VAIL — The Burton U.S. Open Snowboarding Championships will arrive at Vail Mountain in February, establishing a new home for the iconic event that has drawn the world’s best snowboarders to Vermont for the past 30 years.
Vail’s spectator-friendly Golden Peak will anchor the historic contest, with a 22-foot superpipe — the first for Vail Mountain — and a slopestyle course spilling into slopeside viewing areas. The village’s posh Solaris development will serve as a headquarters for the nation’s premiere snowboarding competition, with a snowboarding festival taking over Vail Village from Feb. 25 through March 2 next year.
That’s a soft week for Colorado ski areas, just before the spring break surge. While the U.S. Open regularly draws 30,000-plus spectators to Vermont’s Stratton ski area, attendance isn’t Vail’s primary motivation for landing the prestigious contest featuring the biggest names in snowboarding.
Vail marketing director Adam Sutner calls the U.S. Open “an experiential linchpin” joining the ski town’s Snow Daze, Winter Teva Mountain Games and spring break parties as the dynamic events that will enliven Vail as it celebrates 50 years next season.
“Our skier visit goals are probably pretty modest and inconsequential,” said Sutner of his hill, which regularly hosts about 1.5 million annual skier visits. “There would be easier and less expensive ways to get people here. For me this is about the marriage of two iconic winter brands and it really allows us to speak to audiences we don’t usually reach.”
With Aspen’s X Games, Breckenridge’s Dew Tour and Copper’s Grand Prix, Colorado next season will host the four largest U.S. halfpipe contests in snowboarding. As the 2012-13 season serves as a ramp-up for the 2014 Sochi Winter Games — which will debut skiers in the pipe and both skiers and snowboarders in slopestyle — Colorado becomes the proving ground for even more Olympians.
Next season, skiers and snowboarders chasing Olympic glory will travel exclusively between Colorado, Russia and Europe to ride in the pre-Olympic Sochi events as well as the Winter X Games Europe and the Burton European Open.
Ski Snowboard Club Vail typically sends its halfpipe athletes to Breckenridge to train. Next year the club’s X Games and World Cup athletes will stay closer to home and the younger athletes will get to not only practice in a top-tier pipe and slopestyle course, but hang with the world’s best in their hometown.
“The possibility of having a 22-foot pipe all season long in Vail is a game changer for our up-and-coming half-pipe skiers and snowboarders,” said Aldo Radamus, executive director of Ski Snowboard Club Vail. “Having this opportunity, as well as, the excitement an event like this brings to our community and the state, will be the catalyst to introduce a new generation of champions to the sport.”
Vermont-based Burton is moving its marquee event from its home state after 30 years. Greg Dacyshyn, chief creative officer for the company that has always dominated not just board sales but bindings, apparel and accessories, said it was time to push snowboarding’s first national contest to a higher level.
“We wanted a place that has the amenities, the facilities and the passion to take not just the contest but the whole experience to the next level,” Dacyshyn said. “Everything about this event will be driven by the riders and it’s going to be great. It’s going to be ‘fasten your seatbelts’ for everyone who comes.”
To build the venue, Burton and Vail enlisted Snow Park Technologies, designer and developer of the Winter X Games and Dew Tour venues. Company president Chris Gunnarson recently toured Golden Peak with professional snowboarders Mark McMorris and Kelly Clark. While Burton and Vail officials celebrated the large spectator viewing areas and the proximity of the venue to the Golden Peak base lodge and Vail Village, Gunnarson and the riders delved deeply into slope angles, speed and trajectories.
The slopestyle course will have three “monolithic jumps” and three jib features. The superpipe will be steep and speedy.
“There will be no problem with speed or energy on this course,” Gunnarson told the two riders.
Clark, a Vermont native, said the Vail contest “will have a new life and new identity.”
“It will be different, but change is good, right?” said the 29-year-old, three-time Olympian who saw her streak of 16 consecutive gold medals derailed at last year’s Burton Open when she fell to silver behind Elena Hight. “I’m excited to see what it looks like.”
Jason Blevins: 303-954-1374, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/jasontblevins