In 1982 a group of friends, passionate about riding a surfboard-shaped plank of wood down a steep snow-covered hill, decided they wanted to know who was the best at this new winter activity. Thirty-one years later one of those friends is standing in front of me with his wife, one of his three sons and a big ol’ grin on his face. You’d be happy too if the sport you helped grow from backyard pastime to international obsession finally had a venue that was perfect for its most prestigious competition. Yes, Jake Burton Carpenter has done right by snowboarding and if you think otherwise then you’re a fool.
The US Open Snowboarding Championships, or “The Open” as it’s fondly known, has always been and will always be first and foremost about the riders. It’s why after 30 years in Vermont, Jake and his wife Donna felt that it was time to move the event to a place that would offer the highest quality arena for competition. Vail, CO, having held some of the best contests snowboarding has ever seen (The Honda Sessions in the early 2000’s) seemed a solid option and they fully stepped up.
The Sponsor Village at Golden Peak was spacious and always lively; the viewing areas were easily accessible and the beer gardens never overwhelmed and the security was friendly. Yeah, I know, friendly, non aggressive security at The Open, that’s a feat in and of itself. I didn’t hear of a single incident between rider and authority all weekend. No arrests, no drinking tickets, no multi-bouncer takedowns like years past. The closest run-in I experienced throughout the weekend was politely being asked to take our drinks inside after we finished smoking (Colorado’s laws are great). I just have to tip my hat to Vail PD & security for resisting the urge to mess with our good time. I wish I could say that the yellow jackets (mountain safety) were as cool as their off hill counterparts, but I guess that’s what happens when you give some washed-up skiers a little bit of authority. Still, I left without getting a speeding ticket (yeah, that’s a thing at Vail Resorts), so I shouldn’t bitch.
Snowpark Technologies once again outdid themselves and used the new space to create a killer slopestyle course. Rails and wall rides at the top of the course flowed into a jump line consisting of three perfect looking cheese wedges. Unfortunately the weather didn’t hold up on Friday for Slopestyle finals so abilities were strained in the men’s field. Still, the guys threw down and in the end it was Mark McMorris (CAN) atop the podium followed by Torstein Horgmo (NOR) and NH native Chas Guldemond in third. I still get as excited now as I did when I living in Vermont when a New England rider podiums at the Open. Would I have rather had a Vermonter on the podium? Sure, but sometimes you gotta settle for just a fellow New Englander.
Weather worsened(for competition, excellent for free riding but more on that later) and the Women’s Slope finals were called off all together. The Semi-finals scores saw Spencer O’Brien (CAN) in 1st followed by Jamie Anderson (USA) and then Brooke Voigt (CAN). You can take The Open out of Vermont but you can’t take the Vermont out of The Open. Speaking of which, Saturday was bluebird and warm. Classic Open pipe finals conditions. There was a nervous energy as we headed over to the venue that morning. Would people show up in droves as they had in the past? Would the flow of the competition be screwed up by it being live broadcast on NBC? Would my headache go away? These were the questions rattling around in my head and I let them all go once I was on the chairlift passing by the pipe. The sides were filling up with people, the bottom was already packed, riders flew out of the perfectly shaped u-ditch in the final minutes of practice. At the top of the chair a guy calmly approached Jake and asked if he could get a quick picture. Jake obliged and the guy eagerly threw an arm around him. “I moved here back in the late 90’s from Jersey instead of going to college, my parents blame you for that,” he said. Jake laughed, the guy thanked him and rode off. That’s snowboarding right there I thought to myself, living the dream, whatever it means to you. To Jake it’s being able to put on a contest where any rider with skills worthy of the big show can be seen. For him that’s the best part, watching the young unknowns battle their way to finals, take their place on the podium and in Open history.
I have been going to the Open every year since 1995 and I can honestly say this year was the best. People who know me will no doubt be surprised by that statement. I’m a fiercely proud Vermonter and was an outspoken opponent of the Open being moved. However what I realized is this, the Open is now 31 years old. Great as those years in Vermont were, it was time for a change. If you’re 31 and living in the basement, that’s a sad situation, especially if your parents haven’t wanted you around for some time now. Sure there might be a-lot of friends and neighbors who want you to stay but ultimately you have to do what’s right for you. Like many in the snowboard community (myself included) it was time for the Open to migrate west. Indeed I was skeptical of Open 2.0, but the way the people of Vail embraced the event and dedication of the employees at Burton to maintain the soul of the event put my concerns to rest. All the staples of Opens past, the muddy parking walk at the Sun Bowl, the line out the door at Winhall 7-11, breakfast sandwiches from Partridge, a 40 minute drive from my parents house to the venue, these things were gone, but did I miss them? Eh, not really.
