The 30th anniversary of the 2012 Burton US Open presented by MINI wrapped up last weekend at Stratton Mountain, with more than $100,000 in prizes and a pair of MINI Countryman vehicles awarded to the top competitors. Fresh snow and sunny skies brought out the crowds for the halfpipe competition on Saturday.The beauty of the Open is that it's an event anyone can win at—and it always has been. While men's halfpipe winner Shaun White was in and out, coming to the event for just over a 24-hour period and leaving after the awards ceremony in a private helicopter, there was also local rider 20-year-old Benji Farrow (from Okemo, Vermont) who grabbed third and was in the finals for the first time after competing at the Open for six years.
"To do it here in my home state, close to my home town when it turned 30 years old was a nice redemption," he said, commenting that for the last two years he had been nipping at everyone's heels.
Women's halfpipe winner Elena Hight (USA), who knocked out longtime champion Kelly Clarke's 16-competition winning streak, was in shock about her win, but attributed it to a new trick she's been working on: the alley oop backside rodeo along with back-to-back 900s.
"It's a legendary event and to win at the 30th is amazing—I'm beyond happy," said Hight, who first came to the Open when she was 13.
The weeklong competition was much more than just Saturday's halfpipe action. The Washed Up Cup kicked off weekend festivities on Friday night. Riders went old school wearing hard boots and maneuvering around gates hitting a kicker at the end. Early Burton competitors like Scott Palmer, Ian Price, and Andy Coghlan came out for the fun, along with many others including Tricia Byrnes and Ross Powers. Some riders used original gear from the era.
"That was about as close as you get to the early days," said Todd Kohlman, Burton's archivist. "Everyone was hooting and hollering and just cheering people on—it was a cool feeling to be a part of that," he continued, adding that in the initial days of racing downhill, the equipment was in such an early development state that it was a challenge just to make it down the hill.
The Open has come a long way from its start in 1982 at Suicide Six, a small mountain in central Vermont, where a bunch of riders held a downhill race and called it the first National Snowboarding Championships. From there it went to Snow Valley.
"When Snow Valley—this little place we rode at down the road here—went out of business, Stratton was cool enough to let us ride here and have the event here so the Open was back on," said Jake Burton, when asked about one of the Open's biggest challenges over the last 30 years. "For a while there, we had no place to do it. It was an emergency crisis situation but it worked out—Stratton rescued us."
At that point, in 1985, it officially became the US Open Snowboarding Championships and grew every year to the multi-title event it is today, sparking the Olympics, Winter X Games and other events along the way, while inspiring athletes to do things never seen before.
One of the most memorable moments for Jake, who started it all, was "when Terje Haakonsen went off. Snowboarding at the time was going in the direction of getting very technical and to win events you had to do technical tricks. And he did technical tricks but did them twice as big as anyone had ever done them and it was such an eye-opening experience that brought amplitude back into the event and it's been there ever since including Shaun today," he said.
Jake also reflected on a pivotal time for snowboarding as a sport looking back on the last 30 years. "The whole process of getting on resorts and dealing with what was perceived as behavioral issues, which is hard to rationalize as young people got back on the hill and all the baggage that comes along with it which we all love and should be on mountains," he said. "Riding that all out through some tense moments, but the sport is what got us through because it's so solid and great nobody could stop it," he added.
It wasn't long after those tense moments that snowboarding hit the big time making its Olympic debut in Nagano, Japan, in 1998. After the Salt Lake Games in 2002, 30,000 spectators showed up at Stratton to watch stars compete at the Open and in 2003, the Open was broadcast live on TV and has been ever since.
Through the 2000s, the sponsor village grew and many come to Stratton to just hang out in the village, occasionally glancing at the big screen nearby to keep an eye on the action.
This year's village had several new sponsors, including 3M, makers of Thinsulate insulation, which recently signed a multi-year agreement with Burton. "This is a different demographic and a great one for us. The kids are excited—they're growing up with this," said Joe Otte, 3M global business manager.
Burton also had a retail store, modeled after the Stone Hut at the top of Stowe. "We thought this would be a great opportunity to present our spring/summer line to people here so they can see the different things Burton has like rainwear, packs and hoodies," said Eric Bergstrom, Burton's director of retail operations, who added that Burton's growing its year-round business.
The usual shenanigans provided great entertainment for those who watched volunteers compete in a multi-step challenge in which they had to strip down to their boxers, run up a snow-covered hill, and find a "babe" to bring back to the MC. All this to get some schwag.
Other kids competed in hula-hoop contests or amused themselves going over mini-jumps and a mini rail jam. The gear toss had kids and adults jumping over each other to grab shirts, packs, and other booty.
Seeing the stars, getting some sun, and going home with stickers and a free hat made it all worthwhile for spectators as well as the Open winners.
Follow the jump for a stroll down the Burton US Open memory lane: