Ed Leigh: The Best Snowboarding I’ve Ever Seen


Terje Haakonsen set the world record for the highest air on a snowboard with this method in 2007, long after his heyday. Photo: Frode Sandbech

The second Terje tale is less an account of excellence and more of a yardstick by which you can measure just how good Terje was in his prime. The second Arctic Challenge held on the island of Lofoten in 2000 had refined the format for a world class invitational event to a tee. The contest site was nothing more than a village ski hill, but for a month it had been sculpted into a precious work of frozen art worthy of the Louvre. One massive and immaculate tombstone hip had been added to the top of the superpipe and it demanded that rather than slip into the pipe with a turbo charged pump riders would announce their arrival by soaring in like eagles.

This was the year before the TTR was created, so the invite list was made up of twenty-four riders that Terje considered to be at the top of their game. Even so, you don’t just build a huge hip at the top of a pipe the likes of which had never been seen before without giving everyone a decent amount of practice time.

When he reappeared Terje was easily ten feet up and still climbing.

I was the press officer for the event so my only role for the day was to sit and watch – memorize if you like – everything that went down. That first day’s practice is seared into my brain. I watched Bjorn Leines, Keir Dillon, Roman De Marchi, David Benedek, Michi Albin, Ingemar Backman, Gian Simmen, essentially the worlds transition masters at that time slowly trying to figure out the lines and speed for the hips. Airs started at two feet and over the course of a couple of hours made their way up into the five to six foot range.

It’s important to remember though, that unlike a normal hip these guys were having to land into a six-metre pipe transition, so there is no margin for error. If you drift out too far away from the lip of the pipe then you are burning the sweet spot of the landing and you are going to drop at best two meters down into the pipe and land with a thud. If you under estimate it you are going to land flat on the platform like an anvil, and if you’re really unlucky go on to bounce into the pipe.

After mixed success everyone broke for a lunch of whale burgers (seriously) and then got stuck in again. By two o’clock Ingemar and a handful of others were starting to knock on the door of the nine foot barrier, but by that point it had already cost Marius Sommer his collar bone.

Then Terje arrived and as always everyone pretended not to notice, but despite themselves stopped and stared. Rumour had it the big man had spent less than twenty days on the hill that winter and no one had seen him in the pipe so by the time he strapped in every eye on the hill was trained on Terje. He dropped and straight lined it for the hip. Perched on the platform I watched his unmistakable style, head tilted and right arm cocked ready to launch, all the while picking up speed. Then he disappeared behind the tombstone.

When he reappeared Terje was easily ten feet up and still climbing. The master arced a method over our heads and then neatly gathered it up, and it was at this moment he blew me away. He landed perfectly. His board met the transition perfectly at the lip of the pipe in a vertical position. Except for the crisp sound of an edge slicing through snow his entry into the pipe didn’t make sound.

When you have spent five hours watching the worlds best trying to find their feet – only to watch someone do it perfectly first time and half as big again – you know you have witnessed greatness. I ran over to the lip to see Terje’s line into the pipe for myself. It was perfect, I could have marvelled at that line for hours, but I was lifted from my reverie by Bjorn Leines shouting “get out of the way you fucking kook!”


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