Courmayeur, 06 March 07
The Swatch O'Neill Big Mountain Pro 2007 moved into the Italian Alps on Monday evening, in search of fresh snow and clear weather conditions. Contest organizers were keen to find the best possible conditions in the area in order to stage the first official day of competition following the cancellation of Sunday's proceedings due to an elevated avalanche risk.
After arriving in Arpy on Monday evening, we were awoken at 5.30am on Tuesday by the organizers and bussed it to Courmayeur in time for a 7.30am heli-lift to the observation point facing the peak which had been singled out by our team of mountain guides. Boasting good snow conditions and with only a minimal avalanche risk, the mountain was ready and waiting for the onslaught of 16 of the world's best snowboarders and skiers.
As the riders and skiers examined the peak from the bottom before the hike to the summit, it was clear the competitors were all looking forward to throwing down their best runs. With 2 possible entry points from the top of the peak, riders and skiers knew they would need to pick creative lines to stand out from the rest and avoid any tracks. Austria's Mitch Toelderer has plenty of experience in this game, and said: "I think the biggest challenge is picking a line that nobody else can see. I'm quite far down the starting list, so I want to make sure I score some untracked powder and a smooth ride."
While starting late might have been a disadvantage, it nevertheless gave the likes of Mitch a good opportunity to observe other riders and snow conditions from the top. A handful of heavy slams from the first 4 or 5 riders and skiers raised a few concerns up top, with freestyle snowboarder Jules Reymond picking up a bloody nose for his troubles as he failed to stomp an impressive cliff drop in the top half of the run.
Geraldine Fasnacht, an invited guest and the only female rider in the event, surprised everyone with her fluid choice of line and outstanding freeriding ability. France's Xavier de le Rue was one of the few riders to stomp the big cliff drop at the top of the mountain, and flew down the rest at lightening speed before throwing in a styled-out backside 360 indy to close out his run. Legendary freeride snowboarder Jeremy Jones came down the mountain without encountering any difficulties, and even threw in a frontside 180 halfway down the mountain to prove that it's not only freestylers that can land switch in powder. Speaking after his run, Jeremy said: "I had fun up there. In the end, the snow held up well and it's just great to get our first competition day under our belts."
The sometimes tricky snow conditions seemed to be favoring the skiers as the morning progressed, particularly in the landing zones. Sweden's Kaj Zackrisson and Sverre Lilliequist both nailed their runs perfectly, mixing up drawn out powder turns and big drops with ease. In other news, many were saying the trick of the day belonged to Switzerland's Phil Meier, who stomped a huge backflip to the delight of the spectators below. Other standout skiers included France's Seb Michaud and Thomas Diet, who both picked a super-creative line through the bottom section of cliffs.
It was to be California's Cody Townsend, however, who was to set the bar for the rest of the skiers with a flawless run which saw him airing over 4 big cliffs without a hint of hesitation. Fluid as water from top to bottom, the only US skier in the Big Mountain Pro will be hard to beat on this kind of form. Reflecting on his run, Cody said: "I'm psyched! My run went just the way I wanted - I got lots of air the whole way down, and stuck all my landings. Stoked!"
Riders and skiers will all be judging one another via video feedback this coming Saturday in Innsbruck, but still have two more competition days with which to impress their peers. In the meantime, make sure you check out the webcasts on www.bigmountainpro.com