When: 3-10 February, 2009
Where: Arlberg, Austria
Mitch Toelderer, Jeremy Jones and Cody Townsend checking the face
The O'Neill Big Mountain Pro kicked off in Arlberg, Tirol today with blazing sunshine.
The probably biggest difference from last year's event is that this year, the Big Mountain Pro is not part of the Freeride World Tour and only took 6 snowboarders and 6 skiers on the trip. The invited snowboarders are Jeremy Jones, Eric Themel, Mitch Toelderer, Xavier de le Rue, Thomas “Beckna" Eberharter and Fredrik Evensen. Like this the event can react much quicker and more flexible to changing conditions, what is much more in line with the nature of the event, as the organisers stated. Last year they only had two full riding days and in the end there were only to lines to judge - as you will see it's going to be a lot different in 2009!
The first day already started of with riding two faces in two different locations. Although big mountain legend Jeremy Jones was a little disappointed about the mountains not being the huge monsters he's used to from Alaska and all over the world, the guys showed some pretty nice moves.
The "warm up run" was held at the Wirth, not really a high mountain but still a quite difficult one, as it was little icy. That we didn't have to go up that high also had a good side though - at least for the spectators, who could watch the whole thing going down from the terrace of a hotel opposite the face.
While all the riders were hiking their way up behind the guides, Jeremy Jones was the only one to hike way to the side to get a good look at the possible runs. Well, he isn't THE big mountain pro and didn't win last year’s event for no reason, and checking the face out thoroughly proved to get him the most difficult and also outstanding line of all snowboarders and skiers. Instead of going down the big cliff drop in the middle of the face he went through a lot of little rocks and trees more to the right side of the face and showed a fluent and quite technical run.
Eric Themel droping in
Eric Themel instead went right through the middle and down the huge cliff drop, following the line of most of the skiers who went down before the snowboarders. As many of them didn't really stomp that drop, the landing wasn't smooth anymore and none of the snowboarders managed to get over there without at least a bit of tumbling.
Although he later stated, that he had to take it easy because he already had problems with his back since the week before, Beckna was riding very fluent as well and, unlike his fellow rippers, chose a line on the left side of the face. Next to Jeremy Jones, the Big Moutain champ of 2007 Xavier de le Rue was the rider who hit the most features and managed to get the crow whooing at his really versatile run. The run of Norwegian Fredrik Evensen hinted that he's still kind of a young blood in freeriding as he chose a rather easy line.
In the afternoon the whole pack of riders, shapers, organisers and of course media headed up to the Sonnenkopf Mountain in the Arlberg region to do the second run of the day. As promised for this year’s event, there were going to be more freestyle elements. The crew shaped two kickers which snowboarders as well as skiers hit - with what from where were cowering in the windshield seemed to be great fun - and there were also some natural features inviting to show some tricks.
Xavier again showed that he's a true master of freeriding and showed the in my eyes best run of the day, speeding down towards the kickers after some nice cliff drops and stomping 360 spins off both kickers. Apart from Jeremy Jones, who again picked a truly unique line, all of the snowboarders hit the kicker - but none of them landed their tricks as smoothly as Xavier.
I guess Frederik was starting to feel more comfortably now that he could use his freestyle skills and rode more securely before he went for a huge rock in the middle of the face. Unfortunately that turned out as an ollie –to-cartwheel thing, which seemingly was so much fun that he build in a second tumbler right before the kicker. But taken into account that he hasn't done nearly as much backcountry riding and especially doesn’t have the experience in freeride competitions as his fellow riders, Fredrik was still managing pretty well and after the cautious start in the morning really going for it in the second run.
Xavier 360 on the second face of the day
Beckna showed his long freestyle experience with a 360 and a 720, although he couldn't stomp the last one either. The landing of the second kicker seemed to be quite difficult, as also Eric Themel didn't stomp his last 360 although he prepared well for the event being more freestyle oriented this year by practicing spins last week.
The biggest crowd-pleaser of the day was provoked by the young French skier Thomas “Bichon" Diet, who threw a massive double backflip over the second kicker.
So far from today, tomorrow we’ll be heading to Innsbruck for the second competition day - keep posted for more news!
- Anna Langer