Thursday's Slopestyle qualifiers couldn't have gone down with better weather: sunny, balmy, and just a bit of breeze rustling the trees. The booters were in shapely condition: "Fun, fast and not too tight," according to Chas Guldemond. While Guldemond might've gotten a hot lap in, and Marko Grilc and Jamie Anderson could be seen course-side checking out the action, the focus was on 80-plus largely unknown men and women riders. Only a handful from each of the men's and women's fields get to move on to ride with top international pros like Grilc and Anderson, but for all of them it's a chance they wouldn't get to take usually, outside the unique open qualifying format of the U.S. Open.
"It gives all these young riders a chance to come out and ride with the big names," said rising slope star Eric Willett, who was sitting trailside watching the men's heats. "There's been a lot of sick riding going on that not many people have noticed, but will start noticing in the future for sure."
Connecting big spins down the triple jump line seemed to be the deciding factor for the men. New Hampshire local Danny Toumarkine was linking back-to-back 9s into a 1080, earning the course-side peanut gallery applause and a spot in Friday's semi-finals. Also moving up was Norwegian charger Ulrik Badertscher, whose double backside rodeo landed him the second highest score of the day.
Riders like Toumarkine made their mark for the day. But compared to what Willet predicted it'll take to podium on Friday -- "a bunch of doubles and a bunch of 12s" -- we'll hope to see a few more rotations and flips out of these unknown soldiers in the coming days.
In the women's field, a baseline of connecting solid 3s down the triple line and tackling the cannon-box at the bottom of the course was enough to knock out most contenders. But one Coloradan, Heather Baroody, sent a solid backy off the top jump, before moving into the aforementioned line. After a heater of a slopestyle comp at Winter X and Winter X Europe, I for one, am hoping we might get a mystery appearance from Janna Meyen-Weatherby.
Down the hill, Halfpipe practices were on. A clutch of riders -- from Olympic medalists like Peetu Piiroinen to unsung shredders -- were all warming up for Saturday's finals.
Louie Vito said he was tired from such a huge year, and thinking of not coming, then realized it was the "best way to cap off the year. It's fun, it's warm -- without the U.S. Open, it'd be awkward." Vito said he was pumped to ride with Scotty Lago, the Mitrani brothers and a recovered Mason Aguirre. And, he added, "There's always going to be someone who will surprise you -- I'm excited to see someone that I don't know about just pop up. People step it up every year at the Open."
Check back Friday for full coverage of Men's and Women's Slopestyle finals and the Black and Night rail jam from Stratton, Vt.