Three days of heavy snow gave way to glorious sunshine today for the first day of competition at the 6-star O'Neill Evolution. Having spent the morning clearing powder snow out of the Superpipe, the shapers provided qualification riders with the kind of pipe that has made the Swiss resort of Davos a firm favorite among Superpipe specialists.
The substantial improvement in visibility conditions compared to those affecting yesterday's training sessions gave all qualifiers the best possible chance to nail down their well-rehearsed runs in the perfectly sculpted Superpipe. As well as motivating the riders to stick their tricks and make the cut for Friday's Superpipe semi-finals, the idyllic winter conditions also saw a large number of spectators gathering at the foot of the Jakobshorn to watch the action unfold.
Kicking off just after midday, the women's Superpipe qualification heats wasted no time in captivating the attention of spectators and fellow riders alike. Forced to generate as much speed as possible out of each transition due to the freshly fallen snow, the ladies stepped up to the plate in a bid to finish in the top 10 and claim their spot in the semi-finals.
Swiss Miss Manuela Pesko showed everyone in attendance exactly why she's been a force to be reckoned with in the Superpipe over the last few years, claiming the no.1 qualification spot. Boosting clean overhead straight airs and mixing things up with 5's and even a frontside 7, Manuela ruled it. Other standout riders in the women's qualifying session included Poland's Paulina Ligocka, France's Sophie Rodriguez and Swiss O'Neill rider Nadja Purtschert.
After that kind of display, it was the turn of the men's qualifying heats to maintain the momentum and keep the hundreds of onlookers toasty warm. Quite frankly, the boys did not disappoint. Split into two heats, they threw down from the off in the name of raw freestyle progression.
Top of the pops in heat 1 was 18-year-old Russian Iouri Podladtchikov, whose killer style and super-smooth rotations saw him claim top spot. Reflecting on his runs, Iouri stated: "Yeah, I'm stoked to make it through in 1st place, the fresh snow slowed things down a little bit today but tomorrow should be even better, hopefully I can make a 10 and a couple of 9's." Other riders also making it through from heat 1 included Switzerland's Rolf Feldmann, French duo Gary Zebrowski and Olivier Gittler and Chile's finest, Manuel Diaz.
Watching Heat 2 unfold from the bottom of the pipe, Finland's automatically-qualified Antti Autti was clearly impressed, adding: "I'm really excited to be here. After training last night and this morning, I can't wait to compete against these guys, they're riding sick."
Swiss sensation Christian Haller did enough to come out on top of a star-studded heat. With huge 7's, even bigger straight airs and stomping everything in sight, 17-year-old Haller finished a clear 10 points ahead of second ranked Henning Marthinsen. Superpipe veteran Xaver Hoffmann made a welcome return to Davos, claiming 3rd and thrilling crowds with an almost-stomped 10. Other riders finishing inside the top 8 included Miikka Hast, Martin Cernik and O'Neill team rider Renato Spani.
With Superpipe qualification now done and dusted, we can look ahead to a truly world-class display of pipe riding in Thursday's semi-finals and finals. Up against the likes of Terje Haakonsen, Mathieu Crepel, Risto Matilla, Danny Davis and Kevin Pearce, today's qualifiers will relish the chance to take on the world's best in front of thousands of spectators and a global TV and internet audience.
Live Webcast Schedule:
5th January: 14:30 - 15:30 Swatch Highest Air Session Superpipe; 16:30 - 22:15 Semi-finals & Finals Superpipe (Men & Women)
6th January14:30 - 15:30 Swatch Highest Air Session Quarterpipe; 16:30 - 22:15 Semi-finals & Finals Quarterpipe (Men & Women)
For a full run-down of qualification results from today's Superpipe sessions, and to find out what goes down throughout the rest of the week, just check out www.oneilleurope.com/evolution