Clark rules women’s snowboard superpipe |

Clark rules women’s snowboard superpipe

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Jim Ryan/Special to the Aspen TimesGretchen Bleiler takes a moment to compose herself after crashing on her first run at Saturday's snowboard superpipe finals at Buttermilk.

ASPEN – In a Winter X women’s snowboard superpipe final dominated by low scores and impressive falls – including three from a hometown hero and four-time gold medalist – Kelly Clark helped the sport reach new heights.

In her third and final run Saturday under the lights at Buttermilk, the Vermont native landed a 1080 – the first in a women’s pipe competition. Fellow competitors were waiting in the finish corral to pile on top of her.

That was as close as fellow competitors would get on this night. In the pipe and on the scoreboard, Clark had no equals. She distanced herself from the field with a first-run score of 92.33 and was never tested en route to a convincing victory – her third at Winter X and first since 2006.

An estimated 41,800 spectators witnessed Saturday’s action, setting a single-day attendance record.

Snowmass Village’s Gretchen Bleiler, who last year went toe to toe with Clark for three runs before prevailing with a 96.66, crashed three times and did not crack the 30-point threshold, winding up in last place. Kaitlyn Farrington (85.66) of Salt Lake City finished second, and Elena Hight (80) of South Lake Tahoe, Calif., was third.

“It was an amazing women’s final tonight. Everyone rode so well,” Clark said. “I’m really happy to be back on top. And with such a progressive field, it’s even better.”

Clark, the top qualifier, opened her first run with back-to-back 720s, then mixed in a 900 and two 540s.

“A three-run final is my favorite format,” Clark said. “I wanted to come out and get a solid stock run landed so I could build and progress toward the [1080] tonight.”

Clark was one of only a few riders that were able to land cleanly Saturday, as firm pipe conditions wreaked havoc on much of the field – including Bleiler.

Bleiler’s bid for a record fifth Winter X pipe gold got off to a shaky start; the 29-year-old landed in the flat on an attempted right-side 900, sending her tumbling to the snow. In a scene reminiscent of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, she lay motionless on her back for a few tense moments before sitting up.

Bleiler’s misfortune continued. Her second and third runs ended abruptly with an awkward backseat landing.

Friends and family in the corral were reduced to consoling, not congratulating, Bleiler this time around. She could not be reached for comment afterward.

“You want everyone to come out here and land their best run. It’s hard when you don’t see everyone do that,” Clark said. “One of my favorite events last year was the X Games, when we got to go head to head, run for run. It was just a really fun environment to [be in with a] friend and push each other. It was just a tough night tonight.”

Farrington excelled, however. The 21-year-old, a gold medal winner at Winter X Games Europe last March, landed a clean, if not overly technical first run.

“After that, I knew I could go for it because I had a solid run under my belt,” Farrington said.

Hight, battling an ailing right elbow she suffered during practice Saturday afternoon, was sixth after an opening run which she scrubbed the landing on a backside 900. She rebounded on her second attempt, which featured a 900 and back-to-back 720s.

“With any injury, the adrenaline takes over and really hides the pain,” Hight said. “I’m sure it will hurt a lot more [later].”

Neither Hight nor Farrington could improve their scores in the final run. After Bleiler’s fall, Clark’s victory was secure.

There was only one more thing to do.

“It’s something I’ve been working on for a long time,” Clark said. “I couldn’t pick a better place to land it.”

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