The Alps, 7th March 2007
The Swatch O’Neill Big Mountain Pro 2007 awoke to 15cm of fresh snow on Wednesday morning. And after Tuesday morning’s coffee-gate scandal, everyone was pleased to once again see pots of the black doctor sitting on the breakfast tables.
After the first contest runs on Tuesday morning, staged near Courmayeur, riders returned to the small Italian village of Arpy for a classic pasta-based meal and a few glasses of the local plonk. Following dinner, riders and everyone else involved, including invited media, came together to watch the morning’s action on the big screen. Biggest cheers of the evenings went to the likes of snowboarders Jeremy Jones and Xavier de le Rue and skiers Cody Townsend and the Scandinavian connection: Sverre Liliequist and Kaj Zackrisson. All of these guys killed it on the mountain earlier in the day, and were rewarded with big cheers from the crowd of viewers.
A much gentler wake-up call on Wednesday morning was welcomed by all, and everyone was packed and ready to leave town by 9am. Nicolas Hale-Woods and his team of contest organizers and mountain guides had decided the evening before to move the contest back to the beautiful Swiss village of Champéry – the location for last week’s ice hockey and curling sessions.
This time, however, snowboarding and skiing are on the cards, with a contest run planned for Thursday afternoon somewhere in the vast Portes du Soleil ski area. Straddling the Swiss and French border, the resort is one of the largest in the world, and one that freestyle shred Jules Reymond knows only too well. As we drove back via the St-Bernard tunnel in Switzerland, Jules said: “It’s pretty funny that we’ll be riding in an area that I spend so much time in – I actually rent a place just down the valley so I’m hoping some home advantage will come into play on Thursday.” The skiers, meanwhile, have also got someone equally at home in Les Portes du Soleil in the name of local talent Evariste Berney.
Having arrived in Champéry just after lunchtime, everyone was pleased to take a little time to relax after checking into the Hotel Suisse – boasting what could only be described as deluxe surroundings compared to the minimalist, military-inspired hostel in Arpy. As riders strolled through the picturesque streets of Champéry, the bad weather and warm temperatures forecast for most of the day gave way to rays of bright sunshine and white peaks from time to time, providing everyone with a hint of what might be to come on Thursday.
O’Neill freeskier Loris Falquet was stoked to be back in his native Switzerland, and said: “I’m really looking forward to competing again tomorrow. I was a little disappointed not to stick my first cliff drop in yesterday’s contest run, so I’ll be out to make amends tomorrow. I know that the guides have been exploring the area today, so I just hope they manage to find a nice peak with a stable snow pack for us to ski.” Leading this innovative mobile event from the starting line in Laax right through to the finishing post in Innsbruck, Nicolas Hale-Woods had this to day: “Following extensive consultation with our guides and weather forecasters, we’ve decided to head back to Switzerland as we believe we’ll get more favorable weather conditions here over the coming 36 hours. Getting the best snowboarders and skiers to the best snow on the best mountains in Europe has always been our mission, and it’s one we’re sticking to.”
Courmayeur, 06 March 07
The Swatch O'Neill Big Mountain Pro 2007 moved into the Italian Alps on Monday evening, in search of fresh snow and clear weather conditions. Contest organizers were keen to find the best possible conditions in the area in order to stage the first official day of competition following the cancellation of Sunday's proceedings due to an elevated avalanche risk.
After arriving in Arpy on Monday evening, we were awoken at 5.30am on Tuesday by the organizers and bussed it to Courmayeur in time for a 7.30am heli-lift to the observation point facing the peak which had been singled out by our team of mountain guides. Boasting good snow conditions and with only a minimal avalanche risk, the mountain was ready and waiting for the onslaught of 16 of the world's best snowboarders and skiers.
As the riders and skiers examined the peak from the bottom before the hike to the summit, it was clear the competitors were all looking forward to throwing down their best runs. With 2 possible entry points from the top of the peak, riders and skiers knew they would need to pick creative lines to stand out from the rest and avoid any tracks. Austria's Mitch Toelderer has plenty of experience in this game, and said: "I think the biggest challenge is picking a line that nobody else can see. I'm quite far down the starting list, so I want to make sure I score some untracked powder and a smooth ride."
While starting late might have been a disadvantage, it nevertheless gave the likes of Mitch a good opportunity to observe other riders and snow conditions from the top. A handful of heavy slams from the first 4 or 5 riders and skiers raised a few concerns up top, with freestyle snowboarder Jules Reymond picking up a bloody nose for his troubles as he failed to stomp an impressive cliff drop in the top half of the run.
Geraldine Fasnacht, an invited guest and the only female rider in the event, surprised everyone with her fluid choice of line and outstanding freeriding ability. France's Xavier de le Rue was one of the few riders to stomp the big cliff drop at the top of the mountain, and flew down the rest at lightening speed before throwing in a styled-out backside 360 indy to close out his run. Legendary freeride snowboarder Jeremy Jones came down the mountain without encountering any difficulties, and even threw in a frontside 180 halfway down the mountain to prove that it's not only freestylers that can land switch in powder. Speaking after his run, Jeremy said: "I had fun up there. In the end, the snow held up well and it's just great to get our first competition day under our belts."
