Jeremy Jones began snowboarding by default: He wanted to skateboard in winter and the closest thing for a kid growing up in Utah was to snowboard.
Jones, still a skater at heart, is part of a movement to bring the skatepark to the mountain, culminating in the addition of the rail jam to this year's Philips U.S. Open.
The 21st annual Open, snowboarding's oldest championship and a favorite among the world's top riders, takes place next weekend at Stratton Mountain in Vermont.
In the halfpipe, 2002 Olympic gold medalist Kelly Clark will be fending off Gretchen Bleiler, Olympic silver medalist Doriane Vidal of France, Norway's Anne Molin Kongsgaard and Vermont phenom Hannah Teter.
Olympic silver medalist Danny Kass is seeking to win the men's title for an unprecedented third straight year, but will have to contend with a stacked men's field that includes 16-year-old X-Games champion Shaun White and the two Americans who won gold and bronze at the Olympics, Ross Powers and J.J. Thomas.
Jussi Oksanen of Finland, Rahm Klampert, Hana Beaman and Canada's Annie Boulanger are among the top names in slopestyle, and 12-year-old Luke Mitrani and Finland's Mikkel Bang are sure to be a crowd favorite among the juniors.
Friday night's invitation-only jibfest, featuring Jones, Zach Leach, Chris Coulter, Dave Downing and Travis Rice, brings the city to the mountains with "all the rails I wanted to do on a skateboard," Jones said.
The rail jam will also be bittersweet: rising star Jeff Anderson died Feb. 23 going down a hotel banister in Japan. His death comes just a month after that of four-time Open champion Craig Kelly, who died in an avalanche in the Canadian backcountry.
Jones said Anderson, a 23-year-old from Mammoth Lakes, "was just starting to make a really big impact and he was such a good kid, such a positive kid."
His death gave everyone pause, but, "I can imagine Jeffy being like, 'What are you stopping for?' " Jones said from Salt Lake City.
The jibfest is just the latest addition to a competition that has prided itself on changing alongside a fast-evolving sport.
Over the years, downhill, slalom, giant slalom, moguls, big air and boardercross have made way for the halfpipe, quarterpipe, junior jam, last year's first slopestyle, and now the rail jam.
The contest is also one of the few, as well as the first, to award women equal prize money. And the contest that once used an upended kitchen table as a starting gate has acquired a slew of sponsors, including Philips, Burton and SoBe. Riders will be competing for a piece of the $200,000 purse as well as other prizes.
It's also become a reunion, with some of the sport's more enigmatic riders, including Downing, Jones and Haakonsen, turning out to compete in the land where snowboarding has its roots.
"The Open is very nostalgic," said Olympic bronze medalist and two-time Open champ Shannon Dunn. "It was then, and it still is now."
When Dunn first burst onto the scene, seizing the halfpipe title in 1993, the Open was still a fairly small event. But it quickly drew a devoted following, with fans climbing the trees to watch. Today, 30,000 people make the pilgrimage to southern Vermont for the Open.
The event was always a favorite among riders, Dunn said, because of its well-cut halfpipe. "It was hand-built, one of the best pipes back in the day," Dunn recalled, laughing to think how it would compare to today's sleek, steep pipes. "You could pretty much guarantee that that was the best pipe you'd ride that year."
Organizers are promising to unveil the best jibbing course ever for the Open rail jam, and the undertaking involves 136 sheets of plywood, weeks of welding in the shop and then three full days to erect it.
The rails are custom-welded to replicate real city handrails, and the steps match the rails.