The Burton European Open: Finals Saturday and Dry Cleaning with Snow

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Saturday: perfect day for a party. After a week of boosting snowboarding beyond its frontiers, the Burton European Open reached its final day for 2012. The weather was again sun and sweat, perhaps better for the crowd than the halfpipe itself, but the following days’ forecast spelled a gloomy change to clouds and frozen slush. Without delay, the pipe finals were stratospheric, in accord with this year’s astronaut theme, and even the evening of festivities was a smash.

Saturday, however, is also one of those days when the feared and loathed weekend warriors take to the snowy hills. The lift lines were for real, unlike during the previous days. So real it took us twice as long, about an hour, to go from slope-side hotel to the top of the pipe. Waiting was a cultural experience, though—lots of chatter in German, some in Italian, and quite a few awesome one-piece snow suits.

Unfortunately, this prevented me from catching the women’s final. I regret not having set my alarm for earlier, and I sincerely apologize. The late nights are to blame. Meanwhile, some of the slopestyle riders were sessioning that course, just for kicks, and I missed that too. Loser!

But—I saw all three runs of the men’s final, talked with women’s pipe winner Kelly Clark, and did some investigative reporting on the chairlift. This last bit was particularly insightful. A friend and I went for a cruise during the men’s warm-up and found sloppy moguls all the way down, already, before noon. We took the singles line to get out of the inferno. On the way up I had a wide row of planks and one snowboard next to me.

“You guys going to watch the finals?” I asked. Silence.

Finally the rider responded: “Is it here in Laax?”

He then asked if this was the World Championships. No, I told him, that just went down in Oslo. “The X-Games?” Fortunately not. After that came the cherry on top: “Is Shaun White here?”

“No,” I replied, “but who cares, there are lots of other rippers to watch.”

What a confused guy. He needs a new crew to ride with.

Showtime in the melting pipe. People were lined up on both sides, from top to bottom, roasting. Kelly said she was glad the girls went first—the women’s semi-finals were held after the guys’, so all was fair. Still, lay on some Euro electro music and who wouldn’t want to ride a soft, fun pipe under the Swiss blue yonder? The spacesuit-clad commentators picked up their mics and the next two hours were all astronomy.

NB: for a thorough, or not, account of each rider’s score and all the crazy tricks they did, kindly refer elsewhere.

The scene between the drop-in ramps was all-star. Bibbed riders anxiously paced around, or meditated, or drank water, or conferred with coaches. And Kelly Clark wasn’t the only top-shelf shredder in attendance: add Thomas Keller, Torgeir Bergrem, Queralt Castellet, and Marko Grilc (rocking Jeff Anderson tribute T-shirt) to name a few.

The sixteen finalists represented eight different flags, with only Danny Davis in the name of North America. Later he said he was surprised to be the only Yankee in the men’s finals, but there weren’t many in the contest to begin with. We were a minority, but the podiums were splashed in stars and stripes (sorry Canada).

Anyway, the action: what to say? A galaxy of big, spinny airs that I find hard to identify. “Backside 9 in the sunshine,” said a commentator, pushed to poetry by heat delirium, perhaps. Iouri “Ipod” Podladtchikov, today’s victorious cosmonaut, combated the high temps with tricked-out, ventilated grey sweatpants, something no one else would dare wear in the pipe. Hopefully they will not become a fad. Ipod’s victory lap, however, was rad, a series of lofty straight airs I easily named and admired, the methods especially. Missed the photos, though.

Danny Davis dressed normal and got second place. He was happy with that, and so was his pal Kevin Pearce who posed for photos with fans at the awards ceremony. Bravo, guys. Meanwhile, my buddy who got cross-checked by a loose skier (see the first BEO post) was back on it, stoking the pre-party, face protected by Band-Aid, Laphroaig, and Calandra. Once back in the hotel, Jack Mitrani’s guitar and voice combined with a loud and laughing crew of Japanese celebrating Ryo’s third place, plus the sound of packing and zippers—next stop, Stratton—as the party began.

Off to the bar! For tonight it was the Riders’ Palace, a multi-storey affair with surf and snow vids on TV, and a huge concert hall downstairs. By midnight the schnapps and brew were working their charm, and glasses began slipping from hands to crash and provoke laughter. Live bands played, but were too noisy for conversation. Outdoors, the smokers smoked things brown and/or green in the beer garden.

I went to check the open air scene and found a shiny Airstream trailer that had been converted into a hot dog stand. They sold beer too, so I got two of those and one frankfurter, out of instinct. My fellow US of A’ers, Danny and Jack, were already on it, paying with US dollars even, and hauling off plates requiring two hands and a fork and knife. “It’s more like a hamburger than a hot dog,” observed Jack as he inspected the toppings: lettuce, tomato, pickles, onion, etc. Something must have gone wrong when the Swiss translated the recipe, but at 2:30 a.m. we pounded them as if on a NYC sidewalk.

A bouncer led a local guy out, barf showing on the drunk guy’s sleeve. “Let’s clean that off with some snow,” said the big man—problem solved, in the Swiss fashion. The party wouldn’t stop. One of the TV announcers ripped his T-shirt in two, then knocked back another shot of transparent schnapps. And so went the rest of the final evening as the BEO consumed itself.

Kelly Clark summed it up best, commenting on the weather and also on the general vibe: “It’s like Spring Break, or a Euro Ski Vacation.” Party, ride, discover the quirks and awesomeness of Swiss and Euro culture. The pro snowboarding circuit goes on holiday together. Everyone loves coming to the BEO. There’s a wacky theme each year, Laax is badass and so is the new Rocks Resort where we stayed, the whole event is über-organized, while the mood is festive and chill.

Without the BEO, the annual contest zoo would be too serious. Most of us don’t compete, but we still ought to thank Burton for throwing down at their BEO because the mission is vital—keeping the fun in snowboarding. Contests have become big business, remember, developed by non-snowboarding entities. Props, then, to the Burton Europe crew, to Birgit in particular, for inviting frequency TSJ to the party, and for reminding me why I began riding in the first place.

13th annual Burton European Open: wrapped and sent. Over and out, till next year . . .


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