Nostalgia was in the air here at the Air and Style in Innsbruck this evening. Quite literally in the case of legends such as Jamie Lynn, Bryan Iguchi, Devun Walsh, Mike Basich, Sani Alibabic, Max Plotzender and Terje Haakonsen, who returned to the city's Bergisel ski jumping stadium for one last final Big Air hurrah.
The occasion was the Burn Style Session, a throwback jam comp that pitted these bone fide legends of the sport against modern shredders such as eventual winner Marco Grilc, Arthur Longo and Werni Stock. This was surely the most diverse field in the history of competitive snowboarding, and as you might imagine, the riding that subsequently went down was a fitting tribute to the most influential big air event of the last twenty years.
Not that snowboarding was the only reason for nostalgia. This year is the Air and Style's twentieth anniversary, a landmark that meant memories of the 1999 disaster, the tragedy that marked the end of the event's first stint in Innsbruck's Bergisel, had a particularly poignant edge. Small wonder that the riders put on a show.
With such a mixed field, the event format was predictably laid-back. There were two sessions, during which each rider could take as many runs as they liked, with judges Reto Lamm and Ingemar Backman scoring purely on style rather than technicality. Early standouts included Sven Thorgen, with a sweet rodeo nose grab to lip slide, andPeter Konig, who's rodeo to frontside 3 Japan off the rail seemed to catch the judges eyes.
Elsewhere, it was fascinating watching legends such as Jamie Lynn and Bryan Iguchi deal with a jump and crowd that was presumably far in excess of anything they'd dealt with for the last twenty years. Each nailed classic backside airs, while Mike Basich and Devun Walsh pushed it with smooth backside and frontside 3s respectively. Ultimate respect, however, must go to to the legendary Max Plotzender for his frontside rodeo attempts. He didn't get close to sticking them, but it was a tantalising glimpse into the attitude and style that once pushed him to the top of the sport.
Plaudits were eventually taken by winner Marco Grilc, who hit two crowd pleasing home runs: the first a switch frontside rodeo off the toes (or was it a chicane?) smooth enough to polish boots; the second a double backflip to tail skid that showcased all his enviable board control. He was pushed hard by Elias Erhardt's frontside 3 stalefish, Sani Alibabic's milquetoast switch backside 180 and Werni Stock's switch backside 540 mute.
Not that point was who won - even if Grilo did trouser €10,000 for his efforts. As cheesy as it sounds, the real winner tonight, in a world obsessed with ever more complicated spin variations, was snowboarding. It's a stock phrase, but having the chance to see some of the best riders in the world actually express themselves, instead of worry about sticking a double or triple cork, was genuinely refreshing. Marco Grilc could do more difficult tricks in his sleep; the point is his chose these, as ordinary snowboarders do when they hit the hill.
Equally invigorating was the opportunity to watch an absolute cast iron legend like Jamie Lynn spend the night getting to grips with a jump that was obviously so beyond anything he would normally ride these days. The fact that he struggled (compared to a modern big air vet like Grilo) is besides the point. Like a day out with your friends, this night wasn't about sheer accomplishment. It was about personal fulfilment and achievement, far removed from the competitive scale that real sports are judged by.