words: Mary Walsh
photo: Aaron Blatt, Mark Clavin and Bre Maris
Slopestyle finals has often gotten the short end of the stick when it comes to conditions at the Burton US Open Snowboarding Championships. For some reason, the culmination of the week’s long form competition is often plagued by wind, snow, graybird skies and generally challenging riding conditions. Contradicting the atmospheric history of the event, on Friday, March 6, 2015, the sun shone down through perfect blue skies and temperatures hovered near 40 degrees. It was cool enough that snow was still fast, but warm enough that jackets weren’t necessary. Conditions were perfect.
The women kicked off the first day of finals competition in the Vail Golden Peak base area. A six-hit slopestyle course had been meticulously prepped by the talented Snow Park Technologies crew, with three rail options at the top and a multi-transition Mini Creative Use of Space feature segueing into the final two jumps. Six women stood in the queue at the top of the course: Enni Rukajarvia, Sina Candrian, Anna Gasser, Spencer O’Brien, Cheryl Maas, and Jamie Anderson. The talent ran deep, from second-time Open competitor Anna Gasser to 2013 winner and 2014 runner up Spencer O’Brien, to three-time Open slope winner, Jamie Anderson.
Cheryl Maas brought proper style to the proceedings, lofting massive front seven tails and attempting a 900, but unable to land a run that was in podium contention. Sina Candrian triple grabbed back threes. Enni Rukajarvi threw five and seven combos but fell short of the podium by less than two points.
On any given day, Jamie Anderson is the rider to beat in the women’s slope arena and this day was no different. But while Jamie snowboarder very well a vast majority of the time, today at the US Open, she was even more on point than usual. Her first run she took the lead and by almost ten points and never looked back, securing her fourth US Open slopestyle win since first competing at the event in 2006 with a cab 270 to tailslide on the first rail, a proper switch boardslide and a boardslide 270 out in the rail section. Taking off the side tranny of the Mini feature—Jamie was the only female competitor to chose this route), she launched a back five, followed by a cab seven nose and switch backside 540 on the jumps.
Anna Gasser, the sole Austrian rider on the women’s circuit placed 14th her first time in Vail last year, and in the past year, has continued to raise the bar for women’s park riding, confidently sending jumps and dialing in a plethora of rail tricks. While Anna’s first go on the course included a cab 540, backside 360, and front 720, it was her second run that would solidify her podium status. A half cab 50-50 back one out, switch boardslide, and 50-50 back one out earned Gasser high marks in the upper rail section and she raised her score in the second section with a cab 720 on the Mini Creative Use of Space feature, a switch backside one, and a front seven. In total, she received an 82.55 and moved into second place.
Spencer O’Brien is consistently propelling the limits of both style and trick selection. On her first drop, she combined technical rail tricks including a noseslide pretzel out, with effortless spins, like a switch backside five and her signature frontside seven off the toes. The run earned an 81.15, but Spencer seized the opportunity to advance higher on the podium and on her final run, swapped a last hit backside seven melon for a back nine. That run was awarded an 82.05. A slight bobble in the rail section docked points and landed O’Brien in third, half a point behind second, despite the fact that she was the only competitor to put down a nine successfully.
As the sun rose higher in the sky, twenty-seven men prepared to drop in. Inclimate weather on Wednesday had forced the cancellation of men’s slope semi-finals, and so both semis and finals were held in succession on Friday. After a two-run qualifier, ten riders moved onto the three-run finals: Slopestyle staple competitors Torstein Horgmo, Mark McMorris, Stale Sandbech, Sven Thorgren, Yuki Kadono, Niklas Mattsson, and Seppe Smitts were joined by newer faces, Tyler Nicholson, Mons Roisland, and Eric Beauchemin.
For the crew of riders that traverses the globe throughout the winter season (and portions of the summer) dropping into massive jumplines and ceremoniously stomping multi off-axis spins, the US Open has always been as much about celebration of the culmination of their year-long efforts as it has been about vying for a spot in the top three. With the springtime weather, this was intensified during the afternoon for men’s finals in a juxtaposition of massive and gnarly triple corks and a palpable reprieve from the hectic winter competition schedule.
