Where would snowboarding be without transitions? Whether it’s a tabletop, step-up, quarterpipe, halfpipe, bowl or berm, the fact is that snowboarding owes most of its iconic moments to some form of transition. With 9.8m airs out of a quarter, back-to-back double corks in the halfpipe and now quad corks, we can’t deny that snowboarding has progressed at pretty much the same pace as the the trannies the riders launch themselves off. But what came first, the transition or the trick?
Transitions have come a long way; snowboarders just didn’t have the technology to build 22 foot superpipes back in the day. You only have to look back to the 4-foot high hand dug ditches of the first Burton open halfpipe competition in 1988 for proof of that. Now it seems like there is no limit to what can be achieved with a big ol’ pile of the white stuff, a snow cat and some willing shapers.
Big transitions gives the top riders the best opportunity to go big, which means more air time to try and sneak in an extra rotation or flip, or longer tweak, until it’s maxed out. The transitions get bigger and so do the tricks that get landed. Sure, some will say that snowboarding is just turning into gymnastics on snow, but there are certain riders out there doing their best to run events where snowboarders can get creative with transition to increase the possibilities. Now the technology is available, we need more inspired course set-ups in the top level competitions.
In honour of this sentiment, we decided it was time to run through the great, giant and downright ridiculous transitions that have had the biggest impact over the years. The best are still being recreated and improved and the newer ideas like Peace Park and the Holy Bowly are taking everything golden about transition events and multiplying by some crazy physics equation that we’ll never understand. Straight up, next level transition.
Peep below to check out some the greatest transitions ever built.
The Baker Banked Slalom
Banked slalom events are all the rage in snowboarding right now. You only have to look at the likes of the Drink Water Rat Race, The Dirksen Derby at Mt. Batchelor or the Nike Snakes and Hammers events for proof that snowboarders love to go fast and course designers love to try and trip people up. Either way, the Mount Baker Banked Slalom is the OG event which started way back in 1985. Many have tried to copy the mythical berms of the Baker Banked Slalom and many have failed. Maybe it’s the natural pipe that surrounds the course, or the ghost of riders' past that haunt the course, there really is no other transition like it. Many amazing riders have lost their shit on the way down the snaking run: too low on the transition and you lose your speed, too high and you’re catching some off-course air – find the balance and you’ll be carving your way into the history books just like seven-time champion Terje Haakonsen and other winners like Craig Kelly and Shawn Palmer. The Baker Banked Slalom is one of few events which can be awarded ‘legendary’ status.
The Arctic Challenge
The Arctic Challenge was set up in 1999 by Terje Haakonsen and Daniel Franck to provide a break in the contest scene for the top riders of the day. Even when it became part of the TTR and more recently the World Snowboard Tour the idea remains the same. A mellow session-vibe get together with the best riders on the planet and a park that is always shaped to perfection, it became obvious that the most natural and creative snowboarding flourished in this format. Though the first incarnation was notable for ushering in the superpipe size standard adhered to by most pipes today, arguably the stand out feature for several seasons was the quarterpipe. Terje knows a thing or two when it comes to transition riding and getting people to groom giant walls of snow (he still holds the record for highest air at 9.8m), so it was unsurprising that TAC quarters were always a recipe for some next level shredding. It’s science, yeah?
Like all the best events in snowboarding, this is not a contest, but a gathering of the best snowboarders on the planet, with two things in mind; creativity and flow. A celebration of style. Since it’s inception back in 2012 (inspired heavily by the Japanese bowl riding movement), the Holy Bowly course has been hand shaped by the organisers and riders in attendance, and it’s totally awesome. From huge bowls, volcanoes and quarterpipes, to banks, berms and even tunnels the possibilities for transfers and tranny finders here are endless. If you don’t feel a pang of excitement to drop in after Goro Kamatsu and Krush Kulesza at 1:30 in this video, you should rethink why you snowboard, because the set-up is consistently the most fun-looking, expressive and creative park design year on year. It just looks incredible. We can’t wait to see what it looks like in April 2016, when the event will be held at Mammoth Mountain.
Danny Davis; the dude, the rider’s rider, the switch Method man, bringing style back to pipe riding one hit at a time. It makes sense that Danny, who’s already set up events like the Burton Frendly Gathering, would set up his own mega transition event. Originally dubbed the Peace Pipe, in it’s second year it was upgraded to the Peace Park but there’s nothing peaceful about this list of features.
Here’s the top to bottom: A 55 foot table top, snaking into a giant banked slalom, a 45 foot step down road gap, an 80 foot long quarter pipe, an 18 foot tall volcano into another 55 foot table top, two 100 foot long hips on either side of a halfpipe boasting two 20 foot channel gaps, finishing with a 22 foot bowl at the bottom. And that was just last year's incarnation. Insane. For this year's shindig, judging by the teaser above, he's gone even insane-er. Danny you are a visionary, or a madman. Or both. We can’t decide.
