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Believe it or not, there is more than one snowboarding competition going on this season. Sochi may have the headlines and the attention of the media, but if you want to see the best events in competitive (and not so competitive) snowboarding there is a whole lot more going on out there.
Here's our shortlist of the top 20 events that we're looking forward to this season, from rail jams and big airs to week long celebrations and crazy challenges, we've got it covered. These are the contests that have helped shape modern snowboarding, driven progression and given us one hell of a party at the same time!
We start with the oldest snowboarding competition in Europe, the Nescafe Champs in Leysin, Switzerland. This 5 star TTR event started in 1992 and has been evolving ever since. With music, film screenings, graphic and urban art, it also doubles up as a snowsports festival.
This year's comp will be the 10th to incorporate the Champs uniquely designed course - which is a bit of a throwback itself. It's a slopestyle run with a halfpipe stuck bang in the middle, a real test for the 60-80 riders who compete, but with $50,000 up for grabs, we'd definitely give it a go.
The main event here is invitational, although for 2014 the organisers will be adding an open big air comp as well as a freestyle movie award so that the locals can get involved.
[part title='O’Neill Pleasure Jam']
Located in the Austrian region of Schladming, this 4 star TTR slopestyle event has slightly smaller features than bigger comps and is famous for being progressive and a whole lot of fun. First run in 2003, the comp is turning 10 this year.
The format combines invited pros with the best competitors from qualification, a video challenge and the QParks Tour, for a shared prize money of $20,000. This year's Pleasure Jam is sneaking up quickly, with the dates set as November 8th-10th, 2013.
[part title='Spring Battle Flachauwinkl']
Apres and serious competition collide at Spring Battle where Seppe Smits has pinched the top spot for the last three years in a row. This 5-star TTR big air in Flachauwinkl, Austria, sends 18 riders down the hill for the chance to win $50,000 as well as those all important TTR tour points.
The big twist at Spring Battle comes with the judging: after the initial round on the hill, the top 8 riders pick one run to be rated by a video judging panel. Last year presented in a live show with Henry Jackson hosting, and TTR founder and former CEO Drew Stevenson sitting at the bar. It's a bit of a shambles with boozy riders brought out to sit on a throne while their runs are aired, but that's no reflection on the action from the hill...
[part title='Grandvalira Total Fight']
People were obviously feeling the need for competition in 2003 as the Total Fight is another comp turning 10 this year. Total Fight is the UFC of slopestyle comps: riders exchanging blows with runs in a head to head format more regularly seen in big air. The comp itself is now a big hitter too, stepping up to a 5 star TTR event in 2013 and drawing in international riders like Eric Willett.
Based out of El Tarter snowpark in Andorra, this comp is now a big feature in the areas' snow-sports calendar. Local riders have the opportunity to apply for entry alongside the big names and could even share in the $40,000 cash prize.
[part title='Verbier Xtreme']
Verbier Xtreme is the gripping climax of the Freeride World Tour. One at a time, riders pick lines and test their reactions in the maze of cliff drops set against the rocks of Bec des Rosses in the Swiss Alps.
We've all seen backcountry lines in powder fields but Xtreme is a whole different kettle of fish, pick the wrong path here and you're sending yourself head-first into a whole bunch of stone-work. Think of it like high-speed downhill rock climbing with a few patches of snow thrown in, one slip and you're done...
Xavier de le Rue had a very close call last year, but watch him do it right with this line from 2011:
[part title='Freestyle CH']
Zurich's start of season snow festival: Freestyle CH dropped on the 21st of September this year with a legendary big air comp. CH continue their alternative scoring system in 2013, with qualifying being based on separate runs for Style and Tech, which then merge together for the best overall run in the final group of 4 athletes. Last year's winner Chas Guldemond was unregistered for this year, so the opening was there for Antoine Truchon to take the title in Zurich.
Other than the main event, Freestyle also hosts an audience-judged crossover comp with 4 representatives chosen from each of the four sports: Snowboard, Freeski, MTB and FMX. Also, new for this year's set-up, there was the inclusion of The Laax Urban Stairset, which was open to the public. Something for everyone!