Swedish rider Niklas Mattsson fell two spots below the podium, but distinguished himself by throwing hammers in the rail section. His cab three on and his massive gap to switch frontboard looked more like fodder from a banger park edit than a run in a slope contest. Perenial favorite and longtime corked spinner, Torstein Horgmo was unable to link a run together to be in contention, but his 270 combinations, including a switch back hardway 270 on, and a nollie backside hardway on were stellar.
Canadian Tyler Nicholson, who made his first appearance in X Games Aspen in January, just qualified through from semis in the tenth spot and on his first run not only kicked off finals but also landed the run that would earn him third place and his first US Open podium. 270 combinations and a 50-50 back rodeo off the canon earned Tyler strong score on the upper section of the course and a cab 1080 tail, switch back 1260, and a front 1440 combined to earn a 77.2.
Mark McMorris, the 2013 and 2014 US Open slopestyle winner, sought to double down not only on his past performance in Vail but also on his success at X Games Aspen and after earning an 87.80 on his second go, things looked promising. Mark successfully landed a run he had never done before: a cab hardway 270 on 270 out and frontboard 450 out earned Mark very high scores in the rail zone, followed by a cab double cork 900 off the right side tranny of the Mini feature and back to back triple cork 1440s, one frontside and one backside. Stale Sandbech, whose surplus of spins often has him and McMorris leapfrogging one another in contest standings, rode well in semis and was sending lofty double cripplers off the side of the Mini feature, but was unable to land a run successfully during finals, finishing in an uncharacteristic ninth place.
From Mark’s second run, he remained in the top position throughout the rest of the contest. In the third round of competition, the dropping order changed based on score seeding and Yuki Kadono was the final rider to go before Mark’s third run. Yuki was sitting on a 79.4 from his first attempt, a run that didn’t include a 1620.
Over the course of the 2015 season, Yuki Kadono has emerged as a force not only to be reckoned with but as one of the handful of riders setting the pace of what is plausible when launching oneself off a massive snow cheesewedges. At age eighteen, he is only a few years younger than slope and big air royalty Mark McMorris and Stale Sandbech and seems to only be getting better each time he rolls up to a contest. While a presence on the competitive circuit since 2010 and despite a win at the First Air & Style Beijing, it wasn’t until the 2013 X Games that Yuki started to turn heads on a major scale and with each showing since last January, this Japanese phenom has continued to cement his name into the list of riders currently running the high profile, global jump circuit.
As Yuki readied to drop in for his last run, the rest of the riders lingered in the corral at the bottom of the course. A rowdy group of VIP spectators-slash-party goers whooped and hollered at the crew, further amping up the scene as they aspired to share Pacificos with the pros. Despite how serious/technical the tricks being thrown all day were, the atmosphere was decidedly relaxed, a combination of attributes that it seems the US Open is only capable of imbuing.
On his last run, Yuki opened up with a switch backside 270 on boardslide 270 off on the first rail, a frontlip to fakie on the second, and a half cab to back three out on the canon. On the Mini Creative Use of Space feature, he put down a frontside double cork ten and then, in a burst of borderline insanity on the last two jumps, sent back-to-back triple cork 1620s, the first backside, the second the switch backside that he first landed only two weeks before at the LA Air and Style.
As Yuki came to a stop in front of the assembled crowd, he threw his arms in the air and was rushed by his peers who had watched the glory run on the big screen leading up to the landing of the last jump. He was hoisted into the air, still strapped in, with an enormous smile on his face. This never been done combination enveloped the entire roster of riders, who, with a collective intimate and firsthand knowledge of how gnarly it is to huck oneself off-axis two to three times while soaring almost 100 feet through the air, shared in the magnitude of what had just been accomplished. At the risk of sounding saccharine, it was a really cool moment. If there’s something to be taken away from this year’s US Open slopestyle, it’s that while spin count has been increasing, it’s far from the only way that this elite group of snowboarders are continually setting and refining the tricks that are standard within the competitive discipline. The 1620s of 2015 are not the whirly spins they were expected to be when they seemed so distant a few seasons ago. While bigger spins are often the forefront of slope and big air stories, the path that the evolution of this discipline will take is far from defined only by the number of rotations. As 2015 is capped off by what could potentially be an apex of rotational combos, the next step for slopestyle will be one worth watching.
Read the full Yuki Kadono wins Burton US Open slopestyle with back-to-back 1620s; Jamie Anderson takes first on the women’s side article on Snowboarder Magazine.