If there is one thing European big air contest organizers know how to do well it's how to throw a good party. And if there's one thing that big air competitors like more than anything (besides winning), it's performing for a rowdy crowd. And so this weekend's Freestyle.ch contest in Zurich, Switzerland did not disappoint.
Freestyle.ch is a techno-dj-infused ski/snowboard/fmx/mountain bike mega-contest, with three jumps -- one snow and two dirt -- that have people spinning off them in all directions in front of a packed house, for two days straight. These people are not messing around.
Day one was supposed to be a massive audience-judged "crossover contest," with every athlete from every discipline competing against each other, all at once. Unfortunately some rain made the dirt jumps unsafe, so just the skiers and snowboarders ended up in the multi-sport face off. In a not-so-shocking conclusion to the epic battle, the Swiss crowd declared Swiss skier Elias Ambül victorious, with some other Swiss riders coming in crowd-cheer seconds.
The real victory of the crossover was that women were invited to drop in for the first time in the contest's history. "I came here for the last 10 years, and every year I would look at the boys and say, 'Ah, I just want to ski and do that, and why aren't we allowed?' And then I gave up," said Virginie Faivre, who got to ski in the contest Saturday night. "There are so many girls in the crowd. I think it's inspiring for them to see that there is a chance, and they will get motivated to do it. I hope that the other city big airs try to follow."
Sunday was back to the dude festival, but since the sun decided to come out the FMX and mountain bikers got to join the party. Here's who won: Chas Guldemond took snowboard big air, Henrik Harlaut won for ski, Dany Torres took his fourth straight Freestyle.ch win in FMX, and Martin Söderström finished first in mountain bike dirt.
The true entertainment in the snowboard event came in the semi-finals, where riders were so clearly having a good time in the warm sun that the one-upmanship seemed to revolve around to who could do the funniest trick, or most inventive double grab. Eero Ettala did a particularly hilarious front flip stuffy mute grab, while Seppe Smits came in with a two-handed nose grab on a back five, followed by Ståle Sandbech with a mute to late tweaked-out indy-grab variation. Meanwhile Guldemond kept it mellow with slow backside 180s while Halldor Helgason and Pat Burgener seemed to be playing a private game of backside rodeo Japan P.I.G.
And then came the finals, where all the fun spun out the window in a flurry of 1260s and mostly un-stomped double cork attempts. (Yawn) And here it should be noted that you can't seriously try to win a big-air contest and pull a double grab. It's one or the other -- there is no middle ground.
Also, if you have to grab your knee and tuck it into your chest fetal-position style to get a triple backflip around, maybe you should stick to those other tricks you do so well instead -- you know, the ones you do so slow and smooth that anyone watching can't help but sit back and say,"Wow, now there's a kid who is well on his way to having near-untouchable style." No names here. You know who you are.
Winter X superstar Tom Wallisch laughed his way through the ski finals, which makes him the winner, even though on paper he came in last. Phil Casabon's no-pole switch 1080 nose butter earned him second place while Kai Mahler and Henrik Harlaut finished neck-and-neck, with Harlaut's double cork 12 coming in just ahead Mahler's switch double 12.
"This is my first ever win here, and I'm very stoked on the crowd. It's awesome," said Harlaut, who then went on to deliver the rest of his victory speech in Jamaican while thousands of excited ski fans cheered behind him.
This was year 18 for Freestyle.ch. Unless there are fire hoops and shark tanks involved, it's hard to imagine how they're going to top this next year. Guess we'll have to wait and see.