Well, you gotta take the rough with the smooth in life, but sadly for European snowboarders there’s been a bit too much of the rough going round this winter. As a result of the dearth of snow plaguing the old continent Burton had to make the decision to move the slopestyle from its usual spot on the backside of Crap Son Gion to the glacier. Props must be given to all the crew involved for the last minute location change and the barn load of logistical and financial headaches that must have entailed, but nevertheless they pulled it off with apparent aplomb as the park apparently was looking great. I say apparently twice as we arrived last night and have to go by what people were saying because, as we arrived at the glacier’s foot, several riders were saying how it was too windy to ride.
A scant few minutes later and what we feared was announced: the slopestyle finals had been canned completely. Now much of a pain in the hole as this is, it was really the only decision to take to avoid either a) a low level of riding and b) the potential for someone to properly nail themselves. The weather can up and do what it likes, and Burton have ridden their luck with the weather over the last couple of years, but after dealing handsomely with the lack of snow, to have an important part of your event scuppered by high wind must be a kind of hollow, nagging pain, akin to the aftermath of receiving a sharp kick to the spuds. They still might hold the juniors’ slopestyle if the weather permits, so fingers and toes crossed for that.
So, what to do? Head down to the main pipe and see if anyone was training in the pipe, that’s what. And despite the bad weather there were more than a few dudes and dudettes taking on the behemoth to grab a few shots of. As soon as we got there we bumped in to Antti Autti who, to my surprise, said the pipe was in fact in better shape than at last year’s BEO. I was kinda figuring the timid winter might have caused problems with the pipe’s construction but no, Laax once again has showed why it’s has such a good reputation for freestyle snowboarding. They’re like the A-Team or something, only replace sticky tape and toilet rolls for minimal snow and improbable weapons with freestyle features. So, if the weather holds off, we could be in for a banger of a pipe final on Saturday.
Whilst many of the big guns were no doubt enjoying a nice hot cuppa, a few faces were having a bit of pipe playtime. Antti had a few nice runs, Dan Wakeham was looking strong and there were a few other dudes whose names escaped me boosting some big straight airs. It was also super cool to see Jody Koenders having his first run in the pipe since his nightmare slam at The Arctic Challenge last year, wearing the kind of grin a Cheshire cat would be proud of. Travis Rice popped up from time to time, snaking the odd hit or two and he even used the bottom of the pipe as a kicker to transfer over the barrier to the run-in for the small kickers. I didn’t even know he could ride pipe but he could do alright for himself. Is there a more complete snowboarder around today? He nice, I like. Rice love-in over.
With a couple of shots in the bag, we decided to make the most of having a snowboard attached to our feet and ride down. Now fortunately I took Pat’s camera bag down and as we got to the mid station my legs politely told me that they would be eternally grateful to me if I downloaded the last bit. Pat started to ride down but took a wrong turn and found a field where the piste should be so he hiked back to the gondola. ACG’s Graham MacVoy isn’t so easily deterred though and decided to keep on going. From the gondola we saw him and fellow Scot Angus Leith tackling the sorry-looking slope and mused on whether Scotland had better conditions than here. I have honestly never seen a mountain in Europe at the end of January look so barren and debate will rage as to whether it’s part of a natural climate cycle or caused by our irresponsible treatment of the environment, but it’s fair to say that, whatever happens the rest of this winter and the next, we should look at how our behaviour affects our environment and do our best to minimise our impact.
Oh, it’s just started snowing outside, which is good for snowboarders across Europe but bad for the prospect of getting any kind of contest going tomorrow. We’ll see. Update tomorrow.