An Olympic-size halfpipe and slopestyle course jagged with massive jumps will draw 200 of the world's best amateur snowboarders to Seven Springs Mountain Resort this weekend.
The resort is the host of a qualifying round of the prestigious U.S. Open Snowboarding Championships for the first time. The event had been in Vermont for the past 30 years.
It is among the most high-profile national competitions played host by Seven Springs, and gives riders a chance to move on to Vail, Colo., later this month where they can compete in the championship against the sport's elite -- snowboarders such as Shaun White and Kelly Clark, each winners of Olympic gold medals.
"It's a really key piece of the competition for arguably the most important snowboarding event," said Ian Warda, events manager for Burton Snowboards, sponsor of the event. "Vail is a great fit to move forward to showcase this, but what was really important to us was keeping part of the U.S. Open on the East Coast. Seven Springs has been really dedicated to snowboarding."
The event will be today and Sunday and is followed by the U.S. Revolution Tour Feb. 5-7, that focuses on riders ages 13-19 in freestyle skiing on the halfpipe and slopestyle.
The qualifying events will bring in an international field to the resort, as well as up-and-comers such as Shannon Branthoover, who grew up five minutes from the Seven Springs in Indian Head, Pa.
Branthoover first strapped on a snowboard at 7 to take lessons at Seven Springs, and showed such promise she eventually left to attend a ski and snowboard academy in Maine, at Carrabassett Valley Academy.
Her discipline -- slopestyle -- will debut in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
It's a creative offshoot of the sport, where riders begin atop a trail dotted with huge jumps and rails, and link together multiple tricks on their way down.
This course, explained Warda, starts with a 30-foot jump, progresses to 60 feet then finishes with a 70-foot jump.
"The course is looking really good. We've got three really unique rail features at the top which leads into a progressive line of jumps," Warda said. "And it's a really good halfpipe. They'll see this exact same halfpipe in Sochi."
Branthoover, 15, plans to throw down her latest trick: a front five, which is shorthand for a frontward spin of 540 degrees, or one-and-a-half turns.
"I think I'll always continue to do halfpipe but I'm going to focus on slopestyle," Branthoover said. "I think that's where my passion leads me."
Her strength is the air feature of the slopestyle event, she said.
"I would say that I have good air," she said. " Some of my friends in the air, they look like they're not in control as much. I feel like I'm completely in control when I'm in the air."
Other competitors, such as Dan Genditzki, 35, a longtime halfpipe competitor who settled in the Bedford, Pa., area in the past few years, will be trying to leave their mark.
"This contest is going to be the biggest this state's ever seen," said Genditzki, who previously qualified for the Open in 2009. "If you make it through here, and you make it into the Open you can make it to the Olympics. It's a pretty big deal."
Genditzki is recovering from some cracked ribs he suffered doing a trick the day after Christmas, but is eager to join the field. Riders will perform tricks on a 450-foot course with walls 22 feet high.
The top five women and top 10 men in each event will earn a spot in the semifinals in Vail at the U.S. Open Snowboarding Championships Feb. 25-March 2.
The qualifying heat in slopestyle is scheduled for 9:15 a.m. today, followed by a second heat from 1:30-4:30 p.m.
The halfpipe takes place Sunday with heat one from 9:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m., followed by heat two from 1:30 -4:30 p.m.
Awards take place both days at 4:30 p.m. and the events will be aired live on Burton.com, the website of the snowboard manufacturer.
Jenn Menendez: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1959 and Twitter: @JennMenendez. First Published February 2, 2013 5:00 AM