Vermont Open: A success for Stratton, surrounding area

Tuesday March 19, 2013

STRATTON -- The Vermont Open, a new snowboard and music festival, has had its first annual event and it will be in the place of the U.S. Open, which had previously been held at Stratton Mountain Resort.

"We had a lot of support to get this thing going and it showed," said Stratton Mountain Resort Communications Coordinator Meryl Robinson. "It was great. The setup was gorgeous and the riders were unbelievable."

She told the Reformer that the event had "an interesting vibe... (with) legends who have skied here for 30-40 years."

The Vermont Open had come about after the U.S. Open moved to Vale, Colo. The events started on March 15 and ended on March 17.

"The Vermont Open evolved out of the Washed Up Cup, which was an annual contest held over the last four years," said Robinson.

A lot of former professionals would come attend and compete in the Washed Up Cup.

Former professional snowboarder Steve Hayes decided that the Washed Up Cup could grow into a bigger event.

"Hayes, who was behind the whole thing, wanted to transform it to not only the legends, but also the pros and juniors and aspiring snowboarders," Robinson said. "It had a cool, grassroots feel that grew out of riders, put on by riders. "

Hayes had grown up riding at Stratton Mountain and had been on the original Burton team, when snowboarding first started. He had been on the cover of the first ever Burton catalogue.

Hayes also competed in various U.S. Open races and ended up starting his own company with his brother Mike, called Hayes Brother Snowboarding.

"Once he saw the good times of the U.S. Open leaving to Vail, he kind of stepped up," said Invasion Boardshop owner Pete Ripley, who also competed in two of the Vermont Open events and various U.S. Open events in the past. "Between him and Stratton Mountain Resort, they wanted to keep the fun part of the (U.S.) Open and the spirit of the good times rolling. He spearheaded the event and made it happen."

Ripley said discussions for the Vermont Open began in August.

There was a variety of contests that participants could compete in. A rail jam was held on Friday night, with a halfpipe competition on Saturday. A big air contest was also held on Saturday and a banked slalom race was held on Sunday.

There were junior competitions for kids 12 years and under. There were men and women amateur divisions as well as pro. The legend division were for those who had participated in pro contests, but haven't done so in a few years.

A snurfer contest was held on Saturday, which invited competitors to race down the middle of the halfpipe riding the first-ever-made snowboards.

These boards do not include the standard bindings that snowboards nowadays are equipped with. The snurfer boards also have a pointed nose.

160 competitors registered for Sunday's bank slalom event, which Robinson said was the highest number of participants in a single contest for the weekend.

Live music had also been a staple of the new event.

Nearby restaurants and businesses felt the impact of the event's success.

"It definitely brought in a lot of people," said Beverage Director for the THR Group Pete Christy. "What would have been a sleepy weekend turned out to be busy, so we're very pleased with it."

Christy's company owns three restaurants and grocery stores in the village. He said the company works alongside Stratton.

"As a business owner and director, it was great for the village and it was just great to have snowboarding roots back here," said Christy.

Ripley, who participated in the rail jam and halfpipe competitions at the Vermont Open had lived in Stratton for 10-12 years. He now lives in West Dover, where he opened his own business after working for the Hayes brothers for several years.

"I don't get back there often," said Ripley. "Right when I got to the base lodge and knew some old friends were going to be there, I was greeted by people who I haven't seen in a decade. It kind of blew up from there."

He said the competition atmosphere was "really mellow."

"Everyone was trying to have fun," said Ripley. "The Stratton Park Crew put out a pretty good event. It was just about hanging out with friends. No one was really upset about how they placed. The old spirit of the U.S Open is the new Vermont Open."

Ripley told the Reformer that he had heard some people talking on top of the halfpipe, saying this was their first time on a halfpipe in a year and others saying it was their first time out on a snowboard in three or four years.

"It was more about catching up than competing," he said. "(The competition) was just the icing on the cake."

Ripley ended up getting fifth place in the legend category for halfpipe.

The last time he had competed in halfpipe was in the older men's division at an event called Spring Loaded at Killington, in about 2009. His last U.S Open event that he participated in was in 2002.

"I used to compete a lot," Ripley said. "There were a couple seasons where I would compete every weekend between smaller and bigger events and travel around the east coast. There was a little bit of the butterflies in the stomach feeling on top of the halfpipe. I haven't had that feeling in awhile. People weren't out for blood, but I had that feeling again, a little."

One of the highlights of the event had been Olympic gold medalist Ross Powers winning first place in the pro division for the halfpipe competition and sharing the winner's podium with his daughter, Victoria, who had won in the junior division.

Individual businesses, corporation and independent companies put up money for the cash purse, which Stratton then matched. The event ended up having $20,000 available for cash prizes.

The Vermont Open was supported by Foley Caterpillar, Vermont Country Store, Homewood Snowboards, Thebault Design, Wataah, Vew-Do Boards, Science Apparel, Gringo Jacks, Shut Skateboards, Ipath, Tim Ward, Sara Garay, Gregg Gawlik and Driven Studio.

After its first run, organizers have made it their goal to do another one next year.

"We're definitely going to make it an annual thing," said Robinson.

Ripley thought the event was a success and it could possibly be more competitive next year.

"It's nice going to a contest where you basically know everyone, but having a second one could make it twice that size next year," he said. "It doesn't matter your level or age, you can find an area you can have fun and compete."

Chris Mays can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or Follow Chris on Twitter @CMaysReformer.


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