Coming off the most progressive year in halfpipe snowboarding's history, the athletes at Saturday's Visa U.S. Halfpipe Grand Prix could be forgiven for not ushering in the new season with any unprecedented wizardry.
Instead, U.S. riders Louie Vito and Kaitlyn Farrington stuck to reliable tricks to win the first major pipe competition of the Northern Hemisphere winter at Copper Mountain, Colo., which received nearly 18 inches of snow in the 24 hours preceding the contest.
Vito, 22, stomped back-to-back double cork 1080s -- frontside to cab, a combo he has "pretty much on lock" -- to eke past Luke Mitrani, 27.9 points to 26.7. Mitrani also landed two clean double corks but did not do them in succession, which distinguished the two impressive runs.
For Vito, Saturday's victory was his second in three years at the Copper Grand Prix, sandwiched around a runner-up finish to Shaun White last year, when both went on to compete at the Olympics. Vito followed his perfectly executed first two hits with a frontside stiffy, a backside 9 and a front 10 -- all of which featured solid amplitude, which hasn't always been his strength.
He considered trying to add a third double cork to his final run, but settled for a (doomed) front 1260 attempt due to the slow pipe and the fact that riders must incorporate a straight air in any F.I.S. competition, he said. Vito has landed three double corks in a run three times in his career, the most recent of which was this summer in New Zealand.
"I was just trying to keep a good line, because if you messed up a little bit, you paid for it in speed," he said. "So I was trying to land everything solid and then just ride the edge across. It wasn't too bad."
For Mitrani, his second-place finish marked the best Grand Prix result of his career, which began when he hit the national scene as a 4-foot-tall phenom. "I've been doing these contests since I was 12 or 13 years old," the 20-year-old said.
Scotty Lago, a surprise participant at this competition, pieced together a clean if slightly less technical run to take third with 25.5 points. Matt Ladley (25.3) and JJ Thomas (25.0) made it an all-American top five. Top qualifier Tore Holvik of Norway washed out on his final hit during each of his two runs.
Farrington's winning run, meanwhile, was highlighted by a backside 900 on her second hit and featured clean grabs as well as back-to-back 720s, good enough for a 28.3. Just two days prior, Farrington had tried 20 backside 9s and landed only four, she said.
Saturday's win was the first time Farrington had beaten Kelly Clark, the most decorated pipe rider in history.
"I never really thought this day would come that I would beat her," said Farrington, a Sun Valley, Idaho, rider who turns 21 in a week. "I can't believe it because she's always been an idol to me. It's an amazing feeling."
It was her second major victory, following a win at the European X Games last March. Since then, she's signed with a number of new sponsors, including The North Face and Vitamin Water.
"Things have definitely started changing in the past six months for me," Farrington said. "I think I've just grown up as a rider and just have become a lot stronger. I didn't think it would happen this quickly."
Clark said she had to change her planned run on the fly due to the snowy pipe bottom. After her first run, which included two 720s, a straight air and two 540s, she said: "I've never done a run like that."
She later said her second-place finish was "what I was capable of today."
Rana Okada of Japan (24.2) rounded out the women's podium.
A number of riders training in Summit County elected to sit out the Grand Prix, including 2006 Olympic gold medalist Hannah Teter and 2010 Olympic silver medalist Peetu Piiroinen of Finland. Piiroinen arrived in Colorado on Tuesday night but needed some extra rest, according to Finnish coach Pekka Koskela.