Vail Veteran rider Kelly Clark and 16-year-old Arielle Gold continued this season’s half-pipe domination on Thursday morning during the Burton U.S. Open women’s half-pipe semifinals in Vail.
After the first run, Steamboat's Gold was on top and Clark was sitting in second. They flip-flopped places after their second runs for the overall finish, advancing with ease to Saturday’s final.
The day started out frigid, with temperatures near zero when the ladies hit the pipe at 8 a.m. for practice runs. Clark said the weather made it hard to get her body warmed up, but she was happy the sun came out in time for competition.
Gold said the positive side of the cold weather is that it keeps the pipe firm and prevents it from getting beaten up. Gold put down a frontside 900, backside 540, frontside 720, cab 720 and a frontside 540 to put her in first place after the first run. She didn’t improve her first score, 80.3, on her second run.
“I feel really good. I think it’s going to be an awesome contest,” Gold said.
While Clark and Gold put down strong runs as expected, two big surprises came out of the women’s race: Aspen rider Gretchen Bleiler, in her second competition since being seriously injuried in a training accident last summer, put down solid runs and made it into the final; and Elena Hight, who has been strong this season, failed to qualify for Saturday’s final.
Bleiler improved on her first run and threw tricks including an inverted frontside 540, cab 720 and frontside 720 stale during her second run. When she finished, she was sitting in sixth place, the dreaded “bubble” seat because only the top six women qualify for finals and Bleiler knew Hight, who was the final rider, could knock her out.
“I had one of the best runs I’ve had all season in practice today, so that’s a huge step forward,” Bleiler said. “That run that I just had, I felt good about it, but it’s not my best. That run in practice was my best. It was bigger and cleaner. It was on. It was everything I needed to do.”
Bleiler had reconstructive surgery on her eye socket after her accident last year. She was worried her vision would never improve, so putting down clean runs at the Burton U.S. Open is major progress in her recovery.
“I feel really good about it — good steps forward,” Bleiler said.
On the men’s side, Steamboat Springs’ Taylor Gold qualified seventh and will compete in Saturday’s finals. Taylor Gold’s best run included tricks like a frontside 1080, cab 1080, a “Michael Chuck,” and a frontside double cork 1080.
“I didn’t know that it was enough. It’s almost everything I can do,” Taylor Gold said. “It’s pretty hard to qualify. This is a huge event.”
Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club member Benji Farrow also made the finals, qualifying in 11th.
Luke Graham contributed to this report.