Opened Up: 3 contests 3 continents 16.2

INTRO

How many red-eye flights and cracked ribs must you endure to rise above the muck in the snowboard talent pool? How many graybird days must you suffer, hiking the icy trench with bad trannies? How many low scores, stupid announcer remarks, and painful scorpions do you have to shake off before dropping in again? And how many rotation combos will it take to get on the podium? The answer to all of these burning questions is the same: Too many!

Trends have delivered legions of riders out to the backcountry to free their style, but just as many riders are doing things the old fashioned way-competing. For these riders, paying dues means chasing the contest circus-a nonstop globe-trotting shitstorm from Thanksgiving to Memorial Day. In a history-making year for the sport, three must-see dates on the TransWorld competition calendar were the Opens-Europe, Japan, and the legendary finale, the 20th annual U.S. Open. Three contests, three continents-turn the page.

European Open

Livigno Lockdown
By Drew Stevenson

Europe is a far cry from North America. It works at its own pace and oozes with centuries of tradition. Understanding the inherent difficulties of getting things done here then makes what happened in Livigno-the third and best-yet European Open-all the more significant. By the start of January, the writing was on the wall-the usual snowstorms weren’t coming and something drastic had to be done.

Livigno sits in northern Italy in a remote valley against the Swiss border. It’s probably the most isolated resort in Europe. Because elevation is at about 5,500 feet-a fact that eventually saved the event-it meant snowmaking was possible almost around the clock. The resort also has a reputation as one of Europe’s most progressive areas. In fact, it hosted the first Snowboard World Championships (won by Josà‡ Fernandez) back in 1986. Livigno has always been committed to snowboarding, and this year it went beyond itself. With the U.S. Open heading into its twentieth year and the Nippon Open well established, the EO had a lot to live up to. Fortunately, organizers were taking no chances and fired up the snow cannons around Christmas, spitting fifteen liters a second until the start of the event. Good thing, too-snow didn’t fall between January 1 and January 29. General conditions could best be described as “gash”-manmade strips of white slush on grass.

Construction of the quarterpipe and superpipe, as well as the slopestyle course, was overseen by Robby Moresi (respected Italian shaping-guru) and Josh Chauvet from Snow Park Technologies, along with a large crew. The slopestyle course resembled a PlayStation video-game park, the start gate dropped to a table with a three-kicker line, a hip, and several rail options. About fifteen cars were littered throughout the park, all set up with an assortment of single and double rails. The overall effect was bizarre-a massive course surrounded on either side by grass. The quarterpipe was situated in town, and due to the lack of snow, was probably the most remarkable feat of construction-more on that later.

A nickname coined by the pro ranks before the event was the “European Closed.” The reason was fairly simple-unlike the U.S. Open, it was in fact was an invitational event. There were no women invited. This was acceptably explained internally, “As the first big attempt, organizers wanted a controllable number of riders to experiment with format and judging concepts.” Compounding the issue further was the fact that heavy dumps in the States, no snow in Europe, and the impending Olympics saw none of the invited American riders turn up. But due to the hard work of snowmakers, by the time the event got underway, the “Closed” vibe had somewhat dissipated. However, conditions quickly began playing their cards.

Starting as early as training, riders began taking a battering: Jussi Oksanen-heavy bruising from a slam on the S rail. Ingemar Backman-dislocad shoulder. Steve Gruber-tendon tear from a flat landing. Henry Sankala-two dislocated shoulders. Frederik Kalbermatten-concussion on the quarter. Romain De Marchi-bruised heel. Peter Strà®m-cracked hip bone. And the list goes on. The jam format saw many riders who rode hard in one event too sore to push it the next day. By the time the quarterpipe finals got underway, only eight riders were left standing. The European Open quickly earned another nickname-the European Survival.

If some events are made for crowds and others made for TV, then the EO was made for photographers and filmers. Absinthe Films, Robot Food, Methodmag, and Mystery Films were present on course. Nearly every major magazine had a photographer happily snapping away, and from the second the park opened, the action was go.

