Today was practice day. Unfortunately practice isn’t open to the public, which sucks on two levels: practice, or training as the promoters call it, is when the riders test out new tricks and generally take more risks than they’re able to during the actual competition; and without the crowd’s cheering and exuberance, the energy level is pretty low key. Besides the riders themselves, the car, and the cash, one of the other important aspects of the Air & Style is the crowd¿these people are as passionate about this contest as any other sport’s fan¿they camp out in the parking lot, have tailgate parties, travel for hours and never stop cheering the entire six hours of the contest.
Last year’s tragedy is still very much on everyone’s minds. Donations were being taken throughout the weekend, which will go to the kids who still have medical problems, and a percentage of the rider’s winnings will also be donated. The venue in Seefeld is about half the size of where it used to be in Innsbruck. In the previous year’s the Innsbruck location consisted of an arena full of stadium seating that encircled the jump, and when the crowd got amped the energy level was astounding and the noise was deafening. This year the Air & Style fans came out in full force, as always, but either had to sit in two sets of bleachers, or stand off to the stage-right side of the jump, in front of the huge sound stage where Three Doors Down and Guano Apes were scheduled to play on Saturday. From that side it was difficult to see the action live, but the huge playback screens made it easy to catch all the action.
The jumps, straight and corners, were located on the same run. The snow level has not yet reached the city so the trucked in snow was wet, muddy, and not holding together very well. The corner riders starting take-off point was at the base of the straight jump. But all the male riders who were competing got to practice off the big jump. This gave a few riders a bit of trouble in that they could have used quite a lot more speed to help drive the height of their tricks. The straight jump had a good steep run in and an even steeper kicker however, the area between the run-in and actual transition of the jump was too short. Riders had to point it to get sufficient speed to get them to the landing, but didn’t really have time to set up for their take-offs. Iker Fernandez had to bale at the last minute at least once because he wasn’t going fast enough, Bjorn Leines, Danny Wheeler, and Romain De Marchi got caught up in the slushy landing causing them all to wreck, De Marchi face first into the fencing, Wheeler jacking his shoulder so bad he couldn’t compete the next day.
The corner jumpers went first. There was one particular standout and that was Mike Michalchuk. Someone said, “You know how the boys make the girls look bad? That guy makes the guys look bad.” No one looked bad, really, but he was pushing himself, the height he was getting, and the double backflip he was able to accomplish was at a level that none of the other riders came close to.
Michi Albin was super frustrated about not being able to get enough speed, although he still managed to be one of the standouts of the straight jumpers during practice. Albin got more pop and height off of the jump than anyone. Nico Droz was going almost as big, and Chad Otterstrom and Andrew Crawford were both solid with clean Cab fives.
Quite a few of the parties took place on Day 2, too. Some of the highlights were a drinking contest between Sims’ Travis Wood and Wille Luoma that got pretty ugly, resulting in Wille getting thrown out of one bar and the Quiksilver party, twice, CKY playing at the Quiksilver party, too much techno and smoke machines on high at the Discotek (sic), and very few riders who were in the competition staying out late, sans De Marchi. He claims to ride better hungover so we’ll have to wait and see if his strategy works.
Lordy, it’s 6:00 a.m. on Saturday morniing, the day of the event. Thank goodness it doesn’t start until 4:00 p.m. this afternoon.