Since its inception in 1991, boardercross has developed a cult-like following among many worldwide snowboard competitors. The event requires both freestyle and race experience, but unlike the other snowboard disciplines, boardercross is not judged nor timed. Similar to motocross, there are six riders on the course at a time trying to be the first across the finish line. Like a surfing event, the format is structured in a series of heats with the top three placers moving on to the next heat, and losers going home.
Unlike traditional snowboarding contests that pride themselves on individuality, you'll see teams wearing matching uniforms and riding for the same board companies. Underneath the moto-inspired, logo-covered jerseys, riders wear body armor to protect themselves from the imminent crashes and collisions that take place almost every heat. All wear helmets, many with full face masks.
The course is also patterned like a motocross event, with a series of banks, jumps, tables, corners, whoops, and anything else that might cause mayhem.
There is one aspect of boardercross that gives riders a break, the double-elimination format. If you lose one race, you're bumped into the losers bracket and still have an opportunity to work your way back to the top. But lose one in the losers bracket, and you're watching the rest of the event from the sidelines.
The highest worldwide competition level can be found on the Swatch BoarderCross Tour. However, boardercross events were offered at almost every pro contest last year including the Grand Prixs, U.S. Open, Vans Triple Crown, World Cups, and the Freeride Tour. The Swatch events are three days of pure boardercross racing and feature the top riders in the world focusing on one goal, to race and win in boardercross.
Last year's Swatch Tour consisted of five events, three in Europe and two in the U.S. Overall points were kept, and a tour champion was awarded at the last stop. Here's a quick recap of what went down.
Solden, Austria: One thing about boardercross, it usually pits racers against freestylers and freeriders. In Solden, a hard-booter, Katharina Himmler, edged out U.S. favorite Nillard Pilavakis in the whoops toward the end of the run to seal her victory. The hard snow required edge control, favoring Katharina's stiff riding.
A dominant race strategy is to make sure you get out of the gates first and get in front of the pack. If you're riding with a bunch of people, there's bound to be pushing and crashes. 1997 Tour Champ Shaun Palmer fell prey to a tight pack in the finals at Solden and wiped out hard. It was his first race back on the tour and he wanted it bad. Swiss Ueli Kestenholz, another hard-boot racer, took the hole shot and sailed to the blue ribbon.
Val di Sole, Italy: Another fact about boardercross: The Palmer team dominates. In Val di Sole, four of six male finalist were Palmer riders. Palmer himself took the hole shot and didn't look back. Between the X-Games and several other events, it was his fourth boardercross win in a row.
In the women's, Maelle Ricker took the start and lead Marguerite Cossettini the whole way for the victory. The Canadians are doing well in boardercross.
Copper Mountain, Colorado: People in Colorado love boardercross. At the Copper stop, more than 300 signed up for a shot at the 10,000-dollar first-place prize.
However, the men's final was a who's who of top competitors. Canadian Drew Neilson bumped Palmer while taking an inside line on one of the early banks. Palmer crashed and Neilson took the lead. Behind him, Bertrand Denervaud caught an edge, flipped to fakie, did a power layback, and still managed to flip back around for third place behind Harald Putz. The move was amazing.
Mayumi Fukuda, another Canadian ffrom Whistler, took the hole shot in the women's and missed the carnage of three huge crashes behind her. Interestingly, she's neither a hard-booter or a strap-binding rider. She rides Clicker Shimano step-ins.
The Canyons, Utah: Not surprisingly, each boardercross course is different from event to event, and sometimes even change between each day of a contest. The Canyons served up a fast, steep course with lots of big banks and a snow-ghost field at the bottom that riders could negotiate in one of many different lines.
The women's final saw Cossettini lead from the start, although she came from the losers bracket to make the final. On the men's side, hometown rider Jason Brown, ex-tour champ Denervaud, and Drew Neilson all crashed while Christophe Maierhofer edged out Philippe Conte to take his first win on the circuit.
Laax, Switzerland: The course at Laax had a unique 360-degree (horizontal) corkscrew bank in the middle of the steep course that also featured the usual tabletop jumps and whoops.
On the women's side, Pilavakis came from the losers bracket to make the finals. All day long she took the outside hole shot, cutting in front of everyone at the first jump, and taking the lead from there. It was a daring move. She did it again in the final, which gave her the first place and overall tour victory.
In the men's, the race was tight from beginning to end, with the lead changing at almost every jump and bank. Kestenholz caught Maierhofer with a speed tuck, taking first and second respectively. Palmer was also in the final, making it to the last round in four out of five events. He had two wins overall, and enough points to regain his overall tour championship title.
1998/1999 Overall Swatch Rankings
1). Shaun Palmer, U.S.A.
2). Philippe Conte, France
3). Ueli Kestenholz, Switzerland
4). Christoph Maierhofer, Austria
5). Drew Neilson, Canada
1). Nillard Pilavakis, U.S.A.
2). Marguerite Cossettini, Austria
3). Catherine Poetzl, Austria
4). Maelle Ricker, Canada
5). Mayumi Fukuda, Canada
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