Slopestyle
We know by now that De Marchi is sweetly off his nuts, and he approached the main kicker with the do-or-die attitude he always has. Nicolas Mà…ller strutted his stuff off the same hit before a nasty flat slam knocked him out of proceedings. Another standout, Joni Malmi, sessioned the rails throwing 270s out of the S rail and stomping a switch backside nine. David Benedek powered down rails and through the park seemingly without thought and got second place. In the final tally, it was David Carrier-Porcheron, one of the only North Americans representing, who won the Slopestyle. He exploited the entire park and rode sick all day, tearing the kickers apart and setting the standard on the rails.

Halfpipe
Leading up to the pipe event, a proper superpipe seemed unlikely. Countless hours of manual labor were needed to bring it together, but the end result was a solid twenty-footer. Again, the jam format ruled, and an afternoon session was in full effect. Kalbermatten used the whole pipe getting inverted off the hip entry. From out of nowhere, Aleski Vanninen impressed judges enough to be voted into third place. Again in this event, Malmi displayed versatility with solid runs. Rookie Finn Timo Aho was a surprise entry and a power-packed sensation. He took second. Mà…ller fired up toward the end of the contest with some of the best runs seen all day and was later voted into first.

Quarterpipe
The massive quarterpipe was situated in town, quite a distance from the rest of the sparse snowpack, but it still drew the biggest crowds of the whole event. Warm afternoon sun greeted the training session, and the slightly softer conditions saw De Marchi, Strà®m, Friedl Kolar, and others start to work into an impressive quarterpipe contest. But the manmade snow struck again shortly into training. Pushing the envelope as usual, De Marchi and Strà®m were sidelined for the main event, leaving eight riders for the final. Announcer Ed Leigh did an inspiring job animating the crowd. Meanwhile, David Benedek and Wille Yli-Luoma went head-to-head on the bulletproof quarter. They matched backside threes, fives, and more. In truth, both riders deserve a Victoria Cross for taking on the quarterpipe under those conditions. The advantage went to Benedek over Yli-Luoma in the final.For all the good, the bad, and the ugly, the European Open was a huge step forward for snowboarding on this side of the Atlantic. What is certain is that next year’s event will be a real open, and with some snow falling, a competition to recon fo’ real.

Results:

Slopestyle
1. David Carrier-Porcheron
2. David Benedek
3. Frederik Kalbermatten
4. Henri Sankala
5. Stefan Gimpl
6. Paavo Tikkanen
7. Romain De Marchi
8. Joni Malmi
9. Gigi Rà…f
10. Fredrik Sarvell

Halfpipe
1. Nicolas Mà…ller
2. Timo Aho
3. Aleksi Vanninen
4. Frederik Kalbermatten
5. Sani Alibabic
6. Fredrik Sarvell
7. Friedl Kolar
8. Peter Strà®m
9. Gigi Rà…f
10. Joni Malmi

Quarterpipe
1. David Benedek
2. Wille Yli-Luoma
3. Aleski Vanninen

Nippon Open

Transmission: Japan
By Joel Muzzey

Culture shock kicked in immediately-we hadn’t even cleared customs, and Anne Molin-Kongsgaard was signing autographs. After a flight of numbing duration, we landed in Japan for the ninth-annual Nippon Open. This competition (like snowboarding) is huge in Japan. A haze of cigarette smoke greeted us in the baggage area, as we stretched our legs, scanning the airport for the rest of our crew.

Before getting into contest mode in the mountains, our jet-lagged group planned a decompression day of chilling and shopping in Tokyo. With a surreal view of the sprawling city below, the group gathered on the twentieth-floor lobby of our hotel-and it’s quite a crew: Trevor Andrew, Keir Dillon, AMK, Zurek, Ricker, Kjersti Buass, Jeff Curtes, Jon Foster, and a bunch of, with Heikki Sorsa and a few stragglers still due in. After a nightcap, sleep became the question, but the answer was unclear as we headed off to our rooms.

Undulating seas of people-it seems like millions-crowd the streets, many in medical masks to filter the polluted air. Office buildings, electronics stores, and gigantic shopping malls stretch up into the skyline-neon glowing. Bicyclists weave through the steadily grinding traffic.

For the entire day-up until minutes before our bullet train to Joetsu departed, the group was splintered into shopping groups. Everything runs on time in Japan, so the procession to the train station with nearly twenty people was a desperate race against the clock. With a mountain of gear and boardbags in tow, we enjoyed a high-speed train ride up to the mountain resort at Ishiuchi Maruyama.

