The 35th edition of the Burton U.S. Open featured some of the world’s best snowboard halfpipe riders, but it was the homestanding members of Team USA, led by emerging superstar Chloe Kim and established legend Shaun White, who ruled Saturday in Vail, Colorado.
The women’s final was shaping up to be an all-American contest between reigning U.S. Open champion Kim, teammate Maddie Mastro and veteran Kelly Clark, an eight-time U.S. Open winner. Only two points separated the three Americans in qualifying, but a training crash forced Clark to withdraw from the final, leaving Kim and Mastro to slug it out.
With Clark looking on, Elena Hight saw her opportunity to make an impact and she did just that. Laying in the weeds until the final run, this year’s X Games Aspen gold medalist cranked up her amplitude and strung together back-to-back 900s to slip past Mastro into second place with an 80.12, bettering Mastro’s second-run 78.25 and locking down the American podium sweep.
With her second consecutive U.S. Open crown neatly tucked away, Kim wasn’t content just taking a victory lap on her third run. Reflecting the joy of feeling like her old self after the grind of international travel led to a pair of missed podiums, she flashed the form that gained her the world cup crystal globe by going bigger, improving her winning score to 87.12.
Kim had an impressive win streak of eight straight contests from January 2016-January 2017, but it ended when she earned bronze at X Games Aspen. After following that up with two fourth-place finishes at world cups, Saturday marked Kim’s return to the top of the podium.
“I was so hyped to be riding like myself again,” she said in a post-race TV interview. “It’s been a little rough these past few weeks – I’m happy to feel normal again. I was able to go home for a little bit and hang out with my puppy before this contest. It was a lot more mellow and I was done with traveling super-crazy internationally.”
On the men’s side, 2017 X Games Aspen champ Scotty James of Australia led the field in qualifying, but White was right on his heels in second, only 0.25 points back and ready to defend his 2016 U.S. Open title. As the finals began, the late afternoon sun influenced the competition, softening the frontside wall, conditions that led to only four clean runs as riders looked to lay down an impressive first run.
James, the newly crowned world cup champion, led after the first run with an 82.2, but White nailed his second run, highlighted by a cab double cork 1440 on his third hit, to launch to the top of the board with a 92.7, putting pressure on his Australian nemesis to produce on his last trip down the pipe. James couldn’t answer, falling on his second hit to give White yet another U.S. Open title. Chase Josey took third with his first run score of 79.8.
In the wake of his victory, White already was looking forward to next season and beyond.
“Come next season I’m going to be a completely different rider,” he said. “I’m going to be on another level hopefully. It’s so funny because I keep hearing from people about this Olympics and what not. I’m already thinking about China (and the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games).”
The U.S. Open sets up riders for next week’s world championships, slated for March 10-11 in Sierra Nevada, Spain.