Visit Finland! Land of the midnight sun, Santa, Sauna and Belgian blokes back 180ing tree bonks at dusk. Seppe Smits gets in the Session groove. Photo: Matt Georges
For our fourth annual Send Off Session, the Onboard crew struck out north to Levi, Finland, for a week of shooting, filming and broing down with a heady cocktail of Euroboarding bosses and exciting up-and-comers. The features were off the hook, the riders sent it and the media crew bagged more video and photo hammers than you could fit in a month of Sundays. Joe Cavanagh was there to bring the lowdown…
Europe’s a pretty big place. Whilst some other continent dwellers may sneer at our landmass; there’re so many different cultures, creeds, landscapes and lifestyles in our collective that you’d struggle to understand them all in a lifetime.
If you narrow it down, European snowboarding is mainly perceived to take place along the Alpine belt that stretches from northern Spain to the Nicobar Islands in South Asia. This belt of jagged peaks is the promised land of snowboarding in Europe, and many flock to it like moths to a flame lured by the promise of steep descents and bottomless powder.
European snowboarding is much more than that, though. European snowboarding is about the boys and girls that brave midnight frostbite to trawl the streets of urban clusters. It’s about grizzled riders that tackle isolated peaks in the lingering grasps of the ice age, and the riders that use the homeland terrain that they’re graced to ride their way.
In this fashion, for this year’s Onboard Send Off Session, we dusted off the proverbial dart, and flung it to the northerly regions to see what Finland had to offer to 40 of the best European snowboarders and their filmers. We hit the bull’s-eye when Levi Ski Resort confirmed that they’d host a harvest of European talent in their resort for a week in April.
As we assembled at Helsinki Airport there was an undertone of nervous anticipation from the Onboard crew and the assembled riders, filmers, photographers and general trufflers, as we boarded the flight that would take us 170km north of the Arctic Circle to Levi. Our Photographer in Chief Sami Tuoriniemi, had been with the crew from Levi, as well as some assembled Finnish talent Peetu Piiroinen, Markku Koski and Janne Korpi to scope and fine-tune the features that the packhorse Levi park crew had been creating. Despite Skype calls, emails and instagrams; we had no real idea what to expect when we landed.
Two hours later we arrived at Kittila Airport to the awaiting Levi crew, and the bus that was to take us to our apartments at the base of the mountain. As the riders were whisked straight to their apartments, we took a detour to the southerly tip of the mountain to visit the mammoth sized hip that had been hewn from the ice. From the car park it was clear this would be the Moby Dick of the week when it came to getting the right conditions to hit it; it demanded respect, and wouldn’t prove easy to breach.
Despite 3 Olympic gold medals and a world championship title shared between Koski, Piiroinen and Korpi, it didn’t make their tireless help an easy gig. Building features from scratch is a little like assembling an Ikea wardrobe; you can get to the end and realise you’ve still got left over pieces. Whilst the three-strong Levi park crew were master carpenters when it came to building, it’s always a difficult job getting the features that Sami detailed perfect.
We invited 8 crews to come and film alongside the Onboard crew to help weave a different narrative to the session for the 2015 edition, which allowed us to invite more riders than we’d ever had before.
Naturally there was a strong Finnish presence from a Scandically-enhanced Grindhouse, Sami Luhtanen’s WOP, the so-called ‘Team Finland’ alongside the 292 posse; whilst KB and Tor were representing the other end of the Nordic spectrum, alongside Max Buri, filming for BYND x MDLS.
From Central Europe, there was Alvaro Vogel and his motley bunch of Swiss and Australian talent, and never ones to be outdone, Almo Films were there to capture the antics of their boys through nonchalantly wielded lenses. It was a representation of European snowboarding in its truest form – especially with the last minute additions of Johan Rosen and Tomi Ollikainen from Snackbreak, who’d driven 13 hours to join us.