Two soggy days of acclimating to snowboarding Japan-style included lots of laps through the park in the rain, and way too many elimination rounds on the way to the main event. A lot of riders made the trek to Japan to battle it out, and they all braved the weather with a good attitude. No one was “over it” (imagine that) and people rode their asses off in the days leading up to the actual contest.

Daniel Franck, Gian Simmen, Nicola Thost, Xaver Hoffman, Rio Tahara, and Stefan Karlsson were all in attendance and set their sights on the podium while soaking up the scene. Snowboard fans are ravenous in Japan, and wherever there were shreds, kids circled around for pictures and autographs-in liftlines, out for dinner, everywhere. The most sought-after rider, though, was definitely Andrew. It was amazing-kids were tripping, crowding around him, trying to spit freestyle rhymes in broken English. They were just ecstatic to see TRZA in person-funny.

The timing couldn’t have been better. On the morning of the contest, the cloud cover broke for a few hours, and sunshine lit up the halfpipe. It had an instant impact on the vibe of the event. Riders loosened up, and the crowd on the decks swelled. Western contest crowds could learn a lot from the Japanese-these fans were cheering, chanting songs, and screaming for blood throughout the competition. Riders fed off the energy, and the action got hectic.

To start things off, the ladies took riding to a much more dynamic level than they’d been able to all week. Olympic Gold-medalist Kelly Clark qualified second, between the Swiss duo of Fabienne Reuteler and Manuela Pesko, who punished the pipe heading toward the finals. Going in to the main event, it looked like a battle between these three, with Buass, Stine Brun-Kjeldaas, and Thost in hot pursuit. They had dollar signs in their eyes, sake in their veins, and fire in their first-round runs.

For the men, it ransmission: Japan
By Joel Muzzey

Culture shock kicked in immediately-we hadn’t even cleared customs, and Anne Molin-Kongsgaard was signing autographs. After a flight of numbing duration, we landed in Japan for the ninth-annual Nippon Open. This competition (like snowboarding) is huge in Japan. A haze of cigarette smoke greeted us in the baggage area, as we stretched our legs, scanning the airport for the rest of our crew.

Before getting into contest mode in the mountains, our jet-lagged group planned a decompression day of chilling and shopping in Tokyo. With a surreal view of the sprawling city below, the group gathered on the twentieth-floor lobby of our hotel-and it’s quite a crew: Trevor Andrew, Keir Dillon, AMK, Zurek, Ricker, Kjersti Buass, Jeff Curtes, Jon Foster, and a bunch of, with Heikki Sorsa and a few stragglers still due in. After a nightcap, sleep became the question, but the answer was unclear as we headed off to our rooms.

Undulating seas of people-it seems like millions-crowd the streets, many in medical masks to filter the polluted air. Office buildings, electronics stores, and gigantic shopping malls stretch up into the skyline-neon glowing. Bicyclists weave through the steadily grinding traffic.

For the entire day-up until minutes before our bullet train to Joetsu departed, the group was splintered into shopping groups. Everything runs on time in Japan, so the procession to the train station with nearly twenty people was a desperate race against the clock. With a mountain of gear and boardbags in tow, we enjoyed a high-speed train ride up to the mountain resort at Ishiuchi Maruyama.

Two soggy days of acclimating to snowboarding Japan-style included lots of laps through the park in the rain, and way too many elimination rounds on the way to the main event. A lot of riders made the trek to Japan to battle it out, and they all braved the weather with a good attitude. No one was “over it” (imagine that) and people rode their asses off in the days leading up to the actual contest.

Daniel Franck, Gian Simmen, Nicola Thost, Xaver Hoffman, Rio Tahara, and Stefan Karlsson were all in attendance and set their sights on the podium while soaking up the scene. Snowboard fans are ravenous in Japan, and wherever there were shreds, kids circled around for pictures and autographs-in liftlines, out for dinner, everywhere. The most sought-after rider, though, was definitely Andrew. It was amazing-kids were tripping, crowding around him, trying to spit freestyle rhymes in broken English. They were just ecstatic to see TRZA in person-funny.

The timing couldn’t have been better. On the morning of the contest, the cloud cover broke for a few hours, and sunshine lit up the halfpipe. It had an instant impact on the vibe of the event. Riders loosened up, and the crowd on the decks swelled. Western contest crowds could learn a lot from the Japanese-these fans were cheering, chanting songs, and screaming for blood throughout the competition. Riders fed off the energy, and the action got hectic.

