Reporting from the Burton European Open: Halfpipe Semis

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Surf, skate, snow—they’re all in the halfpipe. The pipe is pure tradition, our roots in the waves and concrete that spawned snow shredding. It is also the symbol of freestyle riding, and has been the arena for crowning freestyle champs since airs were born. The US Open ran its first pipe event in 1988, giving moguls their debut at the same time. The following year, Craig Kelly claimed his first halfpipe win; the moguls had already been returned to their owners.

It’s fun to compare the footage of those early years with what goes down today. Compare the hand-dug, flat-to-kink walls of back then to the modern superpipe’s 20-plus feet high, machine-sculpted mega-ramps. From biplane to space shuttle—progression earned and achieved. We should be proud of our snowy halfpipe. Others wish they could hit it with such natural expression and explosion. Instead, they have the moguls uncontested.

To me, the halfpipe is more naturally suited to spectating than the slopestyle course is. A rider’s spray will spatter your sunglasses, they fly so close by. You can watch an entire run from wherever you stand, rather than needing TV. And the pipe deck is a great place to hang out, sip frosty cold ones, lob snowballs at friends on the opposite side.

And what better weather for fun pipe sessions than the calm, sun-lathered sky we had at the Burton European Open all last week in Laax? Even if the coping’s blue line bled a few feet down the wall like 2000 Flushes, the slushy softness produced a pipe the riders were stoked on. “It’s super fun,” was the answer to “How’s the pipe?”. Jack Mitrani likened the mountains’ overall condition to summertime Mt. Hood. If the point of the BEO is to rip and have fun snowboarding, this was the appropriate atmosphere.

The semi-finals are long like weekend lift lines. As with slopestyle, this is the phase when the gladiators successful in qualifications meet the invited riders. That meant sixteen women and thirty-two men, sweating in the heats. All under the chairlift, too, which promised dope photo angles for those with lucky timing. And thanks to that chair’s positioning it also meant laps on Snowpark Curnius! My plan was flawless—circulate down the slopes, slashing through the slop, then ride up with camera at the ready. My luck, though, was flawed, alas. I mainly got shots of riders waiting to drop in, the pipe empty. Snapped Cilka Sadar in a sick stalefish, though. Either way, the snowboarding was fun, so, whatever . . .

One of those laps will cruise forever through my memory. “I Ride with for Kevin” says a sticker found on the Frends crew’s boards. Kevin Pearce himself has one between his bindings. KP was everyone’s hero, champ, and inspiration at this year’s BEO. His recovery has been incredible, so strong that he can even strap in and go sideways again. It’s mellow, his new way of riding, yet every so often he’ll extend a quick method, smooth like an eagle aloft, and that’s when you say: “Wait . . . this guy’s got style.” I said that a few times as a friend and I rode Curnius with Kevin. Pure snowboarding stoke, the BEO working its magic.

As for pipe semis day, there’s not much else to say that I haven’t exposed in other posts: laps, slush, good times and a bit of partying. This lets me comment quickly on two things that struck me while in Laax.

First, the name Crap. Crap Sogn Gion (or “St. John’s stone” in a Swiss dialect) was the site of the halfpipe and slopestyle, and drop-off point for Snowpark Curnius. Near the slopestyle course was a Crap Lift. Signs pointed to other Crap, like Crap Masegn-Vorab, probably an awesome place when covered with powder. Laax is one of the Alps’s finest resorts, and they have supported snowboarding for thirty years now. They’re on our side, and that’s probably why the Indy Bar (not exactly a ski trick) sits directly across from the Crap Bar, an establishment we riders had no need to set foot in.

Second, a howl of nostalgia. Our rooms were nice, so elegant—all stone and wood—and comfortable that they stood as proof of snowboarding’s adulthood. So much for cramming riders on locals’ beer-stained floors. Now they get deluxe beds and down duvets. The downside, though, to such fancy accommodation is that too many details have been considered. For example, the windows would only open 4 inches. So how the hell do you throw a mattress out, followed by an empty bottle of Jack? Besides, even if someone did break the window’s hinges they would still need to—what?—unzip the mattress that is secured 360 degrees around the bed frame. It seems such entertainment is seen more in old snowboard movies than in person these days. I’m not sure that is a good thing. From mayhem to Twitter and personal websites. What a shame. No progress here.

Next and final post: Halfpipe Finals! Climax at Laax! The BEO’s apogee! Parties with hamburgery hot dogs and even some puke! Broken glass! ¡Viva el snowboarding!


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