VAIL - Olympic halfpipe gold- and silver-medalist Hannah Teter said the Vail superpipe is a seven-hitter, meaning athletes can fit in one more trick during a run than the typical six tricks they're used to throwing in events like the X Games.
It's because Vail's pipe is 600 feet long - roughly 25 feet longer than the typical competition pipe.
The pipe was built and designed by Snow Park Technologies, the company that builds the pipes at the X Games, Dew Tour and other major events. The company's crew arrived in Vail about two weeks ago to work the mounds of snow into a venue suitable for riders like Shaun White and Kelly Clark, and the initial reaction after Monday's practice was good.
"I like it," Teter said.
Snow Park Technologies owner Chris Gunnarson knew right away when he saw the layout at Golden Peak last summer that the venue would be perfect for the U.S. Open.
"Here, you've got this awesome spectating amphitheater at the bottom, the proximity to the pipe is incredibly close, (and Vail has) a phenomenal snowmaking system right there," Gunnarson told the Vail Daily in July. "It's got some really good pitch changes. It's a little shorter than some of the other courses, but we have some creative ways because of how wide it is at the top, that we're going to get wide before we get narrow. It's all part of the creative process and I think it's going to be incredible - such a great venue."
Athletes hit the slopestyle course and the pipe Monday for the first of two scheduled practices before competition begins Wednesday. Clark, Teter, Iouri Podladtchikov, Gretchen Bleiler and 14-year-old Japanese sensation Ayumu Hirano - who just won the Burton European Open earlier this month and picked up a silver medal at the X Games in superpipe - were among the riders who arrived in Vail Monday.
The Burton U.S. Open has been a long time coming. While the announcement was only made last July that the event would be moving to Vail from Vermont, where it had been held for 30 years, the planning has actually been going on for a few years, said Bryan Rooney, senior manager of Vail Mountain Operations.
The physical labor to build the courses and features began more recently. Snow Park Technologies built features at its headquarters outside of Reno, Nev., while Vail Mountain started making snow for the event around the beginning of the year, Rooney said.
Vail Mountain also got major support for Ski and Snowboard Club Vail, which helped the resort get a 22-foot cutter for the pipe. Because of that support, the pipe was able to open to the public in January and will be open to the public all season - except during the Burton U.S. Open - every year.
A big difference about the layout of the slopestyle and superpipe venues between Vail and Stratton, Vt., is that Vail's venues are side-by-side. Rooney thinks it will create a much more spectator-friendly event.
But there's also a difference between the superpipe and the slopestyle course in that the latter was not, is not and will not be open to the public - ever.
"Once the Open is over, we'll dismantle it," Rooney said. "No one gets to train on it or utilize these features except for these athletes competing here."
Those athletes will be going big. Some of the practice runs Monday afternoon looked more like the final competition runs. Their energy is likely to be contagious this week. Rooney said that for Vail Mountain, and for the town, the energy is already high.
"The vibe has been so great - really positive," Rooney said. "Everyone has been extremely excited to have a large-scale event like this back in Vail."