September 3rd 2017, Cardrona NZ.
The Winter Games have been rolling for over a week now and finally the first snowboarding event has arrived. Kicking off proceedings is the FIS World Cup Slopestyle event with qualifiers on Sep 3rd, followed by the finals on the 4th. Later in the week will be the FIS World Cup Halfpipe with qualifiers and finals on the 8th and 9th. All the Winter Games NZ world cup snowboarding events are held in the world famous Cardrona Parks.
Although Queenstown is the official host town for the event, it is actually the rural, resort town of Wanaka that is the part time base for the snowboarding athletes and crew of the games. Downtown Wanaka feels like a you’re on an L.A celebrity spotting tour for snowboarding. The who’s who of our sport drawn to the snowboarding mecca for the Winter Games events, the awesome off-season riding and the epic world class parks.
We had lunch in Cardrona next to competitors Red Gerard, Brock Crouch, Staale and Spenny, Judd Henkes, and Darcy Sharpe. At dinner we were bailed up next to U.S legends Danny Davis and Grillo. We even saw injured slopestyle ripper Anna Gasser at the supermarket. Wanaka is humming with snowboarding good vibes.
Keeping the vibes on, the snowboarding gods blessed competition day with perfect ridding conditions. Glorious sunshine and not a breath of wind on the course.
Let the games begin!
The competition format consists of each rider taking two runs with the best of the two judging the winners. A field of 56 men and 42 women rode in two heats. The top eight men from each heat went on the the finals. The top five for the women. Up and coming superstars will battle it out with tour veterans for coveted FIS Wold Cup points. Competition is fierce this season with cup points going towards qualification for the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics in February of next year.
Cardrona Parks have once again put together an outstanding, if not too technical course to challenge the athletes. From a steep drop-in the riders follow a banked turn round to the first feature, a bridge gap rail, kinked on one side and curved on the other. Then onto a quarter pipe/spine feature which mainly saw hand plants, cripplers and flips to fakie. Riders then followed the course down to a steep rail section with a selection of down rails and a transfer option. The whole course was steep and tight with another set of jibs straight up. Riders had the option of a wall ride which housed an Audi car and had a flat rail to a drop, or a cannon rail to log-jam and send it.
After cruising through the top section unscathed, riders had to then gain speed for the jump line. The line consisted of three progressive kickers, standard comp style. The jumps were lined up tight, leaving no room for error with the last jump booting 70 – 80 ft.
Women’s slopestyle qualifier
The women were up first on the course and heat one contained 17 yr old American shredder Hailey Langland. She was the odds on favourite after her gold medal at the X Games Big Air and strong showing in the Mammoth Mountain Slopestyle World Cup. Other strong riders in the heat included Silvia Mittermuller of Germany, Aimee Fuller out of Great Britten and major threat, up and comer Kludia Medlova of Slovakia.
Hailey took the heat with a technical jib line where she lip slided over the bridge, boardslided the flat down and 50-50’d over the car rail. In the bottom section she threw a front 3′ melon, a back 5′ stalefish and a cab 5′ mute to finish a complete three jump line. This was her second run and it scored her an impressive 92 with the judges.
It wasn’t all Langland though with tough competitor Reira Iwabuchi hot on herb heels. The Japanese national champion was just off the pace, claiming a 91.5 from the judges on her second run.
The second was the money heat with Olympic champion and snowboarding sweetheart Jamie Anderson the hot favourite. The heavy starters list also included Sofya Fedrova of Russia and Spencer O’brien from Canada.
Jamie is the 2013 and 2015 Winter Games NZ slopestyle champ, and was hot on track for the three-peat after her second run scored a 95.5 from the judges. Her effortless flow and massive bag of tech tricks were on full display today, making her the hands down favourite to take home her third title tomorrow.
Katie Ormerod (GBR) took out second qualifier with Laurie Blouin (CAN), Spencer and Sofya filling out the group.
Men’s slopestyle qualifier
The men’s slopestyle field is packed with talent. In the hunt were U.S young guns Redmond Gerard, Chris Corning and Judd Henkes, seasoned pros Marcus Kleveland, Staale Sandbech and Seb Toots and local favourites Carlos Garcia Knight and Tiarn Collins.
Chris Corning set the pace with a 90.75 on his first run in the opening heat. His best moment was through the middle section with a huge rodeo off the pole jam to strong flat spin 9′ and back to back 1080’s on the jumps. The rest of the heat saw good creative lines from Billy Morgan (GBR) who went huge. Carolos G Knight who put down a consirvitive second run after coming unstuck in his first. Seppe Smits (BEL) and Marcus Kleveland who threw down an impressive double back off the Audi car rail drop.
As the day went on the warm, spring sun softened up the course making it hard for the competitors to keep their speed. Many of the top ranked riders missing their jump lines and their chances at the finals. No sign of a quad today.
The technical slow running course claimed a few victims in the second heat. Darcy Sharpe (CAN) came out on top. After crashing in his first run he needed his second run to score well. After a rail line that featured spins in and out of each feature he nailed a perfect three jump line. He hit a switch back 9′, back 7′, and a massive 1080 on the money booter to finish.
All the qualifiers in the heat had problems judging speed through the jump line. Most toned it down for their runs. The other riders to qualify included Sebastion Toutant (CAN), Nick Baden and Red Gerard (USA), and Mons Roisland (NOR).
The action will resume tomorrow at Cardrona with the Slopestyle Finals.