too.
Taylor Gold ~ Halfpipe
When Taylor Gold rose from rookie status to land one of four spots on the U.S. Olympic halfpipe team this year, there was some concern as to whether the excitement that propelled him to podiums in the Olympic qualifying season could continue once the pressure was turned all the way on. Though Gold didn't live up to his name in Sochi, he rebated that performance with a commanding win at the U.S. Open. His run was both technical and stylish and included seldom-seen old school grabs like a Taipan and chicken salad that delighted over-30 snowboarders everywhere.
Ben Ferguson ~ Halfpipe
Rumor has it that the legendary Terje Hkonsen called Ben Ferguson personally to invite him to his contest, The Arctic Challenge, because he believes he is the future of halfpipe snowboarding. While the rumor has yet to be confirmed or denied, it was clear to anyone watching his runs at the Burton U.S. Open this March that it's probably true.
Yiwei Zhang ~ Halfpipe
Yiwei Zhang had never ridden a snowboard when Chinese Olympic officials pulled him out of a gymnastics class to ask if he'd be interested in helping them start a team, then plopped him in front of a TV to study videos of Shaun White. It was time well spent, it turns out. Zhang finished second overall on the 2013 FIS World Cup circuit and made the Chinese Olympic team for Sochi, where he finished sixth. He qualified for finals at the 2014 Burton U.S. Open in first place, and won international respect with his massive backside airs, a trick bag full of double corks and nearlyunparalleled amplitude all the way down the pipe.
Mark McMorris ~ Slope/Big Air
Despite taking a contest-ending spill during slopestyle finals at X Games Aspen 2014, multi-medal holding XG slopestyle and big air superstar Mark McMorris still took home silver in the event. He then went on to win Olympic slopestyle bronze and finished the season with a win at the Burton U.S. Open. Not only has McMorris been one of the most dominant slopestyle competitors of the past four years, it's safe to say he'll continue to be for quite some time. When the MTV reality show he does with his brother, Craig, finally hits U.S. airwaves, however, the fame of the Canadian heartthrob is sure to rocket to a level only experienced by a handful of action sports athletes.
Isabel Derungs ~ Slopestyle
Isabel Derungs made her X Games debut in Aspen in January, finishing sixth, and represented Switzerland in snowboard slopestyle's Olympic debut in Sochi in February, finishing eighth. She then went on to win the Burton European Open and finished her season on the Burton U.S. Open podium behind Jamie Anderson and Spencer O'Brien. She finished her season ranked third on the TTR World Snowboard Tour in overall slopestyle points. It is safe to say this competitor has officially arrived.
Scotty Lago ~ Pipe/Slope
If more guys in the competitive snowboard scene could grow beards, the Brillo pad adorning Scotty Lago's face would surely be inspiring a sport-wide trend. Lucky for us, the 2010 Olympic halfpipe bronze medalist's facial hair is much like his pipe riding, which is to say, it's a phenomenon unto itself. Lago hasn't stood atop many podiums this year, but he is largely credited as the style inspiration for many of the riders who are just starting to explode on the scene, which is an accomplishment all its own.
Gabe Ferguson ~ Pipe/Slope
Gabe Ferguson, aka "Ben's little brother," is 14 years old. He decided not to compete in both halfpipe and slopestyle at the Burton U.S. Open because he wanted to concentrate on making the finals in halfpipe. Which he did. It doesn't matter if you don't know this kid's name now. Some day very soon you won't forget it. Trust us.
Taku Hiraoka ~ Halfpipe
Judges looking for amplitude on every wall of the pipe have been fanning out on Taku Hiraoka this season. The 2014 World Snowboard Tour Halfpipe Champion, Hiraoka also won bronze for Japan in Sochi, took second at the Burton U.S. Open and won the Burton High Fives event in New Zealand last summer. Not too shabby.
Kyle Mack ~ Slope/Pipe/BA
Kids these days. Consider Kyle Mack, the first rider to land a frontside triple cork rodeo in competition, when he was just 15, at the O'Neill Evolution big air event. He also competes in slopestyle and halfpipe events, because ... why not? He ended the 2013 season ranked third overall in the TTR World Snowboard Tour, and started the '13/14 season with a second-place finished at the Burton High Fives event in New Zealand, behind Stle Sandbech. He's older and wiser and has his driver's license now, but he'll definitely be one to watch next year.
Ryan Stassel ~ Slopestyle
Ryan Stassel started snowboarding in kindergarten and he's been tearing it up ever since, competing in slopestyle, big air and snowboardcross events. Now, just a few years after graduating from amateur competition, Stassel is already proving he can hang with the big boys: The Alaska native joined the U.S. Snowboarding national team in 2013, has been collecting podium finishes on the FIS World Cup tour and won the first of three U.S. Grand Prix slopestyle events at Mammoth Mountain in January.
