What is it about pipe that makes it the darling of the competition world? Is it the Olympics? Is it that dude with red hair? Is it the fact that by this point superpipe dimensions are so standardized that it's easy for a mainstream tv-watching audience to follow and understand?
Slopestyle competitions, by comparison, are such an unruly beast. No two courses are built alike, and all are affected by a wide variety of variables -- from weather (changing snow temps change the speed needed to hit each jump) to whether or not the kickers were built to accommodate skiers (who, lacking natural tail pop, prefer more lippy takeoffs) -- that ultimately determine the level of snowboarding that goes down on them, and with that, the viewer's perception of the skill level of the riders themselves. A bad course can make for the most boring competition. But when the course is good? The riding level can give you goose bumps.
Though the two-hit O'Neill Evolution slope course was really one jump away from being a "big air" comp, its set up facilitated such a high level of trick throwing that it was truly one of the most exciting slopestyle contests I've watched in years. And that's saying something, because it's hard to root for riders whose names you barely recognize -- I know I'm not the only person looking at the competitive slope field right now wondering, seriously, where half of them came from.
The kids are taking over slopestyle -- the median age has to come in somewhere around 17-18, and for sure no one in the Evolution slope finals was over 24. There is a whole new crop of faces out there, and is most of them are really, really good, and really, really fun to watch.
Tonight's competition came down a battle of the 12s, and four-way face off between Seb Toutant, Eric Willett, Mark McMorris and Seppe Smits. Toutant had a cab double cork 12 melon (which he won the Air & Style Beijing with), McMorris had a cab double cork 12 (super steezy) nose, Willett had a switch backside double cork 12 mute, and Smits had a flat backside 12 mute (which he got second in Beijing with). The difference between this and a regular one-hit big air comp (where they would be most likely showcasing the same tricks) is here they had to follow up with a rail trick. The combo is what took a lot of riders out of contention in the finals, and the rail is where most of the requisite controversy over judging was centered.
There was a kinked rail, but most competitors chose to hit the cannon option. Both Willett and McMorris did frontside tailslide to 450 out, Toutant did a backside boardslide to underflip out, and Smits did a cab 180 on, 5-0 to backside 360 out. All stomped. The question, however, is whether a boardslide to underflip -- while cool -- is technically a "rail trick" and should have been scored higher than Smits' banger, which was unquestionably a "rail trick."
Asked afterwards to explain the philosophy behind the judging on the rail feature, Dani Kiwi Meier, Head Judge on the TTR World Tour, said, "it comes down to how they get on the rail, how they lock in, how they pop off, and how smooth their body movement or flow all looks." So, loosely interpreted, this means that style wins out over tech on the rail sections in TTR contests -- or, at least it did in this one.
The real question, that will never be answered, however, is if McMorris would have won it if he went up for his last run. Sitting in first place after a close to perfect second run, McMorris declined to try to better his score. Toutant was sitting in third as he dropped in for his last run, which according to Meier was:
"Utter, utter perfection. Mark had the best trick of the night, but Seb's [last run] was polished and huge." And so it was that Toutant won it, on the final run of the night.
"It was so amazing today," said Toutant, "Every run we were stepping it up. On my last run I was outside of the podium and I just went for it and stomped my best cab 12 ever. It was so much fun. It feels so great to be on the podium with my good friends."
"The riding at this event ... doesn't even compare to anything else I've judged," added Meier.
Though this was Toutant's second TTR 6 Star win of the season, Smits has so far competed in more TTR contests, and so his fourth-place finish today have moved him into the top spot on the TTR World Tour ranking. Smits knocked out Gjermund Braaten, who broke his collarbone at the Dew Tour Breckenridge stop last month, and probably won't be back competing in time to catch up. Notably absent from tonight's competition was Marko Grilc, who had the unfortunate luck to eat at a shady restaurant in Davos yesterday and go down with food poisoning. Look for Grilo to come back firing at the Burton European Open next week to rebate this.
As far as the women go -- did you really think slopestyle queen Jamie Anderson wasn't going to win? Where are all the 16-19 year old female slope rippers at?