The Arctic Challenge 2014: This Smoking New Pipe Contest Set Imaginations Alight

The Arctic Challenge went off this weekend. It combined a re-newed sense of purpose combined with a new format to create arguably the most interesting pipe comp of the season. Danny Burrows was there to watch it all happen.

Terje Haakonsen, the man, the myth and the motivation behind the Arctic Challenge, cranks out a steezy handplant. Photo: Danny Burrows

With shrinking spend on independent snowboard events and the 2014 Winter Olympics as its backdrop, the objective of this year’s Arctic Challenge was to put style and creativity back into pipe riding. Their method a beefed up Oslo’s Vinterpark superpipe with an array of challenging elements on its coping.

As the inscription on the Norwegian wood trophy states The Arctic Challenge is celebrating “15 years of independent snowboarding”. It was conceived in 1999 by Terje Haakonsen as a bastion of shred beyond the regime of the mainstream contest circuit; its core values? Progression and the development of contests in which snowboarders were the masters of their own destiny and that of the sport.  In the words of Benji Farrow “whenever Terje invites you, you know you are going to have a good time and see some progressive snowboarding”.

Jake Pates rocking out on the wallride. Photo: Danny Burrows

Competetive piping has been compared to gymnastics of late with riders focused on point scoring set piece runs that vary little from contest to contest. This is not to denigrate the progress made in both pipe construction and the evolution of tricks but this professionalization of the discipline has consigned some of the more stylish pipe tricks to the victory lap. “At a normal contest I know exactly what everyone is going to do” said the riders rider Danny Davis after the finals “but at something like this you watch everybody, and then you feed off that and get inspired”.

‘At a normal contest I know exactly what everyone is going to do’ said Danny Davis, ‘but at something like this you watch everybody and then you feed off that and get inspired.’

Additions to the contest’s 22-foot pipe included a 3-metre wall ride, an elevated steel mailbox, an 8-foot snow block and tombstones at the head of the pipe.  “Halfpipe has been a really stock thing,” said Benji Farrow on his first day of practice “but switching up the pipe layout and design will definitely help creativity”.

Benji and Danny were but two of a 12-man field in attendance; others included Olympians Iouri Podladtchikov and Arthur Longo as well as shredders like Scott Blum, who apparently received his invite after Terje saw him do a handplant at the US Open that he personally couldn’t do.

Freddy Austbo with one of the world’s more stylish frontside alley-oops. Photo: Danny Burrows

After two days of practice and shaping, which event organiser Henning Anderson likened to the “’99 contest” the invitees and Terje decided that the finals should consist of two segments; an expression session and an hour-long medley of full pipe runs. From these the judges, Greg Johnson, Ingemar Backman and Dani Sappa, would select a top five from each, the sum of which would make up the final standings.

In the expression session much was made of the additional features with Terje, Danny, Markus Keller and Gabe Ferguson hammering out a display of unique handplants that defied the flexibility of the human form. Higher up the pipe the snow box and mailbox also got a good seeing to, with Fredrick Austbø putting his skater’s understanding of trannies and grinds to good use. At the close of play the experience of Iouri and Danny split Kent Callister, Ben Ferguson and Benji Farrow who had been leading the session from the first judging call 20-minutes into the event.

It certainly achieved its aim of reinstating style and creativity as the currency of pipe contests.

After a short refuel the full run session began with riders dropping in no particular order and incorporating all features into their runs. “I don’t really ride pipe that much any more” said Terje after the heat “but doing handplants and sliding things and riding different features is super fun and I think everyone got a kick out of it”. Iouri had by now found his form and was backlipping the wall’s coping as well as boosting huge front doubles, while Danny was on fire and without doubt had the biggest and most stylish method of the day.

Eventual winner Danny Davis cranks out his signature method. Photo: Danny Burrows

It was also in this session that Markus Keller, who was a little green around the gills from a night on the tiles made his mark with an Elguerial on the mailbox that would earn him the best trick award of the contest.

After a gruelling hour of riding Danny was again leading, his combined heats securing the TAC champ title, while Iouri’s two third places bumped him into second place, with Kent Callister following closely in third.

This “test event” as Terje called it had certainly achieved its aim of reinstating style and creativity as the currency of pipe contests. “It is really cool to go to a contest where its fun to ride and fun to watch everybody else ride” enthused Danny dripping from his bubbly bath on the podium.

Freedy Austbo again, this time with a tail-tap on the drink water box. Once again the anti energy-drink campaign acted as ‘sponsors’ to the event. Photo: Danny Burrows

The format of this year’s Arctic Challenge may never make its way into mainstream pipe contests, being too anarchic and incomprehensible to the likes of the FIS, but it certainly opened a door to an altered state that pipe riding could be. In the words Terje “it was good for the riders, good for the sport and good for the interest in it”, and with that we must agree.

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