The sometimes tricky snow conditions seemed to be favoring the skiers as the morning progressed, particularly in the landing zones. Sweden's Kaj Zackrisson and Sverre Lilliequist both nailed their runs perfectly, mixing up drawn out powder turns and big drops with ease. In other news, many were saying the trick of the day belonged to Switzerland's Phil Meier, who stomped a huge backflip to the delight of the spectators below. Other standout skiers included France's Seb Michaud and Thomas Diet, who both picked a super-creative line through the bottom section of cliffs.
It was to be California's Cody Townsend, however, who was to set the bar for the rest of the skiers with a flawless run which saw him airing over 4 big cliffs without a hint of hesitation. Fluid as water from top to bottom, the only US skier in the Big Mountain Pro will be hard to beat on this kind of form. Reflecting on his run, Cody said: "I'm psyched! My run went just the way I wanted - I got lots of air the whole way down, and stuck all my landings. Stoked!"
DAY 4 - Contest Cancelled due to high avalanche risk
Siviez, 4th March 2007 – Day 4 of the Swatch O'Neill Big Mountain Pro kicked off at 5.30am on Sunday, as Nicolas Hale-Woods and his team of contest organizers were determined to make the most of a favorable window in the weather system crossing over the Alps. Leaving the Col de la Forclaz, the convoy of vehicles and the contest coach arrived in Siviez at 7.30am for the heli-lift to the observation point opposite the backcountry peak.
Once at the observation point, riders scoped out their lines for 45 minutes, and gave an indication of what might be to come. Jules Raymond, third in line to make his run, was excited at the prospect of scoring some fresh turns. He said: Yeah, I have my line planned and I think the peak has plenty of potential. I'm pretty concerned about the snow conditions as I'm one of the first to drop, though.
And as it turned out, Jules cautious approach was fully justified. As riders were being helied to the top of the peak, a huge avalanche thundered down the central area of the mountain. With that, organizers had no option but to pull the plug on today's contest, and you could tell the riders appreciated the call. Jonas Emery added: Wow, that was pretty sketchy. I saw the avalanche from the top, and I'm very hapy with the organizers decision to cancel the runs today. Sometimes the hardest decision is the right one, and in this case I think they got it spot on. Safety of the riders should always come first.
Nicolas Hale-Woods, event organizer, had this to say: As everyone can see, the conditions are just too dangerous today. The sunny weather and warm temperatures are having a considerable effect on the snow pack, and rather than risk anyone's life, we think the best option would be for everyone to go for a freeriding session this afternoon on terrain that is much less exposed.
So while there was disappointment at the high avalanche risk today, riders are stoked to have an opportunity to explore the vast ski areas of Verbier and Nendaz. Another session among friends in the sun - you can't ask for much more, can you?
The Alps, 28th February 2007
The Swatch O’Neill Big Mountain Pro 2007 is bang on target for its scheduled launch date, with recent fresh snowfalls over the European Alps ensuring the best snow conditions of the year for what will be the inaugural edition of this new and innovative freeride contest.
16 of the world’s best snowboarders and skiers are currently making their way to the Swiss ski resort of Laax, where the Take-off Party will kick off the event in style on 1st March 2007. The confirmed competitor start list for the snowboarders includes the likes of 5-time Big Mountain Rider of the Year Jeremy Jones, Austrian Mitch Toelderer and freestyle killers Stefan Gimpl, Jules Reymond and Jonas Emery. Legendary US freerider Steve Klassen will hope his vast experience makes the difference, while Xavier de la Rue and Cyril Neri are widely considered solid outside bets.
The starting list for the skiers, meanwhile, sees Sweden’s Kaj Zackrisson and Sverre Liliequist competing against the likes of Switzerland’s Phil Meier and Loris Falquet. Unfortunately, Canada’s Hugo Harrisson is unable to compete due to injury, and has been replaced by US freeskier Cody Townsend. Outnumbered 7 to 1 by the European contingent, Townsend will be hoping to take the title back across the Atlantic come the end of the week. However, France’s Thomas Diet and Switzerland’s Evariste Berney will be standing firmly in his way.
By adopting an innovative mobile contest format, the Swatch O’Neill Big Mountain Pro 2007 promises to give these exceptional riders and skiers the very best snow conditions and terrain on which to showcase their talent. The pre-existing snow pack and recent fresh dumps have encouraged organizers to consider the Western Swiss Alps as a very strong potential arena for the opening days of the contest window. Other contenders include Austria’s Arlberg region, the Swiss areas of Grand St Bernhard (Verbier) and Graubünden (St Moritz/Davos), as well as Chamonix – widely recognized as the spiritual home of freeriding. The final decision will be made on (Day – 2) during the event.
Nicolas Hale-Woods, event organizer, is eagerly looking forward to seeing what these world-class athletes are capable of, adding: “Winter has finally arrived to bless the Swatch O’Neill Big Mountain Pro! We’re all super-stoked about the strength of the starting list. We’re sure to witness some epic action from the more established freeriders right through to the new wave of freestyle-oriented big mountain explorers including Jules Reymond and Thomas Diet.”
With 3 competition days set to unfold on 3 different mountains during the course of a 10 day contest window, plus a prize purse totaling €60,000, the Swatch O’Neill Big Mountain Pro 2007 promises to revolutionize the world of freeride snowboarding and skiing competition. Riders and skiers will judge one another at the end of the week via video playback in the Austrian city of Innsbruck, determining who made the best overall impression.