Air+Style Quarterpipe 2008
The only Quarterpipe to match the scale of The Arctic Challenge transition in Oslo, this hit set the tone for the rest of the Air + Style competitions to come. Jack Mitrani even came close to beating Terje’s world record with a 10.3m air, until he got hung up on the coping and hit the bottom. Our Editor-in-Chief claims that this was the most terrifying transition he had ever seen in the flesh, and when you think that the run in is basically a ski jump landing you have to admit that this was a pretty out of hand transition setup meant for only the very best. Big up Kevin Pearce for taking the win on that one.
Red Bull Pipe to Pipe
What’s better than one pipe? Probably two, but when you smash them together you get a mega spine in the middle which is crying out for crazy transfers. Plus there’s a channel gap and a step-up kicker before the drop in, lots of lines to be found in this set of transitions. Two years in this event in Aspen has already seen some pretty ballsy riding from young bucks Taylor Gold and Ben Ferguson, with the likes of Arthur Longo explaining the difficulties of hitting the spine transfer. It’s humbling to see that even the top pro’s need a little time to scope out features like this and experiment with the best way of riding it.
Bode Merrill Medium Quarterpipe Invitational
Bigger is not always better. In many cases, it's actually worse for the regular Joe snowboarder. One of many summer shred events up on Mt. Hood, this brainchild of Bode Merrill started with the aim to make pipe (and now quarterpipe) riding a bit more accessible, a bit less death-defying, and a whole lot of fun. Transformed from the Mini Pipe Invitational you won’t see any giant features here, just a super accessible, fun quarterpipe where riders can try some new tricks on a low consequence slushy quarterpipe under the summer sun. This one is all about chilling with the bros, tweaking grabs and getting weird on the snow, Bode even himself got a never been done with a one-foot-backflip-beanplant-drop in. You won’t see that on a laser-cut 22-foot superpipe.
Ästhetiker Wängl Tängl
This event is sadly no longer with us, but for several seasons the Ästhetiker crew would build an ever-more creative setup at this Mayrhofen-based event for the cream of Euroboarding to go nuts on, finished off by the 'Red Bull End Section' - one of the first snow cradle/bowl/taco things we'd ever seen.
Aside from the crazy ender, there were transfers and lines galore to be had and in the event's last few editions they introduced a team aspect - teams of three riders would hit the course all at once, tackling the various different options with the best synchronicity they could muster. The Wängl Tängl was way ahead of its time. Eeööh!
The Onboard Send Off Session Hip - Kitzsteinhorn
While we're reluctant to blow our own trumpet, we've had a bunch of shithot trannies built for our annual Onboard Send Off Session. But if we were to pick one, it would have to be the hip the Kitzsteinhorn shape crew crafted us in 2013.
For most of the week it lurked in the background, the weather not conducive to making the riders feel comfortable tackling the looooong transition that seemed to go on for an eternity. Finally, though, the clouds parted, the wind dropped and it was ON. This beast was crushed by the likes of Peter König, Marc Swoboda and a young Sebbe de Buck, but the high-water mark was this backside air from Finnish legend Markku Koski.
For him to claim it was the "best hip I ever hit" is quite the ringing endorsement from a dude who's pretty much done it all, and we can only wish the weather the next (and final) day of our time on Kitz had been better – on this backside air Markku landed on the flank of the hip, but he was keen to try to clear the whole damned thing...
Skip to the end of this edit of the 2013 Send Off Session to see the madness in moving pictures.
The last few years, Sölden have always built insane end-of-season features for riders from far and wide to go nuts on. This year, though, they fully outdid themselves with a beast they dubbed 'The X'.
This was a supersized kicker over two perpendicular frontside/backside hip transfers that was smashed by locals - check this edit for a fuller look at Sölden's 'The X' - and A-gamers like Mark McMorris, Kebin Backstrom and co.
Any Side Hit
Let’s face it, you probably won’t get a chance to ride any of these features any time soon, but they all stem from the same thing; riding a transition. One of the best feelings in snowboarding is hitting a transition perfectly, judging the speed to hit the sweet spot and taking the momentum generated to the next feature in your sight line. It’s the same with any board under your feet; pumping a bowl on a skateboard or carving a wave on a surfboard, but you can find them everywhere on any mountain if you keep your eyes open and get creative. There’s few things more rewarding than knowing every single side hit on a top to bottom run in resort and killing it the whole way down, just like the adidas crew. Don’t forget to spray the skiers, too, a la Gonz.