The Limelight: Dillon’s Chase Blackwell before the 2017 Burton U.S. Open | SummitDaily.com

The Limelight: Dillon’s Chase Blackwell before the 2017 Burton U.S. Open

Chase Blackwell didn't truly fall in love with snowboarding until he was laid up with a season-ending injury.

In 2014, the Colorado native was training for the U.S. Revolution Tour in his home halfpipe — the Main Vein pipe at Copper Mountain Resort — when disaster struck. He was doing an otherwise stock frontside 540 when his front edge caught, and boom, there went his clavicle, humerus and scapula. He was knocked out cold.

As he says, it was "game over" after the injury, but not for long.

"My time being off really just got me in the right state of mind, so when I got back on snow I knew that this is what I wanted to pursue and do as long as I can," said Blackwell, now 17 years old and headed to his second Burton U.S. Open in Vail this coming week from Feb. 28 to March 4.

A week before the USO, I met with Blackwell for a sometimes snowy, sometimes sunny photo shoot at his home pipe. This kid is fearless — his amplitude and style were on point, even when the snow got thicker and thicker and thicker — and simply looks like he's having the world's best time on a snowboard.

Not only did the injury remind Blackwell how much he loves this sport — it also pushed him to new levels in the national competition circuit. By 2015, he was working with local coach Jim Smith of Jim Smith Snowboarding several times per week in the Copper pipe, moving from 540s to 720s to the big, bad rotations of modern riding: 900s, 1080s and inversions with both. (Next season it's onto 1260s and cab double 1080s.)

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"I try to be a perfectionist, so most of the tricks I do I've done 100 times," Blackwell said of his progression over the past three seasons. "That way they don't scare me as much. So really, to me, it's mostly the new tricks I'm learning (that scare me), but in a good way."

When Blackwell drops into the USO pipe for qualifiers against Danny Davis, Shaun White, Ayumu Hirano and the rest of the world's best pipe riders, he'll be long past those first attempts that make him nervous. He'll also have a few hidden tricks up his sleeve, like the frontside double 1080s he's been perfecting in competitions.

But maybe Blackwell's true claim to fame are old school, steezy-to-the-core straight airs and Cripplers — the bread-and-butter of pros who were around long before he was even alive. He has a nasty method, backside and frontside, and he's one of the only guys in the game to loft a Crippler method on his first hit.

But still: Is he nervous to be on one of the sport's biggest stages, with a short list of the sport's best?

"I would say I'm definitely more comfortable and confident going into this USO," Blackwell said. "I know what it feels like to be dropping in with the best of the best and have a huge crowd there watching you. Also this year, like I've mentioned before, I feel a lot more comfortable with doing my tricks and knowing I've done them many times."

He's come a long way from 540s.

"I really want to take snowboarding professionally as long and as far as I can, but in every professional's career there has to be an end at some point," Blackwell said. "When I get to that point, I'd like to stay connected within the snowboarding community… but still be able to do what I have and always will love to do, and that's snowboard."

Vitals | Chase Blackwell

Age: 17 years old, 14 years on a snowboard

Birthplace: Longmont, Colorado; lives in Dillon

Home mountain: Copper Mountain

Career halfpipe highlights: 10th place Mammoth Grand Prix/World Cup (2017), 4th place Mammoth Rev Tour (2017), 3rd place Copper USASA Nationals Open Class (2016)

Shout outs: First, shouts to my mom and dad, Stacey and Tracy, biggest sponsors and fans of all time, as well as Never Summer, 686, Giro, Union Binding Co., Satellite Boardshop, Wendwax, Antfarm Co., Family Shred and finally U.S. Snowboarding. Also shouts to Ryan Wachendorfer and Toby Miller for always inspiring me and keeping it pushing. Chase Josey, Terje Haakensen, Danny Davis, Eric Jackson, Brett Esser and Jim Smith — all the dudes that have influenced my style since the beginning.

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2017 Burton U.S. Open schedule

All events are held at Golden Peak on the east side of Vail Village. Check the Burton U.S. Open app in mid-February for exact times.

Tuesday, Feb. 28 — Halfpipe Junior Jam

Wednesday, March 1 — Men’s and women’s slopestyle, semifinals

Thursday, March 2 — Men’s and women’s halfipe, semifinals

Friday, March 3 — Men’s and women’s slopestyle, finals

Saturday, March 4 — Men’s and women’s halfpipe, finals

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