"New Zealand is known for skydiving, and bungee jumping and jet boat, so we wanted to play up on those attributes. Everybody comes down here and does that, but we wanted to figure out how we could tie that into the competition in some way," Burton's Maria McNulty said.
This year Burton launched a new competition format for the New Zealand leg of the Open tour. With the event now an invitational, riders were divided into 12 teams of five and competed in off-mountain adventure activities including knife throwing, jet boating and skeet shooting. Riders then headed up to Snow Park NZ to compete in straight finals slopestyle and halfpipe, in a one-hour jam.
"I haven't spoken to a single rider who's not in love with the new format," Scotty Lago said. "There were no worries about throwing a safety run to get into finals -- we're all already in finals."
It could have been the laid-back feel to the contest, or what he described as "getting lucky," but the format worked for men's slopestyle winner Mikkel Bang, who has not competed in slopestyle since the Winter X Games in January.
"I landed a good first run, and then I could build on my score from there," said Bang, who won with his first-run score. "I liked how it was only a finals competition. It was way more fair -- like you didn't have one person who could have won not make it through qualifiers."
The top three was rounded out with Sebastien Toutant and Stale Sandbech, whose backside 1440 over the final jump was one of the crowd's favorites. The first attempted triple cork in slopestyle competition was not enough to land Mark McMorris a podium position Friday.
In the women's slopestyle, Norway's Enni Rukajärvi took out first place with a clean and consistent top scoring run, with Kiwi Christy Prior and 15-year-old Ty Walker of the USA closing out the top three.
Thirteen-year-old Ayumu Hirano of Japan showed the older competitors how it was done in men's halfpipe, with a huge first run that proved unbeatable throughout the jam. Greg Bretz's third-place effort spoiled an imminent all-Japanese podium, with Ryo Aono claiming second place.
Queralt Castellet and Kelly Clark had an epic battle at the top of the scoreboard in women's pipe, swapping positions many times in the jam. Castellet's clean 1080 couldn't edge Clark's huge amplitude, so even though Clark landed a 1080 in an otherwise throwaway run, she didn't need it to take out first place. Kaitlyn Farrington followed in team captain Clark's winning form, taking out third place.
While the competition was largely considered a success by organizers and riders alike, the format change this year from open to invitational caused some grumbling by some of the local New Zealand snowboard population, which looked forward to competing in the event each year.
"I think there's space for both types of contest," Clark said. "Seeing the open contest is great because it gives kids -- I know even myself at a young age -- an opportunity to compete with the people we look up to. I think having room for invitational contests allows there to be events like this as well."
Added Lago: "It's definitely going to affect the riders who didn't get invited, simply because they don't get to ride in the contest." However, competition organizers emphasized that the change was mostly a result of trying to make it more fun for both snowboarders and fans, and this was acknowledged by the riders.
"It's different. I've never been a part of a contest like this before, so it's nice to mix it up," Clark said. "I think it's hard to jump into a summertime event and just have it all systems go, because no one's been on snow that much. So it's kind of nice to have something that has a bit more of a fun element to it."
Organizer McNulty says she hopes the competition is here to stay as snowboarding contests continue to evolve. "Burton wants to show we can do something new and different and we can have fun with our contests," she said. "It's not that we were trying to move away from any type of format; we were just trying to do something different. I think all in all, it was a huge success."