In the place where it all began back in 1994, 25-year-old American Eric Willett scored his first major career win as he sent a switch backside 12 to place ahead of Seb Toutant, Alek Østreng and Mark McMorris.
After last night's homage to the Air&Style's past glories, Saturday's spectacle was all about competitive snowboarding's here and now. As anyone who's watched the contest circuit this season will know, the level of progressive, technical kicker riding has engaged its booster rockets and reached escape velocity with double corks now a stock trick and an ever-lengthening list of people swanning past the burly bouncer on the club named Triple Cork.
But although several riders landed the current trick du jour throughout the contest, it wasn't the deciding factor here. Hang about, we're getting ahead of ourselves. Last year's event was characterised by bulletproof conditions whereas here the opposite was the case. Throughout the afternoon and evening snow had been falling continually meaning both the run in, take-off and landing were challengingly slow and soft. This resulted in more than a couple of instances where riders got bucked leaving the lip and ratcheted back their rotation to something mellow like a 7 or 9, rather than the anticipated double 10, 12, or 1440. Hey, at least it means these kids are actually human.
Rounds 1 and 2 proceeded without any major upset – save for the elimination of Club Triple's Maxence Parrot at the hands of Clemens Schattschneider (who, it must be noted, landed a front double 10 that in mammalian genitalia terms could be classed as 'whale cock') and the early matchup of last year's winner Peetu Piiroinen and last year's World Snowboard Tour winner Stale Sandbech resulting in Peetu's monster pop being outdone by Stale's well stomped back 14 triple and up-down jibs on the rail section.
While, make no mistake, the earlier rounds had seen some heavy riding, it was in the Round 3, the Semis or whatever you want to call it where the riding really ratcheted up a notch; arguably – well not arguably, factually really – the level was higher here in the final. Seppe Smits had been sending it to the moon all evening, stomping monster cab doublish 12s with his unique slant on the trick, but was perhaps judged a little harshly against Eric Willet and had to head for an early bath. Air&Style Beijing champ Yuki Kadono went for the triple dip again but couldn't find his landing gear and had to settle for the score on his Cab 12, which was not enough to stop Seb Toutant's wired Cab double 12s advancing. Alek Østreng vs Roope Tonteri was characterised by an uncharacteristic amount of slams before Alek put one down that counted, but arguably the heat of the night was Stale vs McMorris where the two, fresh from blowing minds at the X Games, traded flawless triples and tech jibbing with McMorris's slightly superior execution and better rail combo - Cab 270 boardslide - edging this one in his favour and netting him 96 points – the highest score of the event.
So it was into the final chapter of this historic edition. Dudes had 3 runs with the best one counting, the only caveat was that they couldn't try the same trick more than twice. Either as a result of the relentless snowfall or tired legs, try as he might Mark McMorris couldn't put down the triple again and ended up in fourth, looking none-too pleased with himself and Østreng's back 12s were decent but perhaps imperfect so he settled for third. Eric Willett had taken the early lead, his switch back 12 put down with the reassuring thwack of a perfect landing but, due to the format of having the first place rider drop first for the last jump, ha had a nervy moment waiting to see what Seb Toutant would pull from his deep wizard's sleeve. Having already posted a couple of his ol' faithful Cab 12 dubs he had to mix it up and, opting not to triple the cork fantastic (we found out later he thought the jump was “too small" for that), went for a double rodeo but arsed out. That was that. Eric Willett had secured his first ever 6-Star World Snowboard Tour win, and the consensus was one of stoke that he had done so. The guy's got one of the biggest smiles in the game and was hyped to have cme out on top at this memorable edition of an already prestigious event.
You'd be forgiven for thinking that was the Air&Style done for this year, but you'd be wrong. To follow up this party they'll be heading across the pond to Mexico and, as the MC let slip, Brazil too, before dropping back in on Beijing in December, so there's no laurel-resting from these guys that's for sure. But for the 20-year anniversary that was a wrap. We had style, we had stunts, we had a crowd that couldn't have been more hyped. We had one hell of a show. Happy Birthday Air&Style.
Tune in shortly for full video recaps and a gallery.