Swiss rider Iouri Podladtchikov closed out the 2012-13 TTR World Snowboard Tour on Saturday with a win at The Arctic Challenge men's halfpipe finals at Norway's Oslo Vinterpark thanks to an explosive final run that left him ahead of Chinese rider Yiwei Zhang and Japanese rider Ayumu Hirano for the top spot.
"It feels amazing to come back here and to be able to win again," Podladtchikov said in a podium interview after the event, referring to his 2012 World Championships of Snowboarding win in Oslo. "I would say the level was incredible, and we were all really challenged. Great day, great evening, great crowd -- that's all I've got to say."
Overall honors for the 2012-13 season went to Finnish rider Peetu Piiroinen, who secured his fourth TTR World Snowboard Tour overall championship title Saturday after Norwegian rider Ståle Sandbech failed to make the cut for the 10-man finals.
The WST overall ranking is based on a combination of two halfpipe results, two slopestyle results and one big air result during the 2012-13 season; Piiroinen finished in fifth place in the pipe Saturday, closing out a season that included top-10 finishes in both halfpipe and slopestyle earlier this month at the Burton U.S. Open.
There aren't many riders who still compete in multiple disciplines, and the rivalry between Piiroinen and Sandbech had been hyped in the lead-up to The Arctic Challenge.
"This goes to show how great riders they are," TTR Pro Snowboarding co-founder Henning Andersen told XGames.com, noting that a decade ago all riders at The Arctic Challenge competed in all disciplines. "The tendency is going toward more and more specialization. ... It's getting harder and harder to dominate overall, and that's why these riders get so much respect from the other riders. They know how hard it is. Maybe it is only Peetu, Stale and Shaun that can ride on this level in all disciplines now. Let's hope they inspire others."
In the halfpipe finals, Podladtchikov did not attempt the frontside double cork 1440 variation he's been calling the YOLO Flip but alluded to the trick after the competition.
"I really want to put this new trick in competition, and we only have one contest left. X Games Tignes is where we're headed next," Podladtchikov said.
Hirano, 14, had been the favorite coming into The Arctic Challenge, and the contest was something of a victory lap for him after securing his first TTR World Snowboard Tour halfpipe championship title earlier this month with a second-place finish behind Shaun White at the Burton U.S. Open. Hirano also won the 6Star Burton European Open in February, grabbed a silver medal behind White at the 6Star X Games Aspen in January and won the 5Star Burton High Fives event in New Zealand in August. He led after the semifinals Saturday and through the first two rounds of finals competition -- his Cab 1080 nose grab was the highest-scoring trick of the day -- but failed to answer in the third run after Podladtchikov posted the only total run score in the 90s and Zhang launched into second place.
Zhang's run was perhaps the biggest surprise of the day. The Chinese rider boosted a massive backside air on his first hit as if trying to outdo Hirano's opening trick then knocked out a frontside 1080 double cork, Cab 1080 double cork and double crippler.
He also had the best and most Zen-like quote of the day: "This much I can do, so I do it."
Zhang will be one to watch in the lead-up to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. He made the finals at both U.S. Grand Prix events this year and has been making a name for himself on the FIS World Cup circuit. He finished the 2012-13 World Snowboard Tour ranked 23rd in halfpipe competition and 72nd in the overall standings.
The Arctic Challenge, founded by Norwegian snowboarding legend Terje Haakonsen, felt scaled back this year after last year's World Championships of Snowboarding debut and the test run in 2011, which both featured men's and women's halfpipe and slopestyle competition. (The event had previously featured men's competition only.) The Arctic Challenge had also historically featured a massive quarterpipe big air competition that was noticeably absent this year.
"After doing the World Championships, which was a huge event, we wanted to go back to where we started and focus on an exclusive event for the best riders in the world only," Andersen told XGames.com. "Further, it is a budget decision. The slopestyle takes at least three times as much snow and production budged compared to the pipe … and as The Arctic Challenge was financed without any sponsorships this year, our budgets have been really tight. We were close to canceling the event but made it in the last minute [as late as Jan. 20] with the Drink Water/Bergesen Project and extra support from the city of Oslo. We would not have been able to finance a slopestyle anyhow, but we will look into it in the future for when sponsors come back in."
X Games Tignes, a 6Star TTR World Snowboard Tour event, will kick off the 2013-14 TTR World Snowboard Tour season March 20-22.
"With the events this spring counting toward the new winter season, riders have a great opportunity to collect World Snowboard Tour points early in the year before their Olympic preparation will start," TTR Pro Snowboarding spokeswoman Danielle Reiff-Jongerius told XGames.com. "We hope these events can relieve some of the winter pressure on riders in the season ahead."
2013 Arctic Challenge Men's Halfpipe Finals
|1||Iouri Podladtchikov (SUI)||90.28|
|2||Yiwei Zhang (CHN)||85.48|
|3||Ayumu Hirano (JPN)||84.48|
|4||Taku Hiraoka (JPN)||81.93|
|5||Peetu Piiroinen (FIN)||80.95|