The first day of competition on the Swatch O’Neill Big Mountain Pro saw the six skiers steal the spotlight from the snowboarders.
Boarding the bus in St Anton am Arlberg at 7am under clear blue skies, the 12 riders were treated to two faces in one day on which to hike and ride untouched powder.
“We started the day on Wirth – a small face in the St Anton region,” event director Nicolas Hale Woods said. “It was a good warm-up for all of the riders.”
However it was last year’s winner, Jeremy Jones who wowed all watching with his original and adventurous line down the face, setting the standard for all to follow.
“There were up to four features for the riders on the 150m vertical face, so it was great start,” Nicolas Hale Woods said.
The second face, Ameisen Spitze, is where the skiers stole the show. A bigger face with challenging natural features, was enhanced with two kickers built by the world class team of David Reinthaler and Nick Francke.
“I’ve been shaping in parks and on events for the past few years so getting back into the mountains and shaping in the backcountry again has been great,” said Nick Francke.
“Our aim was to build two nice kickers at the end of the run. The skiers charged it pretty hard. I think the snowboarders didn’t expect it to be so much like a freestyle kicker, but they all seemed to like it,” said David Reinthaler.
Among them was Eric Themel, who despite “flipping over the nose of my board twice because I brought the wrong board for the snow conditions,” was still enthusiastic about the two “perfectly shaped kickers,” as well as the two shapers standing by cheering on the riders; “It’s not often you get that kind of support freeriding on a mountain,” he said.
On that second face, snowboarder, Xavier de le Rue stood out for his fast and fluid line… and the two 360s he pulled out over the two kickers.
And amongst the skiers it was Thomas Diet who stole the show.
“Today really suited me,” Thomas said. “It was a mix of freeride and freestyle with the two big kickers at the end. I took two cliff drops and then took the two kickers.”
Thomas didn’t just take the two kickers, he impressed the crowds watching from the other side of the mountain with a back flip over the first and a double back flip over the second… before and after his two cliff drops.
“I’m essentially a freerider,” he said. “But I’ve always loved jumping off things since I was young, so this was perfect.”
This is Thomas Diet’s third Big Mountain Pro, and the experience he has gained between each one showed today.
“I’m only 24 years old,” he said. “When you look at the good freeriders they have so much experience and really understand the mountain.”
“When you see people like Jeremy Jones and Xavier de le Rue they can read details on the mountain from almost a few kilometers away. I really try to learn from these guys and ask them a lot of questions.”
The Swatch O’Neill Big Mountain Pro will stay in the St Anton am Arlberg region tomorrow as it looks towards the face of Brandjoch, just outside of Innsbruck for another challenging and no doubt spectacular day of competition.
“I know the face tomorrow,” says local Eric Themel. “It’s a special one to ride because you can see Innsbruck the entire time you are riding down. It’s hard to find another place in the world you can go freeriding while you look over a major city.”
This is something the riders could get used to; another early start, clear blue skies, a spectacular face and near-perfect powder snow… it’s the second day of competition on the Swatch O’Neill
Big Mountain Pro.
The Brandjoch face, sitting spectacularly above the city of Innsbruck, enticed the riders up with a long traverse and a two hour hike.
“It’s so nice to hike up and really get to understand the mountain,” local rider, Mitch Toelderer said. “It lets us gradually progress to the top rather than just being dumped up there with a helicopter. Plus there was such a good vibe within the whole group. Everyone was enjoying it. It was like a day out riding with friends.
Cody Townsend was another who relished the walk to the top. “I’ve been riding a lot with Jeremy Jones recently and he tends to try to hike as much as possible so I’ve started doing a lot more walking,” he said. “It adds something more like a sense of achievement as well as adventure.”
Cody today not only pulled off a spectacular run down his chosen line, but also managed to start off a spectacular avalanche. “I set off the biggest avalanche I have ever set off in my life today,” he said. “But I didn’t see it until I got to the bottom. The first thing I thought when I saw this 3 meter deep roaring thing was ‘did I start that?’”
Even with the warm Foehn wind and the bluebird skies, the snow around the St Anton am Arlberg region has been near-perfect for the 12 world class freeriders, with more snow forecast to arrive.
Jeremy Jones, last year’s Big Mountain Pro winner, who is dedicated to
riding the best snow and mountain conditions around the world, has been impressed and even surprised by the snow so far.
“The snow up there was really good,” he said. “I was surprised by it when I got up there. It was really fun today – a beautiful hike and an awesome mountain.”
As for the competition, Jeremy says he hasn’t had the chance to see any of the other riders come down. “The only guy I have managed to see is Xavier (de le Rue), but I don’t need to see him to know how he rides. I’m a huge fan of his snowboarding.”
The 12 riders will leave St Anton am Arlberg on Friday morning as the
snow is forecast to hit the Alps, so the Swatch O’Neill Big Mountain Pro
makes it a priority to make the most of it.. wherever it may be