When it comes to snowboarding and progression, there's always a balance to strike. There is a reason there is so much concern among shredders about the currently ridiculous level of progression at the top of the sport. The more snowboarding becomes "about" who's doing what triple and what double cork, the further away it moves from what the snowboarding experience is actually like for the vast majority of riders out there.
That's why this week's tenth anniversary of Vans Wängl Tängl, an insanely fun combination of sun, music, art and cutting edge snowboarding and skateboarding, could well be the perfect grassroots event.
Organized by Austria's famed Aesthetiker crew, a collective of riders that includes Steve Gruber, Thomas 'Beckna' Eberharter and Wolle Nyvelt, the Wängl Tängl seeks to capture riding's purest feeling --i.e. you and your crew shredding the hill and slashing each other with pow -- in contest form.
"For us, snowboarding is about a spirit of friendship and genuine bond on one side, and pure individual freedom on the other," says organizer and Aesthetiker Poidl Gruber. "That's why when we began the event ten years ago. We didn't want to obsess about contest conventions such as 'how high? and 'how far?' We wanted to focus instead on creativity and style."
It's a recipe that has seen the event grow into one of the European scenes most well-respected contests in the last decade. For this year's tenth-anniversary the crew theme has been at the forefront, with riders and skaters invited to compete in teams throughout the week.
It means local kids have the chance to session and push each other against some of snowboarding and skateboarding's heaviest hitters. Among the latter, Peetu Piiroinen, Erik Willet, Iouri Podladtchikov and Arthur Longo were among the pro shreds who made the trek straight to Mayrhofen from the Winter X Games in Tignes, France.
The weather gods were another unofficial crew at the event, serving up the perfect set of conditions: 30cm of fresh on Monday gave everyone the chance to loosen up their legs in some powder, before blazing sunshine and slushy, park-perfect conditions set in for the rest of the week.
For both riders and spectators, the Vans Penken Park at WT offers another change from the usual snowboarding contest atmosphere. Spectators can get way closer to the action than at other events, while the riders are offered the chance to get creative on the array of weird and wonderful obstacles created for the event. This itself is another WT hallmark, and is definitely not your usual contest set-up. Riders are offered multiple line options (including the legendary Red Bull end section, this year made up of two bowls and a wallride), meaning they have the chance to express themselves in a way pretty much unknown at most contests.
It makes for a communal vibe, with the crews strategizing at the top before dropping, and is reflected in the riding, easily the most laidback and creative I've seen at any contest this season. For me, it was summed up by one highlight from the semi finals: a beautiful frontside 5 crail, stalled out to perfection. You don't see those in the average TTR final, that's for sure.
In the end, the podium summed up the ethos of the comp perfectly, with the Triple Cocks (Peetu Piironen, Janni Korpe and Vile Uotila) taking the win in front of Team YMCA, a local crew made up of Mathias Weissenbacher, Clemens Schattschneider and Adrian Krainer, and the Collective in third (Max Buri, Boris Buhler and Tor Lundstrom).
Off the hill, the Vans Wangl Tangl has also always been about celebrating the other diverse aspect of boardsports culture, particularly art and music. This year, both these strands of the event have again been key features. On the art side, the focus was an exhibition held at Mayrhofen's Europahaus and organized by Looking Sideways. It featured ten of the boardsports' world's most original artistic talents, including Ed Templeton, Blaise Rosenthal, Schoph Schophield and Corey Smith, and has been open to the public all week.
"For us the crew represents a way of life" says Aesthetiker Drew Stevenson, trying to define what it is that makes this event such a standout "It is the unspoken, rather than the explained. It is the intuitive, rather than the defined." Whatever it is, this has been one kick-ass contest. Here's to ten more years.