Kaitlyn Farrington ~ Halfpipe
"Coming into Sochi I was just hoping to make the team, first of all, and so to be here and walk away with the gold is unbelievable to me," said Kaitlyn Farrington, after edging out Vancouver 2010 gold medalist Torah Bright and women's halfpipe dominator Kelly Clark to top the Olympic podium. She wasn't the only one who was surprised, but if you didn't see her coming you haven't been paying attention: Farrington secured her trip to Sochi with a win at the final U.S. Grand Prix event at Mammoth Mountain in January, then won bronze at X Games Aspen 2014.
Max Parrot ~ Slope/Big Air
Canadian rider Maxence Parrot went big -- real big -- in 2014, taking the TTR World Snowboard Tour big air title and winning gold in both big air and slopestyle at X Games Aspen 2014, and ending the season with a third-place podium spot at the Burton U.S. Open. He finished fifth in Sochi, where his backside triple cork 1620s were a bit harder to come by, but will be the man to beat in any upcoming big air or slopestyle event.
Kelly Clark ~ Halfpipe
What can be said about Kelly Clark -- a hero to up-and-coming female pipe riders worldwide -- that hasn't been said already? Three-time Olympic medalist, nine-time X Games Aspen medalist, four-time TTR World Snowboard Tour halfpipe champion, seven-time Burton U.S. Open halfpipe winner -- Clark is the most decorated competitive snowboarder in history. Added to this, she was the first woman to throw a 1080 into her run, and if her performance at the Open this March was any indication, next season she'll be the first one to get two of them in as well.
Roope Tonteri ~ Slope/Big Air
Finnish rider Roope Tonteri won gold in both slopestyle and big air at the 2013 FIS Snowboarding World Championships. His all-or-nothing approach can make him inconsistent -- he finished second in the qualification round in Sochi, then bumped all the way down to 11th after falls in finals -- but when he's on, he's on.
Jake Pates ~ Pipe/Slope
Jakes Pates' hometown crowd in Vail, Colo., went nuts when the relative unknown made it to finals in the pipe at the 2014 Burton U.S. Open in Vail, where he ultimately finished in seventh place in his first major pro contest. Pates won the U.S. Revolution Tour halfpipe event in Mammoth Mountain, Calif., in February, and also competes in slopestyle events. He took second at the 2013 Burton European Junior Open. Sponsors have taken early notice. After that Burton U.S. Open performance, so has everyone else.
Jessika Jenson ~ Slopestyle
Wait, who? Jessika Jenson surprised just about everybody when she made the top-four cut for the trip to Sochi with the U.S. Snowboarding team. But a closer look at her amateur slopestyle career -- including a string of wins on the Burton Am series and U.S. Revolution Tour-- reveals she's been coming up fast. Jenson finished fifth in semifinals in Sochi, just missing the cut for finals, but we have a feeling she'll be back next time.
Queralt Castellet ~ Halfpipe
Spanish rider Queralt Castellet is the only female rider besides Kelly Clark to land a 1080 in competition and is almost always a podium threat because of it. She won the Burton Canadian Open in 2012 and came in second at the 2014 Burton U.S. Open but the three-time Olympian has been hit-or-miss in recent years. She's been a couple spots shy of the podium in all of her X Games appearances to date, and hasn't broken out the 1080 since separating her shoulder in a 2013 crash.
Brett Esser ~ Halfpipe
Brett Esser lives in Breckenridge, Colo., has a mean mustache, and pumps classic rock into his headphones before every run. He's also known to boost above the pipe in the 15-foot range, giving him plenty of hang time for tricks like the frontside 1260 that has become a staple of his runs.
Peetu Piroinen ~ Slope/Pipe/BA
Peetu Piroinen topped the TTR World Snowboard Tour overall rankings for his fourth time in 2013. He is the most successful rider on the tour with elite-contest podium finishes across all disciplines dating back to 2007. The multi-talented Finnish rider has been shifting focus to filming lately, with a groundbreaking park part in "Burton Presents: RESORT" to show for it.
Kohei Kudo ~ Halfpipe
Kohei Kudo grew up ripping the legendary powder in his homeland of Hokkaido, Japan. He has made the pursuit of pillow lines a priority over the last two seasons, filming with Kazu Kokubo's Stonp crew and a group of Japanese riders who call themselves the Seven Samurai. Kudo was the TTR World Snowboard Tour halfppe champion in 2011, after a season that included a win at the Burton Canadian Open and a third place finish at the Burton U.S. Open behind Kokubo and Iouri Podladtchikov, but he was mostly missing in action for the 2013-2014. Wonder what he's been up to? Have a look at the snow reports back in Hokkaido this season and stay tuned for the forthcoming Stonp film, "Stonp or Die 3."