To start things off, the ladies took riding to a much more dynamic level than they’d been able to all week. Olympic Gold-medalist Kelly Clark qualified second, between the Swiss duo of Fabienne Reuteler and Manuela Pesko, who punished the pipe heading toward the finals. Going in to the main event, it looked like a battle between these three, with Buass, Stine Brun-Kjeldaas, and Thost in hot pursuit. They had dollar signs in their eyes, sake in their veins, and fire in their first-round runs.

For the men, it became a battle royale. Competitors were on their toes-months of training, competing, and riding pipe had them in the zone. The Japanese locals went hammer down and got served. It was cool to see these guys charging on their home turf, giving their all. Franck showed up and adjusted to conditions quickly, qualifying for third. New Zealand’s Dylan Butt brought controlled chaos, as did Poland’s Marek Sasiadek. Simmen, Andrew, and Vinzenz Leups took it upstairs with world-class ripping at absurd altitude. Leups is an absolute powerhouse. A couple of other noteworthy rippers include Henning Marthensen and Takumi Suzuki-both kicked ass.

The finals arrived with sun, sound, and a mass of spectators and media. The women’s jam went down early while the pipe was still sweet. Brun-Kjeldaas was killing it-how she didn’t make the podium is just one of those contest mysteries. Buass, please forgive the comparison, rides a little like Kass-effortless, super fast, and styley. She was over-amping a bit, and despite next-level riding, a few spills took her out of the running for loot. Clark rode strong, but just didn’t put it together. Zurek and Pesko took second and third places respectively. It was the hard-riding Thost who clenched the first-place spot in the end, with a profusion of power and clean spin combos.

When the dudes finally took to it, it was all-out war. Three days of qualifying in the rain put the zap to ’em-but fired up from the cheering fans, they fought out the final jam. Dillon, Tahara, and Magnus Sterner rode well, but had their share of troubles in the quickly deteriorating pipe.

The official tally goes Simmen first, Hoffman second, Franck third. Oddly, Hoffman ended up in front of Franck, despite a very obvious lack of inverted offerings. Franck was riding really strong after his dizzying slam at the Olympics. He appeareded unfazed by getting the shaft-sevens, nines, and overdose-amplitude must be satisfaction enough. As the jam wore on, Simmen seemed to gain energy and height with each successive run-he earned this victory, for sure. He rode squarely and powerfully throughout to wind up on top.

After a frenzied display of fanfare, checks were distributed to the winners and everyone hit the road. Then came a mass exodus by train, bus, and airline out of the mountains-out of Japan. Foster and I suffered a long and nasty flight back to San Diego on Screaming Baby Airlines-still reeling from the slugfest of the Nippon Open, but only a little worse for the wear. The calendar shows just the short space of a week until it starts all over again on the East Coast, for the twentieth-annual U.S. Open-no sleep ’til Stratton!

Results:

Women
1. Nicola Thost
2. Natasza Zure
3. Manuela Pesko
4. Kelly Clark
5. Kjersti Oestgaard-Buass
6. Stine Brun-Kjeldaas
7. Fabienne Reuteler
8. Anne Molin-Kongsgaard
9. Dorianne Vidal
10. Cecile Alzina

Men
1. Gian Simmen
2. Xaver Hoffman
3. Daniel Franck
4. Therry Brunner
5. Vinzenz Leups
6. Marcel Hitz
7. Keir Dillon
8. Magnus Sterner
9. Hajime Ishibashi
10. Rio Tahara

U.S. Open

Beast of the East
By John Cavan

Winding up the narrow access road of Stratton Mountain, Vermont on the overcast morning of pipe qualifiers, it was hard to believe it had been twenty years since the first U.S. Open. Long gone are the days of The Cage and the demonic revelry of the nighttime big air-the current incarnation of the Open is an over-organized, media spectacle. The legendary contests of yesteryear have taken a backseat to law and order in Vermont.

Along with the exile to the resort’s Sun Bowl, the event now has a massive security presence with mandatory checkpoints and bag searches. From there, it’s an uphill hike to the superpipe where, in fact, there are more uniformed guards and checks. All this to ensure the “integrity” of the sport’s most prestigious competition. Despite the reputation Stratton f