In addition to the crews that brought together riders from Australia to Sweden, a roster of dudes from across the continent joined us that weren’t with film crews. Wildcards like Sparrow Knox, Max de Vries, and Axel Thelen joined heavyweights like Kalle Ohlson, Brage Richenberg and Seppe Smitts in playing the jacks-of-all-trades when it came to sending it deep.
HEWN FROM ICE
Over the coming days, we began to find a rhythm to our serene surroundings. The weather in any northern region is unpredictable and if there’s anything to lead a photographer to an early grave, it’s constantly checking the weather report. Thus, for the longevity of all involved, we took a leaf from the locals’ book and fell asleep with our fingers crossed and just opened the curtains to the hill each morning. Fortunately, unlike previous incarnations of the Send Off Session, we were blessed with good weather for the majority of the week. It was a tad bizarre to walk home from the bar each night with the sun burning a hole in the sky despite the early hour, and many a rider felt the wrath of the midnight sun when rousing to ride the next morning.
The Levi Park crew, alongside the Team Finland talent had been working non-stop for two weeks on sculpting the leviathan features from the Lappi ice. Alongside the monolithic hip they’d sculpted; there were a smattering of Nordic beasts to be conquered.
The base of the resort was home to the jib garden, which bore more resemblance to an industrial shipping yard than a premier Finnish resort. Before the week was out, more than one rider would narrowly avoid meeting their maker on the two shipping containers that had a 4m rail floating between them.
Next on the list was the quarterpipe redirect that had a high rail to gap to landing, depending on how rounded your edges were. With the transition facing north, it meant the curves kept their shape, whilst the landing was sprung with spring snow. Above that lay the tree bonk that met its fiery end on the third day to the delight of Boris Mouton and Sebbe de Buck, who nabbed some of the killer stills of the week.
With so much on offer, and with the crews focusing on getting their own footage, it was at times challenging to locate the critical state of the action each day; however, for the big session shoots we organised, there was no lack of pure substance from the riders for the filmers to lock their lenses on to.
The battle for kicker dominance left the theatre of war open to all nations. KB and Tor engaged in an aerial duel of frontside 360s, parrying Sebbe’s axis blending rotations. If it was sheer amplitude that you were looking for, you needn’t look farther than Mr Piiroinen who, as ever, dominated the air corridors on both the hip and the kicker. Like Icarus, he lanced into the sunset with a frontside air using all 67kg of muscle to detonate into the stratosphere, before re-engaging his landing gear to touch down to terra firma once more.
Unfortunately there were some casualties of war. David Djite’s behemoth backside 720 saw him taking one of the worst slams we’d ever seen, and after a two-hour transfer to the nearest big hospital the doctors confirmed injuries that will definitely require some love over the summer to come. Heal quick brother!
The contingent of wildcards made their mark on the session, both with filmers and riders alike. Sparrow Knox’s unrelenting energy saw him become a home-favourite both on the hill and in the bar, where he attacked the terrain with the same enthusiasm. Whispers were heard about gapping the whole double container feature, but nobody seemed brave enough to hit it themselves. What we didn’t count on was Sparrow actually stepping up and sending it, first with a backside 180 and then a backside rodeo to round off day 5 and his reputation with the amassed crowd was cemented.
With flights out of the Arctic Circle being sporadic at best, we rounded off the week with a dinner organised by the Levi Ski Resort heavyweights Mikko Luukkaa and Kätlin Laiv, who had racked up some hours over the week that the European Commission wouldn’t recommend. Bellies filled with reindeer stew, there was only ever one way to see off the session; by sending it.
And so a long night of lonkero ensued, and in the gin-induced haze, much to the confusion of the locals, the entire Send Off Session posse belted out a rendition of Celine Dions’s 1997 classic “My Heart Will Go On”.
Our heart goes out to all the sponsors, riders, filmers, industry trufflers, photographers, resort staff and the epic park crew for a week fuelled by the midnight sun. Kippis, and see you all next year for round two.
[Check out all the daily coverage posted from the 2015 Onboard Send Off Session.]