AP National Writer
The sun was shining, the halfpipe was perfect and snowboarding felt fun again.
One other sign that the sport was returning closer to its proper orbit: Kelly Clark was standing atop the podium.
Clark set aside last month's surprising third-place finish at the Olympics to win her seventh Burton U.S. Open title Saturday, topping Spain's Queralt Castellet and 13-year-old Chloe Kim for the title.
"I think the intensity level has dropped off a little since the Olympics," Clark said. "It was such a buildup."
As she has so often over a decade-plus at the top of her sport, Clark flew higher than anyone above the 22-foot-high halfpipe and drained much of the suspense out of the contest early.
Dropping last in the pipe for all three rounds of finals in Vail, Colo., Clark led after every round. Her winning score of 89.3 -- earned on her second trip -- beat Castellet by 3.6.
In a switch from her runs at the Olympics, Clark tried her 1080-degree spin as the first trick after dropping into the pipe. It was that trick that tripped her up twice at the Olympics, but even though she tried it earlier in these runs -- considered a tougher feat because there's not as much speed to work with -- she landed it cleanly all three times.
"It just seemed like the fun thing to do," Clark said.
Her experience at the Olympics was anything but fun.
Almost all the riders struggled on a mushy halfpipe that didn't live up to what they see on a weekly basis. In practice, hours before the finals, Clark took five trips down. She fell all five times. It was shocking -- the snowboarding equivalent of LeBron James shooting air balls during warm-ups -- and Clark had an emergency meeting with her sports psychologist at the bottom of the pipe before the finals began.
"I said, 'I'm super disappointed right now, and it would be awesome if I could cry it out for about 30 seconds and move on,'" she said. "So I did. Everyone gets disappointed, and it's a matter of what you do with that disappointment."
Clark fell on her first run of finals, than finally managed to stay upright during her second. But she under-rotated the 1080 and didn't post a score that could knock Kaitlyn Farrington out of the gold-medal position or Torah Bright from the silver.
A surprise given the way Clark had dominated in the lead-up to the Olympics -- winning three of the five qualifiers along with the Winter X Games. But not a disappointment in her eyes.
"I'll always value that medal based on what it cost me," Clark said. "I know how deep I had to dig that day and how proud I am to have ended up on that podium."
She felt the same way Saturday.
"For me, it's not about the result as much as landing the run I want to land," Clark said. "I did that today, and I'm thankful."
Notes: Taylor Gold, who finished 14th at the Olympics, won the men's halfpipe contest. ... Kim, who wasn't old enough to compete in Sochi, said she watched the Games at home with her family and her green-and-blue parrot, Kiwi. Her goal: Making the 2018 Olympics in her parents' native country of South Korea. "I guess I can wait it out," she said. "I'm good with that." ... Farrington, who won the Olympics, didn't make it out of Thursday's qualifying. Winners of Friday's slopestyle contest were Jamie Anderson, who added the victory to her Olympic and Winter X Games gold, and Mark McMorris, the Olympic bronze medalist from Canada who appears fully recovered from his broken rib suffered at Winter X.
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