For me The Open was really always about the people and for the most part those people moved with the contest. I meant the gentle giant himself Abe Teter was out there poaching pipe finals on Saturday in a long sleeve t-shirt. If that isn’t the Open then I don’t know what is. Jane Nathan is still doing rider registration, Ricki Thiele is still making sure the party doesn’t stop, Greg and Anne-Marie are still hosting them. Whit is still putting out fires like nobody else and her old man KJ is still cracking everyone up. My point is the venue may have changed but the vibe remains the same. The day I got into town the first person I talked to was Donna Carpenter. She was understandably exhausted but just couldn’t stop smiling. “People are just so happy to have us here,” she told George and me. She added, “One guy came up to me and just said thank you, thank you so much for moving the Open here”. I heard many more people thank her throughout the weekend. The truth is Vail really wanted the Open and I sure hope they enjoyed having it there as much as we did because it’ll be there for at least the next four years. It’s nice to know what I’ll be doing the last week of February until 2017.
What I’m really hoping for in the coming years is for Mother Nature to come through with the light, fluffy dump of fresh like she did this year. It was quite a welcome to the Rockies for all of us and it was hard to think about watching a contest while there was so much to be ridden. I linked up with a buddy from high school who’s been calling Vail home for a couple years now and man did he come through with the local knowledge. Within four runs we had traversed a good portion of the back bowls and I’d gotten my best turns of the season. The rest of the day pretty much continued in that fashion, each run better than the last. Vail can seem overwhelming at times for someone who grew up riding Bromley’s 42 trails but having had the local’s tour, I feel like I’ll be prepared for next year and will be ready to share my knowledge.
Saturday’s Pipe finals went off in classic Open fashion. The only thing that was missing was Jake flying over in the chopper but hey, there’s always next year. That Shaun White (CA) guy did his thing and after his second run it was clear he wouldn’t need a third to take home the win. You can say what you want, but until someone steps up the way Pearce and Davis did in years past prior to their injuries, the man with the lowest drag coefficient and excellent hair is going to keep on winning. It could certainly be 14-year old Ayumu Hirano (JPN) who dethrones the champ at future contests. Only time will tell if he can match Shaun’s consistency. Until then, he seems happy(ish) with taking home second place, it’s hard to tell since he doesn’t speak any English and has the emotional range of Kristen Stewart. Buckeye born Louie Vito aka “The hardest working man in snowboarding” took home a well-deserved third. As his amplitude goes up so do his chances at beating Shaun head to head. Louie has the edge in the style department, just find a shot of him doing a crail or frontside wall nose grab and you’ll see what I mean. Also would like to acknowledge the most stylish rider of the day, Mr. Scott Lago. After pipe finals he showed up at lunch wearing the hottest Nike Golf gear I’ve seen in sometime now. Oh and I guess his style in the pipe wasn’t too shabby either(the best in fact). Vermonters Kelly Clark, Hannah Teter grabbed 1st and second with young Arielle Gold rounding out the women’s podium. I heard they put on a good show in the afternoon, I was off riding Blue Sky Basin so I couldn’t tell ya, I’m sure reports are accurate.
With the titles and big ass checks handed out, it was time to party(again). Santigold absolutely crushed it even though she was apparently very under the weather having been out riding all day (the altitude can get ya). Vail Village was as packed, if not more so, than it had been the night before for Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. I couldn’t help but wonder what those poor people who had planned a vacation without knowing the Open was going on we’re thinking. I’m sure it was something along the lines of, “Honey, we’re going to Alta next year.” When the concert ended it was time for the after party at the ice area featuring Skratch Bastid + Cosmo Baker . They spun a great mix of oldies, rarities and new stuff. Honestly it could have been a laptop with I-Tunes on shuffle and I would have had a blast. The whole family was in the place, pretty much everyone who was a staple at the old event had made it to Vail. The 2013 U.S. Open wrapped up much the way I’m sure the first one did, a bunch of friends having a damn good time having settled who’s top dog on the hill.
Big thanks to the Carpenters, Nigro, Lauren, Whit, Ricki, Greg & Anne-Marie, Brett, Weatherby and Vail. Truly one of the best weekends I’ve ever had and one that will be hard to top in years to come but I’m sure we’ll find a way.