Vans Triple Crown
Breckenridge, Colorado December 15, 2002
Hell, pick 'em all. They're all words used variously by competitors describing the Breckenridge Super Pipe used this weekend for the opening event of the Vans Triple Crown of Snowboarding. You might notice the lack of synonyms for "warm and fuzzy."
That's because everything about the Mountain Dew Pro Nationals event in Breck this weekend was cold and hard, big and scary, raw and untamed.Email this story to a friend
The Super Pipe sent one of the winners to the hospital. Others didn't get past the Slopestyle. The Rail Jam was a total crap shoot.
"I'm just happy to be done with the first event," said Olympic Super Pipe bronze medalist JJ Thomas, a Breckenridge Team Rider who finished seventh in Sunday's pipe contest. "I'm glad I made it through healthy, especially in this monster pipe. It's burly. Pretty scary."
Others weren't so fortunate, such as women's pipe champion Kjersti Oestgaard Buaas, who crashed on her third run of the contest and slapped her skull on the icy, rock-hard walls of the pipe, foregoing the winner's podium for a trip to the emergency room.
Before the fall, however, the Norwegian Buass blew away the field with a series of massive airs, highlighted by a huge frontside 540 melon grab on her first hit out of the pipe followed by an equally large air-to-fakey. Her winning score of 91.3 points bested that of second-place finishers and Olympic silver medalist Dorian Vidal of France by more than 10 points and third-place finisher Anne Molin Kongsgaard of Mammoth, Calif. by 11 points.
"She definitely deserved to win," said Gretchen Bleiler of Snowmass, Colo., who finished sixth with a score of 76.5. "She went way bigger than anyone else."
In contrast to Buaas' convincing victory, only half a point separated the top three men in Super Pipe competition, with Luke Wynen of Reading, Pa. (and now Mammoth), taking control on his first run and hanging on for the slim victory despite falling on his final attempt. Wynen's score of 88.3 points was just enough to hold off Steve Fisher of St. Louis Park, Minn., with 88.0 and Rob Kingwell of Jackson Hole, Wyo., with 87.8. Breckenridge Team Rider Chad Otterstrom placed fourth (85.0) on his home pipe.
"Today was amazing. It was a real blessing from God to be here," Wynen said. "I actually wasn't going to come to the contest and I just kind of decided to show up. Practice went pretty horrible all three days, this morning too. …But the first run came together and that's what worked out for me. It was amazing."
Dismissing possible retirement from the sport this season, Wynen, 25, stepped up to claim the $12,000 winner's take with a smooth run highlighted by a big McTwist indie grab, frontside cork 720 melon grab and Cab 540 stalefish.
"This halfpipe is huge, and it's actually really good," he said. "All week I was really worried. It's pretty ominous looking - steep, icy, angry and big. It's just nice to land on your feet and not your back or your head."
The same could be (and was) said of Saturday's slopestyle course, a daunting series of rocket launchers and rail slides that sent at least one rider down the mountain in a patroller's toboggan. Still, Etienne Gilbert of Canada managed to find the course's flow and take home the $12,000 (U.S.) winner's purse with a top score of 79.8 points among the men. American Josh Dirkson of Oregon finished second with 79.0 points followed by George Oakley, also of Oregon, with 78.7 points.
All things considered, however, Gilbert found Breck's early season vibe to his liking.
"There was so much snow up there. It was good," Gilbert said. "If you look at the size of the jumps up there, it's a lot of snow. This is basically the best stuff you could ride in North America, you know? So I was stoked about that."
In the women's Slopestyle, Jennifer Jones of England took home $8,000 for first place with a score of 82.2 points, followed by Jaime Macleod of New Hampshire with 76.3 points and Anne Molin Kongsgaard of Norway with 68.8.
Some of the sport's heaviest hitters, including Thomas and Olympic gold medalist Kelly Clark of Vermont, opted out of Slopestyle competition, saving themselves for Sunday's Super Pipe event. After qualifying first, Olympic silver medalist Danny Kass settled for 10th place in the Slopestyle and hometown hero Todd Richards, another former Olympian, slipped all the way to 29th.
Kass struggled throughout the weekend, failing to make the cut for Super Pipe finals - his strongest event - after falling twice in Saturday's qualifying rounds.
Scott Willoughby, MountainZone.com correspondent