When: Sat 2nd of February 2008
Where: Innsbruck, Austria
After a 8 year absence following the tragedy of 1999, the Air&Style show made a triumphant return to Innsbruck’s Bergisel stadium.
Talk to any Austrian and they’ll tell you that the Air&Style belongs in Austria and so it was hardly surprising that the atmosphere within the tight cauldron of the Bergisel was buzzing with electricity. While it was not a big air contest as in days gone by, the shapers had been working 12-hour shifts for the last 10 days or so to ensure that the gargantosaur of a quarterpipe that occupied the nether regions of the ski jump’s landing was not only of an almost unfathomable size, but in nigh-on perfect shape too.
Due to traffic from hell, we arrived slightly tardy and got into the press pen just in time for the second round of qualifiers. The deal was that there were two heats of riders, with the scores from 3 runs being tallied together on the scoreboard and the top 8 from whatever heat they were in would advance to the superfinal. As it turns out, 6 of the 8 that made it through were from the second heat, with only Swiss rookie Colin Frei and height-humping Arthur Longo scoring high enough from heat 1.
It must be said that the area that our press band gave access to was killer. Opposite the madding crowd of increasingly exuberant spectators, it allowed us to bathe in the atmosphere without being fully drowned in it. It also allowed us to stand a mere 3 metres or so from the run-in and fully appreciate the near terminal speed that the riders came hurtling down the steep-ass slope. In fact, it was of such an angle that even without the riders sideslipping down to where they would drop from, there was a near-incessant cascade of sugar snow doing nothing but obeying the law of gravity, as the riders did too. We could pretty much see the whites of their eyes as the riders shot towards their encounter with the gigantosaur stood menacingly at the bottom.
For a long part of heat 2, Colin Frei was sat atop the leaderboard, but there were some heavy hitters hell bent on changing that. It was clear that there were two schools of thought: go big, or go tech. And go big and tech, but not quite so big as just going big, sometimes. So guess that’s actually three. Anyway, while it was mindbusting to see the stratosphere-scratching backside airs, it was more so to see guys throwing down the third option.
Antti Autti was the first we saw on this tip, killing it with his Finn-styled corked front 7 Japan at around 5.5 metres. This Finn has some friends in the crowd, it seems, as each time he’d drop the MC would call ‘Antti’, to which the crowd would roar ‘Autti’. This would continue for a while until they finished off the football chant with the ever-amusing ‘Danke’, ‘Bitte’. A polite bunch, the German speaking football fans. Kim Rune Hansen was throwing down the heavy backside rodeo that netted him the O’Neill Evolution QP crown back in January; Markus Keller – despite a couple of heavy slams – managed to get a McTwist nudging the 6m mark; Peetu Piiroinen was going bigger and bigger on his traveling backside 540 tails one way (at 6.2m it put him in 1st), while Risto Mattila was doing the same the other way across the wall at 5.6m. Kevin Pearce was getting his heelside backside 5s bigger, while Scotty Lago was giving some mad steezy nosebones to his alleyoop frontside 7s around the 6.7m mark.
The straight air man-off fully deserves a mention here too. Jack Mitrani was topping out at 7.9m so Manuel Pietropoli decided he should take more speed and boosted 8.8m out, only to land on the coping on his heels, but it seems he’d brought his get out of jail free card because somehow he fully got away with it. Mitrani was pumped now and flew down the run-in like the fastest banana in the world to step up to the 8.7m mark in a mind-numbing exhibition of madness and skill. Pietropoli, you could tell, wanted to get into the 900cms but it all went wrong and he landed square on the arse from way, way up to snap his binding but somehow not his body. Then for his last hit Jack Mitrani took so much speed that he took off and was immediately clawing to regain control. As he just kept on going up, flapping, you could hear the collective intake of breath as everyone there knew this was not going to end well, and he re-entered Innsbruck airspace to land square on his back on the coping. It was the gnarliest slam many of us had ever seen live and a hush descended over the Bergisel as the medics attended to him. Horrible. But, after a short while that frickin’ kid was walking away! How on earth a man can walk away from something like that beggars belief, but walk away he did and when it was announced he’d topped out at 10.2m he probably got the cheer of the night. Jack, you mad, mad bastard, hope you’re OK. He did get the highest air award for his earlier effort, too.
It must be said now that to watch this spectacle was awe-inspiring for sure, but at the same time pretty damned terrifying. Kinda like a modern day gladiator show. The margin of error so tight and the consequences so high, yet the riders were pushing it so hard, it was nothing short of most intense spectating experience this hack has ever witnessed. God only knows what it was like to drop in. Anyway, after a break to allow us to warm our rapidly numbing extremities and a bit of German yoyoyo-ing from some Hip-hoppers, the superfinals were on. 3 runs, best one counts and please avoid the coping or landing flat. Please.
As tends to happen in most finals, it was a mixed bag of some guys failing to have much luck, others keeping it on the same level as their qualifiers and then the boys on fire stepping it up when it mattered. The run in was looking to be getting rutted from all the minor speed checks with the result that setting up to tackle the monster wall was all the more troublesome than it had been earlier, but while a few got the odd buck, the riders were still fully going for it.
A 6.1m backside 5 saw Kevin Pearce take the lead, albeit for a moment as Autti nailed a 6m frontside 7 Japan smooth as you like straight after. Arthur Longo styled backside airs around the 6.7m mark but it would have to be a truly monstrous straight air that would beat the beefy tech. Keller gave himself and us a scare taking off wrong on a 7m McTwist and we were all imploring him to please get it round. He did, but the knuckle took a piece of him too. Kim Rune Hansen fared worse: landing a bit flat from a huge backside rodeo he fell awkwardly and had to be carried off on a stretcher. Hope you’re OK dude. Then up stepped Pearce and put down a silky smooth 7m or so alley-oop backside 5 to move back into pole position. Antti knew he’d have to pull something special to get back in this and went for the 1080 at around 6m but couldn’t quite get it, then dropped his compatriot Peetu Piiroinen with another crazy traveling backside 5 tail at 6m or so to jump into 2nd.
On the third jump, although Longo got to 8m it was not enough, but Scotty Lago, pumping the crowd with his fists as he dropped in the run-in launched the trick of the night for your correspondant: a 7m alley-oop frontside 7 indy nosebone. Mad style, but perhaps there was the suggestion of a hand drag or something as it was only good enough to bump Peetu down to third.
So with the gnarlatron riding done, it was Kevin Pearce who took his third TTR title this season, and his second Air&Style, which moves him up into second in the TTR World Tour Ranking, just behind Risto Mattila. Lago finished up second, and Piiroinen – now sitting 3rd in the TTR – rounded out the trinity of madmen who gleefully beelined at 80kph or so towards the biggest frickin’ wall of snow this scribe's ever seen. You’re all fucking mad. Thanks for scaring the bejesus out of us, and leaving all who attended slack-jawed in awe at what some cats can do on a snowboard.
Billabong Air&Style 2008 Results:
1 – Kevin Pearce (USA) 2 – Scotty Lago (USA) 3 – Peetu Piiroinen (FIN) 4 - Antti Autti (FIN) 5 - Arthur Longo (FRA) APO 6 - Colin Frei (SUI) 7 - Markus Keller (SUI) 8 - Kim Rune Hansen (NOR)
- Tom Copsey