Words: Pat Moore
Photos: Daniel Tengs
There are the defining moments that profoundly influence people in all aspects of their lives. For snowboarding, one of those moments was Ingemar Backman's massive backside air at the Riksgrensen King of the Hill in 1996. For many people the first sight of the image was an eye opening experience which they can recount the time and place they were. That time was such an exciting era for snowboarding, everything was fresh and new things were happening constantly. That air was such a large step in the progression of snowboarding that it totally changed people's perspective of what was possible, and it was a landmark in our history. The idea for a reunion now 20 years later actually started from people emailing and calling Ingemar and Pierre Wikberg, asking them to do something to celebrate, so they made it happen.
The King of the Hill 2016 was the headliner, but the opening act was the Riksgransen Banked Slalom, an annual event held by the Swedish shred mag Transition. We are at a point now that there seems to be a banked slalom every weekend of the year, but I completely back it. You can feel the energy at these races, and nothing beats the fun of racing your friends and shred comrades of all ages on a course that goes for any ability. With the KOTH reunion attached to this race it brought out some heavy hitters. Riders like Terje Haakonsen, Jake Blauvelt, Arthur Longo, Joni Malmi, and Ingemar Backman battled a tight winding course that left you breathless at the finish. Out of everyone who stuck out to me the most was Phil Jacques, holding it down for the jibbers worldwide, he made it to finals and gave the international crowd a show of some Quebec steeze. But at the end of the day it was the flying frenchman Arthur Longo who lazily took top honors. As he was riding the course he looked casual and calm, reminding everyone of the one and only Temple Cummins, one who's known to hurt the pride of his banked slalom competitors.
The evening after the Riksgransen Banked Slalom, a banquet dinner was held for all of the 235 riders, as well as a live auction of famous Riks photos including Ingemar's air, all to benefit research to cure FSHD muscular dystrophy. The photos were shot by Calle Ericsson who has been paralyzed from the disease, and he should be proud that they raised around $10,000. The Ingmar photo was good for half of that. The banquet shifted to an all "night" (the sun never sets) affair in which team Finland certainly took top honors with their am RV party. The good vibes continued and the next day was the start of the King of the Hill, luckily the official start wasn't until 4 PM.
A meeting was set for the top of the resort during its closing minutes, as a couple hundred snowboarders waited for instructions to a surprise that was promised. We were told to make the trek to the Norway run, an out of bounds run which has seen some of snowboarding’s most iconic footage and takes you across the Swedish Norwegian border. We all gathered at a covered statue overlooking the famous run and beyond it we could see freshly made hips and quarter pipes pre-built and awaiting our arrival. Jacob Soderqvist addressed the crowd and gave a history of how Craig Kelly was a huge influence on Swedish snowboarding and helped put Riksgransen on the map with his travel section in Fall Line Films' Critical Condition. With his love for riding Riks and the respect from Swedish snowboarders, the statue of Craig's original snowboard now overlooks the historic run. That night we all rode together for Craig down the natural and hand dug park, some riders like Alek Oestreng went ballistic on the hip while others tossed out hand plants on the mini quarter pipes. The rest of the way down was a walk down memory lane as people pointed out spots like the spines from Subjekt Haakonsen and the original location of the 96' King of the Hill. If you were lucky enough to be near Pierre Wikberg you got every fact there was to know. For snowboard nerds like me, this run was one of the coolest things I've ever gotten to see.
Unfortunately the weather in Riksgransen can be relentless to say the least and although there are almost 24 hours of light, the sun never seemed to appear. Only a few chargers decided to send it in the flat light. Guys like Sven Thorgren and Len Jorgensen blasted the massive hip built by famous park shaper David Ny who has shaped past Arctic Challenge quarter pipes, while many riders took to mini shredding to keep it entertaining.
The last day of the event again was soured by bad weather, but with riding on everyone's mind, we decided to skip the big hip and ride something fun together. We headed to the spot where it all began, the original spot of the ’96 KOTH and although the hip wasn't massive, the riding that happened was huge. Double flips, one footers, and classic methods kept the fire going as sun or snow would roll through. Some of the highlights were Sven Thorgren's never ending stomps, Alek Oestreng styling out huge front 3's, and Ingemar getting bucked into a a wild back 5 but finding his feet. The in-run was a savage S turn filled with bumps and somehow Abbe Hjellstrom rode in with his front foot out and did an insane one foot tail grab that had Scott Stevens tripping. The icing on the cake was Nicolas Muller. He only hit the hip a couple of times, but he hiked up further than everyone and flew through the sketchy in-run. He popped so much higher than humanly possible and laid out a wing suit method for what seemed like eternity. For me that was it, in the memory books forever, and the photos and video do it justice. I'd say it was the ultimate tribute to Ingmar, huge and stylish, and I don't think anyone who was there that day will ever forget it.