Breckenridge’s Eric Willett continuing comeback at Burton US Open in Vail
The professional snowboarding circuit returns to Colorado this week with the 33rd Burton U.S. Open Snowboarding Championships in Vail. For Breckenridge snowboard pro Eric Willett, it will be an opportunity for a second podium appearance in as many weeks — this time in front of a Colorado home crowd.
“I love having events close to home. Even though it’s in Vail it still has a hometown feel,” the 27-year-old said between practice sessions at Vail Mountain Tuesday, adding that he was excited to have family and friends on hand for the event.
Willett won slopestyle in the season’s final U.S. Grand Prix stop in Park City, Utah, last Friday, and he’s hoping to hold onto some momentum following an injury-marred 2013-14 season.
“The Grand Prix was rad,” Willett said. “It was the first time I was back on the podium since my injury.”
A contender for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team last February, Willett broke his back during training for a Winter Games qualifier at Copper Mountain Resort in December 2013. He returned to snow in the spring but not in time to compete.
Following a summer of training in New Zealand and Australia, December’s 2014 Dew Tour in Breckenridge was Willett’s first real return to competition since the injury. He just missed qualifying for finals in slope.
“I was still pretty stoked on my riding,” Willett said of his performance. “That was a big accomplishment.”
His return to peak form hit another stumbling block just before the X Games, however, when he suffered a separated shoulder in training.
“I wanted to try to ride if I could,” but after consulting with U.S. team physicians he opted out of the event.
Even with last week’s win and with the shoulder feeling good, Willett said he has room for improvement after missing time on the snow during the last two winters. “I know that there’s more that I have to do,” he said. “Progression is the name of the game. I know that I’m a little behind on that.”
With some of the world’s top halfpipe and slopestyle snowboarders coming to Vail this week, Willett will have his work cut out for him.
“It’s going to be really good,” he said of the slopestyle competition. “We’ll see a ton of double corks and some triple corks. It’s a pretty steep run so you should have plenty of speed.”
The four-day event at Golden Peak kicks off Wednesday, March 4, in the terrain park and halfpipe with slopestyle qualifiers, followed by the opening rounds of men’s and women’s halfpipe Thursday. Finals start Friday and run through Saturday.
“The vibe here is awesome,” Willett said, describing the atmosphere of the event. “It’s been a contest that’s been around for so long.”
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