Wappulounas is straight up Finnish madness and we love it. Set on a unique course in Ruka, Finland, it attracts some of the biggest names in snowboarding, and for once, nobody is keeping score.
Now 15 years old, this end of season special is one of those rare occasions where we get to see the best in the world let loose and ripping together. It's also one of the few times you'll find themed costumes and team outfits paired with such sick riding.
As these things are better to see first hand, we thought we'd cut out the middle man so you can witness what goes down for yourself:
[part title='AK Extreme']
AK Extreme, hosted by the Helgasons in Iceland, is backlit by flames, built on shipping containers and padded out with rocks. You won't find any of that pristine, prepped snow carefully spread out for the landing here. This is strictly for the fearless and according to reports, some riders leave the comp without even taking a run down the big air slope
Held downtown in the small town of Akureyri, Iceland. The event, which has been running since 2002, now includes a slightly less daunting jib session and three days of music at local pub The Green Hat - 18 Euros for a three day party, bargain!
It's not quite at the top of our list but it would certainly top world's sketchiest big air and come pretty high up in things about snowboarding that worry your mum. Thankfully most of the competitors at AK Extreme are the immaculately conceived sons of Norse gods...
[part title='Burton High Fives']
Burton High Fives in New Zealand is much more than just a snowboard competition. Before anyone has even touched a board, riders are split into teams for a whole heap of different events. In the most hedonistic circuit training course ever, comps include skeet shooting, go-karting, Mini-racing, speed boating and knife throwing at the Oxbow Adventure co.
Once they do finally strap in, the comp is actually a pretty serious letter of intent for the season. It's one of the first chances for riders to show each other how productive they've been over the summer months, and surely is an even bigger deal after the pre-game banter between riders.
[part title='Dew Tour']
Technically, the Dew Tour is an umbrella name for a whole series of action sports events run by Mountain Dew. But over here, we're only really concerned about one (at least for this list). This year the snow spot on the tour is the final leg in Breckenridge, Colerado.
From December 12th-15th the Dew Tour is one of the most comprehensive snowboarding competitions out there, covering big air, street, slopestyle, and half-pipe. It's especially big in the USA as it opens the North American contest season and this year it will even be one of five events to be used in Olympic selection for their national squad.
[part title='Onboard Send Off Sessions']
Ok so we're unabashedly blowing our own trumpet here and cheekily including this in our top 10 - but have you seen what went down at this year's event? Technically the Send Off Sessions are more of an invitational jam than a comp and their very exclusive audience is made up entirely of tiny people stuck inside the internet. But hey, there's a reason we didn't define 'event' at the start of this article...
Don't worry about it, just sit back and watch the action from Kitzsteinhorn:
[part title='Ride Shakedown']
French Canadian comp: the Ride Shakedown is probably the only place where you can get yourself so close to the action that you can't actually see it. Over the last few years they've been building up a set of lounges for audiences that are actually part of the park set up, so if you'd like to be in the same shot as Seb Toots, this is the place to go.
There's 20,000 people in attendance each year in Quebec, and who can blame them. The latest show had a huge kicker gap, rail to rail transfers and step down features you won't find in your every day jam. What will they do next?
[part title='Air & Style Beijing']
Oakley and Shaun White take snowboarding to the Asian public with Air & Style Beijing. Set in China's national Bird's Nest stadium, this year's event will be held from the 5-7th of December 2013. As part of the wider franchise of Air & Style, Beijing has only been running since 2010, but is already a huge date on the World Tour - a 6 Star event with $100,000 up for grabs.
Last year's winner was Japanese 16 year old Yuki Kadono, who smashed Seppe Smitts and Seb Toots to become the youngest Air & Style winner ever, as well as a flagship rider for the continent's growing success in the sport.
[part title='Frontline Railjam']
The Frontline Railjam in Stockholm, Sweden features some of the world's best jibbers. From the Helgasons and Ethan Morgan to Jed Anderson and Marc Swoboda. It started with humble beginnings in 2004 and has now evolved into an international event, although it has always maintained a simple jam format with two handrails down a stairset in the middle of the city.
Keep your ear to the ground as the 2013 dates aren't confirmed yet, but we expect Frontline will drop around October.
