It all started with an email from French mobile phone operator Sosh. “Would you like to come to the big air competition we planned in Annecy?” The comp was part of a broader event, the High Five film festival, which I did not intend to miss.
Some years before, back in 2012, came The Reels. That event is a myth. Snowboarding legends Peter Line, Ingemar Backman, Eddie Wall and David Benedek (the guy behind Robot Food videos and the cult book Current State: Snowboarding) were there. Movies from Absinthe, Burton, Nitro, Pirate, Think Thank or Standard Films were there. I was not. The Reels lasted one or two years more and that was it. So much for the “Cannes festival” of snowboarding? Skiing, however, did well. The IF3 (International Freeski Film Festival) became the High Five, but basically, there was not much change for the public: the best ski movies were projected in cinemas each year.
But skiing and snowboarding no longer are the archenemies they used to be. And so, the High Five made some room for snowboarding movies. Long story short: Absinthe’s and Transworld’s latest movies were on the program and a bunch of riders were invited. On top of that, there was this huge big air contest (Sosh Big Air). Watching guys jumping from a giant structure with no warm-up is not my favorite part of snowboarding. But there was no way I would pass an opportunity to see Halldór Helgason or Arthur Longo ride.
“Yes”, I answered. “Sign me up!” A few days later, Friday the 6th of October, photographer Johanna and I stood in front of the big air. You could not miss it: it was on the Pâquier, the city’s huge park on the shore of the Lake Annecy. There, on the middle of the lawn, stood a 42-metre high metallic scaffolding covered in snow. Yes, in a few minutes, people would actually set forth from up there, straight into the ramp. And hopefully they would make it in one piece.
The skiing competition was coming to an end. Snowboarders were getting themselves ready near an oversized teepee tent. Guys would show up in jeans and shirts. As relaxed as the mood was, there were some things one should not joke with. The riders wanted to know they could trust their boards and they prepared them with care. Halldór Helgason was paying particular attention. Never have I seen someone operate an iron with so much care, precision and focus – and I’ve lived with a banker who ironed a shirt every morning for two years. From the middle of the board to its very tail, the Icelandic boarder smoothly spread the wax, making sure not to over-heat it and that it would penetrate evenly. This is how pros do it, I told myself. I guess the guy who took two dozens pictures of Halldór ironing thought so too.
The teepee was also the place to grab a few comments from the riders before they climbed to the top of the big air. Victor Daviet, for example, hadn’t practiced this kind of jump for years, but he seemed relaxed. So seemed Arthur Longo, and pretty much everyone actually. The riders’ meeting was kind of tense: the players did not agree with the jury’s views on how the contest should be judged. Then, one voice stood up (was it Finnish spinning top Roope Tonteri?): “Should we split the prize money?” All the riders agreed: “Yes. Let’s share it and spend it at the after party!” And off started the competition.
We climbed on the part of the structure between the kicker and the landing for a few minutes. Long enough to see Seb Konijnenberg overshoot it. Long enough to see how steep the starting course was, and how bad it looked after skiers used it for several hours. Still, the riders made good use of the kicker. Arthur Longo sent a massive BS 720 without goggles on. Sebbe de Buck held his grabs till the very last moment and went really, really high. Roope Tonteri spun like crazy. Swiss rider Carlos Gerber won the heart of the audience. In the end, Halldór Helgason won a well-deserved first place with tricks the commentators couldn’t name. Roope made second and Seb third. The guys made the show. It’s crazy to think that some of them just had a day or two of snowboarding this season before going on this giant beast.