Brooke Dhondt, Valentino Guseli win Junior Jam at Burton US Open
VAIL – While athletes 14 and younger are eligible to compete in the Burton US Open Junior Jam Halfpipe presented by Clif Bar, this year a pair of 13-year-olds won the boys and girls competitions.
So, while Valentino Guseli and Brooke Dhondt look forward to competing in halfpipe semifinals at the Burton US Open Snowboarding Championships on Thursday, they can also look forward to competing in the junior jam again next year.
“I wanted to podium, but I really didn’t have too much expectation,” Brooke Dhondt said.
Brooke’s mom Colleen Dhondt, however, said she knew the win was a possibility. With the winner receiving an invite into the halfpipe semifinals later in the week, “We booked our room through Thursday,” Colleen Dhondt said.
True students of the junior jam, however, the Dhondts were quick to point out that a competitor has made it all the way through — from the Tuesday junior jam, to the Thursday semi-final, to the Saturday final — so there’s always a chance they’ll need to extend their trip.
“Judd Henkes did it,” Brooke said with a laugh. “But I’m definitely not expecting that.”
In addition to showcasing the youth of the sport, Dhondt and Guseli also exemplify the increasingly international field the junior jam has been attracting. Dhondt is from Canada and Guseli is from Australia, and athletes representing Japan, New Zealand, Great Britain, Switzerland and Germany also competed.
VALENTINO THE VETERAN
While Brooke Dhondt was enjoying her first-ever junior jam, Guseli is a veteran who has been competing in the junior jam since he was 10.
“This is always my most important competition of the year every year,” he said.
After finishing fifth in 2016 and then taking second place in 2017, Guseli said he got a sense that he might win some day. But when he returned in 2018, he realized it wasn’t going to happen that year.
“I was injured so I couldn’t really ride to my potential,” he said.
This year, after falling on his first of two attempts, the nerves set in.
“I was feeling so much pressure, I was going mentally insane, just freaking at the top,” he said. “And then I landed it.”
While the run contained the difficult combination of a frontside 900 to a backside 900, observers said it was his amplitude and smooth pipe riding — reminiscent of a young Henkes — that got him the top score on the day.
“Valentino was going 17 feet out of the pipe,” said Ski & Snowboard Club Vail coach Ronnie Barr. “He definitely deserved the win.”
Ski & Snowboard Club Vail had a large contingent of athletes participating and notched a pair of top-10 finishes in the boys competition, which featured 18 snowboarders.
Edwards resident Kade Martin, after sitting in third for much of the competition, finished in sixth. The 13-year-old said his run was probably biggest and best he has ever landed.
“I’m really happy, since it’s my first year and I made the top six,” Martin said.
Kade’s mother, Anne Martin, said Kade has been working hard to get to the Burton US Open.
“Seven days a week, getting up early, being on the mountain, trying to progress and do new things you’ve never done before, traveling to Europe and the southern Hemisphere, it’s a lot of commitment,” she said.
Hayden Tyler, who lives in Keystone and rides for Ski & Snowboard Club Vail, finished ninth, also landing one of the best runs of his life.
Tyler is 12 and competed in the junior jam last year, where he also finished ninth.
“This year I landed a crippler 720, so I was really stoked on that,” he said.
Coach Barr said he was impressed with the high degree of technicality Tyler showed in his runs. The crippler 720 is an inverted trick where the rider lands in the “switch” or un-natural stance.
“The crippler was super technical but also really big,” Barr said. “I’m proud of him for landing that one.”
The Burton US Open continues Wednesday with slopestyle semifinals, taking place in Golden Peak and scheduled to start at 10 a.m.
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A lot of seemingly random things are in short supply these days — including sports officials. Western Slope sporting events are not far from a scenario where referees are absent as the area is in desperate need of officials.