When: Feb 24th till March 1st
Where: European Alps
Day one of The Swatch O’Neill Big Mountain Pro kicked off with a scenic run down the Vallée Blanche, as the best freeride skiers and snowboarders gathered in the mountaineering resort of Chamonix.
The snow might not have fallen here in over three weeks, but flawless blue skies revealing all the spectacle of the Vallée Blanche meant, as American skier, Cody Townsend put it: “this was the best sightseeing run I’ve ever been on. My neck hurt from looking around so much.”
The American from Santa Cruz – the historic surf town and birthplace of O’Neill – is ecstatic to be back for his second year on The Swatch O’Neill Big Mountain Pro. “I came second last year. Hopefully I can do better this year,” he said.
Cody was in some illustrious company up on the Aiguille du Midi. Last year’s snowboarding winner and overall winner of The Big Mountain Pro, Xavier de le Rue was back to have some fun in the mountains. And Jeremy Jones, just recently voted Big Mountain Rider of the year once again, was also back for this second year, simply happy to be amongst friends snowboarding in Europe “It’s cool once a year to meet up with all the guys and spend a week riding in the best conditions in the Alps in this dynamic contest,” he said. “The competition is almost secondary here. It’s about getting everyone together and riding the best mountains in the best conditions.”
The day ended in perfect style – with the guys flying off a kicker through the tress just above the Hotel Montenvers at the bottom of the Vallée Blanche as everyone involved in the event congregated for dinner after the breathtaking run.
An unexpected bonus – considering the lack of recent snowfall and almost tropical temperatures in the Alps – was the announcement that the contest would start on Monday just down the road, on the face of Le Buet.
With that, it was a train ride down the mountain and back to the Gîte la Montagne as the guys looked forward to a 6am start 3,000 meters high in the French Alps, just on the border of Switzerland.
The second day of the Big Mountain Pro and it was already game on. With the weather threatening to close in during the afternoon, the riders started early with a 7am heli ride up to the vantage point next to the 3,000m face of Le Buet.
For some there was excitement, whilst for others slight trepidation as they headed off to what event organizer, Nicolas Hale-Woods, described as “One of the more challenging faces visited by The Big Mountain Pro.”
According to Nicolas, it’s a mix of the height of the face at 3,000m, the steepness, which is on average 45%, and the length of the face which is 500m top to bottom,” which presents a challenge to the riders.
After a short moment viewing the face and possible lines, the 23 skiers and snowboarders started the 75 minute hike up the ridge to the starting point at the top of the face.
Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the face, spectators witnessing the freeriding display were astounded by what they were seeing.
The weather held off, and the guys put on a show of fluid beautiful riding. The standout runs of the day came from Jeremy Jones, Xavier de le Rue, Flo Orley on their snowboards, and Seb Michaud and Cody Townsend on skis.
Jeremy was stoked with the way the day turned out. Back in the gite, looking back on the run, Jeremy said:
“Today was really cool. We started the day with an amazing hike and ended by riding out and climbing through a river out of the valley. It was like a fun adventure with friends.
The hike up was beautiful. I took my time and walked up with Xavier de le Rue and some others. It was just like having a day in the mountains with my friends
“The face was possibly the best face that I have ridden in a contest. It’s something I would have done for fun with my friends. I was really psyched. Sometimes I go up and look down a face and there is nothing. But with this there were a couple of lines I really wanted to do. I was stoked on a bunch. I took a straightforward clean line that only one other person had been over. It was clean snow, fun and ripable.”
With snow forecast over the next few days, it’s time to pack up and get moving and see where the weather and the mountains will lead The Big Mountain Pro to next.
Tom, our English editor and gentleman, is on scene and will be putting up blogs about the event whenever possible. Check out his first one HERE.