We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: not only is the US Open Halfpipe the longest-running freestyle contest in snowboarding, it’s the best. The atmosphere’s always electric, the pipe’s always perfect, and the sun always seems to be shining. Sunday’s final was no exception. Read our report of the proceedings here.
First up, the women. While women’s Slopestyle seems locked in a plateau phase, where Jamie Anderson’s regularly winning contests with basically the same run as five years ago, the women’s halfpipe scene is exploding. After a 14-year reign of dominance, veteran Kelly Clark is now battling for her place on the podium with a fresh crop of young pipe rippers like Arielle Gold, Xuetong Cai and the incredibly talented 15-year-old Chloe Kim. Kelly returned to Vail as the defending champion, but it quickly became clear that there’s a new queen in town. Kelly’s first run was classic Kelly Clark – solid amplitude and her trademark Frontside 1080 made for a run that would have almost guaranteed her top honours a few years ago. But it was only good enough for third, as Cai and Kim brushed her aside.
Watch Chloe Kim’s winning halfpipe run
Kim went first, taking the lead with a huge first hit Backside Air followed by massive back-to-back 1080s. Kelly had six tricks in her run: Chloe only fitted in four, which tells its own story about who had all the amplitude. Then came Xuetong Cai: the Chinese skier has been around for a while, but this season she’s tightened up her game and is riding with tons of style and finesse – huge Airs to Fakie on the first hit say it all. Cai’s second run was her best: starting with that sweet Air to Fakie, she linked up a Cab 7, Frontside 9, Backside 5 and Frontside 7 in perfect style, showing excellent style, difficulty, variety and amplitude.
Kelly tried to answer back, but was hurt when she fell heavily in her second run. A diehard competitor, Kelly pushed through the pain and completed her final run, reluctantly settling for a very respectable third. Asked what gaining a place on the podium meant to her, she answered, “This was a big one. You count these things by how much they cost you, and this cost me a lot.”
Kim, last to ride and assured of victory, managed to outdo her first run both in execution and amplitude, making it very clear that she’s the new one to beat. And, if Kelly’s career is anything to go by, Kim will be on top for a long time to come.
Watch the best action of the Women’s Halfpipe Finals
In the men’s event, anticipation levels were cranked about as high as they get. Shaun White, the greatest competitive snowboarder of all time, was back at the US Open after a two-year hiatus. And judging by the ease with which he took the top spot in Thursday’s semi-finals, he started out as still the man to beat – or did he? A lot can happen in two years, and while no single rider’s yet emerged to definitively take over from Shaun, there were plenty of contenders eager to take him on.
The 10-man field was stacked with US and Japanese talent: six Americans and three Japanese riders says a lot about the current state of the discipline.
From Japan, Raibu Katayama qualified second in Thursday’s semis, while defending champion Taku Hiraoka was looking strong. From the US, Ben Ferguson’s an amazing all-rounder who finished third in the semis, just ahead of a newcomer to the US Open, 14-year-old Judd Henkes. Judd had earned his spot the hard way, winning his way through from the Junior Jam. The stage was set for a classic US Open showdown.
Watch Shaun White’s winning halfpipe run
Taku stomped his first run with trademark huge amplitude to establish an early lead in round one – until Shaun, first place qualifier, dropped last, that is. Actions speak louder than words, and in silent answer to the legions of haters and critics, Shaun sent it – big time. Starting on his first hit with one of the biggest airs of all time, El Blanco delivered a run that proved he’s as good as ever. Which means he’s still better than anyone else. With a massive score of 95.62 under his belt, Shaun spent the rest of the contest way out in front – just how he likes it – and the race was on for second and third. Ben managed to overtake Taku on his third run, and that completed the podium. Shaun took his victory lap, throwing buckets of slush into the sky as he surf-slashed his way down the Vail superpipe.
After a horrible display at the Olympics in 2014 and a terrible performance in Slopestyle, Shaun is back in business, and you can tell he’s loving it: “Rumours were flying that I was retiring, but truthfully, right now I feel like I’m just getting started.”
Welcome back, Shaun.
Watch the best action of the Men’s Halfpipe Finals
Burton US Open 2016 Halfpipe Finals results
1. Chloe Kim (USA) 89.37
2. Xuetong Cai (CHN) 82.99
3. Kelly Clark (USA) 79.00
1. Shaun White (USA) 95.62
2. Ben Ferguson (USA) 88.62
3. Taku Hiraoka (JPN) 88.25