The organizers of the festival had given themselves a tremendous task: build a working snowpark setup on flat ground in a public arena, and propel riders into the features with winches.
And not just one winch, either—four winches, arrayed around the Olympic Hall like spokes on a wheel. And to make the inrun long enough, the riders would actually have to start outside the building itself. Standing in the parking lot, they’d grab the winch handlebars, wait for the signal, then be flung at high speed down the Snowflex inrun, through open double doors, and into an arena full of cheering fans. That was the plan, anyway.
The whole concept would never have been possible without the enthusiastic involvement of the Olympic Hall itself, whose managers had approached French freeski star Marie Martinod to ask about developing a “season opening” on-snow event in their facility. Marie quickly reached out to freeski event organizer Raf Regazzoni of BUG Visionaries and architect Lao Chazelas of INOUT Skateparks & Ramps to make the dream of an indoor ski event a reality.
“We’ve been planning this for two years,” said Regazzoni. “A year ago we finished the concept and the design for the feature. The city of Albertville approved the budget and the concept, and then we had to make it real. The snow, scaffolding, shaping—that was all hard, but it wasn’t the hardest part. The critical part was the winch.”
During the qualifying rounds on Friday, it was apparent that this concept, awesome as it was, was no easy task to bring to life. The winches had to run in coordination, firing riders in from opposite ends of the hall like clockwork—a process that took refinement, left a bit of waiting time between hits, and had riders running frantically around the hall from inrun to inrun. Luckily the winches were well dialed in speed-wise, and most of the riders, even those new to winching, quickly got the hang of it.
Spectating also included a learning curve. At any moment, a rider might come flying in through a door and off of a feature, with barely enough time to turn your head to watch the action. Learning how to look in the right direction meant deciphering the pattern the winches were running on, and even watching the winch cables for telltale signs, a jiggle of the cord that would give away which one would fire next. (I suppose speaking French so I could understand the announcer would have helped, too.) The splay of inruns around the hall made moving from place to place a challenge—one spectator area was accessible only via a a scaffolding “overpass” over one of the winch lines—and a constantly rising puddle of meltwater around the venue didn’t help things, either.
Despite the obvious challenges of running an event like this, things actually went surprisingly well. All of the features worked flawlessly, the winches too for the most part, and by the time that qualifiers wrapped up, it was evident that we’d be in for a real show during Saturday’s final.
Eight teams composed of one skier and snowboarder each had battled their way from the qualifiers into the semis. The teams rotated around from winch to winch, getting just one hit on each section of the course, and one “redo” option on their pick of one of the sections. The sections were labelled Hip, Jib, Wall and Transfer—pretty straightforward, the “transfer” being a straight jump up and over the central spine, or an option to hit the wall from the left side.
Between the semis and the finals, a “Best Trick” session provided for rapid-fire action on the Transfer setup and the evenings only doubles on skis: Jesper Tjäder’s double backflip late 180, Nico Porteous’ switch dub 10, and a double cork 7 from his New Zealand countryman Finn Bilious. Meanwhile Jossi Wells put on a style clinic with smooth air to fakies on the wall, Henrik Harlaut stomped a fresh nosebutter 5 on the wall, and Jesper Tjäder somehow pulled off (loose but lit) a 450 on, switch up, 360 off the wallride.
Finals time: only four teams left standing from an original field of twelve. Eliminated: big names like Jossi Wells, Henrik Harlaut, Phil Casabon. Remaining: Team Europe 1 (Tom Ritsch and snowboarder Ethan Morgan), Team US (Taylor Seaton and Brandon Davis), Team Finland (Antti Ollila and Roope Tonteri) and holding it down for the home crowd, Team France (Hugo Laugier and Sacha Moretti).
All of the teams in the finals brought the heat. Hugo Laugier was obviously hyped up to be representing France, and was going massive with immaculately clean tricks. Taylor Seaton, who had smashed his hand in training the day before and wasn’t even sure if he could hold the winch, was in the mix with his considerable bag of transition tricks. Ever-consistent Tom Ritsch from Austria was on his game as well; but in the end it was Finnish wizard Antti Ollila who, with the help of his snowboard counterpart, conjured up the win with an amazing all-round performance on all of the different features.