[part title='X Games Aspen']
Unless you've been living in a yurt for the last 20 years, chances are you're fairly familiar with the X Games. Covering four big formats, big-air, street, superpipe and slopestyle, X Games Aspen has to be one of the best public events you can go and see without having to pay for entry. Set in Buttermilk Mountain, Colorado, this year's event is set for January 23rd-26th (disregarding the Real Snow comp which runs online).
It's not just about the hill either, as last year's games featured live music from Calvin Harris and Major Lazer, film showcases, style presentations and more.
[part title='Air & Style Innsbruck']
Next February it will all be kicking off in Innsbruck, Austria for the world's biggest straight jump snowboarding contest. Since 1994, spectators and competitors have migrated to the Bergisel Stadium for Air & Style. The show now features upwards of 30,000 spectators and musical performances during and after the big air event. Like it's younger cousin in Beijing, Innsbruck is a 6 star event with $100,000 on the table for the best of the 24 riders bold enough to claim it.
[part title='Arctic Challenge']
Snowboarding legend Terje Haakonsen started The Arctic Challenge back in 1999, inviting a small selection of riders to join him out in Norway for the event. Unsurprisingly, over a decade later, the contest is one of the greatest snowboard events in the world. Not only has it maintained its independence, it has also kept updating itself while striving towards perfection.
Its reception is suitably great, with 7,000 spectators coming to the new location of Oslo. The newly renamed World Snowboarding Championship is a flagship in many ways. Having previously battled with a lack of sponsorship and crippling weather conditions, it is now able to advertise itself as a green event, while maintaining its status as the only rider owned 6 star WST event out there.
[part title='Burton European Open']
- David Blazek
- BEO: Seppe Smits stomps a backside 1080. Photo: Blazek.
Like its American counterpart, the Burton European Open is the only Open Snowboarding Event in Europe, and it's a key player in pushing the progression in halfpipe and slopestyle. The open brings the best riders in the world – including Olympic Winners, World Champs and Snowboarding Legends – together with amateur riders at the beginning of their career, kids and juniors from 8-14.
Set in Laax Switzerland from January 13th-19th this year's even will be the last big event before the Sochi Olympics. Conveniently, event number 2 in this list is...
[part title='Sochi Winter Olympics']
Ok, so even with all these other events going on, you've still got to be pretty hyped for Sochi 2014. The first Olympic slopestyle competition is kind of a big deal... No? Well you could have fooled us!
The way people go on about it you'd think snowboarding had never been on the global stage before - and to be honest, in many ways they're right. In the eyes of the world this is a step up from a one dimensional sport where halfpipe is the ultimate aim (competitively), to a wider recognition of a multi-disciplinary spectacle with as many different characters as Chinese calligraphy.
Understandably, people are worried. From fears about having enough snow at the Black Sea resort after two test events were cancelled last February, to Terje's open letter and how this olympics, controlled by the FIS, will determine the future of the sport.
Ultimately what a lot will come down to in 2014 is how the FIS set up the event. The fact that they've been allowed to present slopestyle snowboarding to the world is pretty much akin to having the Queen present the Mobo awards.
We're honestly hoping they'll pull it off but we're still a little worried if this edit is anything to go by:
[part title='Burton US Open']
As much hype as the Olympics will inevitably get this season, they really don't come much bigger than this in terms of age and pedigree. The US Open was first held in 1982 at Suicide Six - a small ski area in Vermont, and was started by champion snurfer Paul Graves. And unlike the Olympics, it is still run by snowboarders, for snowboarders.
The Burton US Open in Vail, Colorado is also one of the few big comps that is still open to anyone. In the spirit of fair(ish) competition, it will host over 100 of the world's best riders, including Shaun White, Mark McMorris, Kelly Clark, Torah Bright, Jamie Anderson and Iouri Podladtchikov. To be honest if you can compete with that line-up you'd probably get invited anyway...
From the 3rd-8th March 2014, the world's best in Halfpipe and Slopestyle will compete in Vail for over $340,000 in cash prizes, that's 65,000 Burton Customs worth of Benjamins...