Aussie Scotty James tops halfpipe semifinals at Burton US Open in Vail |

Aussie Scotty James tops halfpipe semifinals at Burton US Open in Vail

VAIL — Twenty-nine of the world’s best halfpipe riders competed Thursday in the Burton US Open halfpipe semifinals, with several Eagle County locals and athletes with local ties competing.

Jake Pates, of Eagle, qualified in fourth position. He said Burton’s version of the halfpipe competition this year, where a 13-foot mini-pipe precedes a shortened version of a normal competition venue, made the event more exciting. Pates has competed in the Burton US Open every year since 2013.

“I think mod pipe is the new direction,” he said of the “modified halfpipe” concept.

Rakai Tait, a 2017 Vail Mountain School graduate, impressed crowds with his stylish interpretation of the course, leading the field for much of the first run. Tait, who is also a skateboarder, said he approached the first part of the course as if it was a skate park.

“It took me a couple days to figure it out,” he said. “As you’re riding it, ideas start popping into your head.”

After high school, Tait moved from Eagle County to New Zealand, where he is a member of the national snowboarding team. He said he has enjoyed traveling back to Eagle County for events like the Grand Prix at Copper Mountain and the Burton US Open.

Earlier this season, Tait notched his best performance ever at the World Cup in Mammoth Mountain, where he finished seventh. That was the first time he had ever made finals at a big event. He said he wasn’t expecting to make the finals among the deep field of riders at the Burton US Open, and the fact that he has a guaranteed top 10 finish at the event already makes it among the best competitions of his life.

“I was just stoked that I landed, and then when the score popped up, I was like ‘Oh my God, that’s crazy,’” he said.

Tait said figuring out the course is as much fun as competing in it.

“The coolest thing about this course is deciding what line you’re going to take,” he said. “I can go mini-pipe hit, or I can do the hit out, and you have to ask yourself which you’ll have more fun doing, and which might score better.”

Defending champion Scotty James, who topped the field in Thurday’s semifinals, said the course tests air awareness, board control and “those key fundamentals you learn from a very young age that you don’t get from bouncing on the trampoline or sending yourself into an airbag.”

James said the first time he tried halfpipe snowboarding, in a hand-dug, Australian terrain park, the walls were probably about the same size as the 13-foot mini-pipe on Burton’s course.

“I would say there’s a lot of similarities between this top section in this course to my first pipe experience,” James said.

In the women’s semifinal, Japan’s Ruki Tomita led qualifying ahead of California’s Maddie Mastro and Japan’s Haruna Matsumoto. Also making the six-rider final are China’s Xuetong Cai, China’s Shaotong Wu and Japan’s Mitsuki Ono.

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