Billabong Air & Style kicks off

Some of the biggest names in snowboarding, including Travis Rice, Gigi Ruf and Eero Ettala arrived in the Austrian town of Innsbruck today for the biggest big air competition on the planet – the Billabong Air & Style.

The view from the top of the drop-in - All photos: Tristan

The competition, which has been running since 1993, has long enjoyed a reputation as one of THE events to win on the contest circuit, and the list of previous champions reads like a who’s who of snowboarding down the years – Shaun White, Terje Haakonsen, Ingemar Backman, Kevin Pearce and Travis himself have all claimed the prestigious title at one stage or another. Have a look at some of their greatest victories here.

It should come as no surprise then that this year’s 6-star TTR competition has attracted an impressive field. Mikkel Bang, Elias Elhardt, Pat Moore, Iouri Podlatchikov Peetu Piiroinen, Chas Guldemond and Torstein Horgmo are just a few of the names joining Eero, Gigi and T.rice on the rider list.

Antti Autti and Travis Rice check out the kicker

With the competition taking place tomorrow evening, the riders gathered today to find out who they would be facing in the preliminary rounds. The comp takes the format of a knockout, with riders going head to head against each other – think of it like the FA Cup, but more important – you’d never see the big guns turning down an opportunity to compete here so they could sly off to lose the World Club Cup in South America a la Manchester United.

The riders at the draw - it's hard to imagine a group of bigger names. L-R Iouri Podlatchikov, Tim Humphries, Travis Rice, Andreas Wiig, Eero Ettala, Mikkel Bang, Torstein Horgmo

The draw went off under grey skies outside the Billabong store in the centre of town where a crowd had gathered to see who would face who, and listen to mic-man Jon weaver’s banter. The ex-English pro, who now manages Forum’s European team, was clearly up for a giggle – and so, with a Christmas tree, a random girl dressed as an angel and a light fall of snow adding to the festive atmosphere, the draw was announced.

Come tomorrow night, the line-up will look a little something like this:

'I know Tim won't go down without a fight' Torstein tells Jon Weaver

Mikkel Bang vs. Elias Elhardt
Pat Moore vs. Iouri ‘Ipod’ Podlatchikov
Chas Guldemond vs. local boy Werner Stock
Peetu Piiroinen vs. Gigi Ruf
Risto Mattila vs. Eero Ettala
Travis Rice vs. Andreas Wiig
Torstein Horgmo vs. Tim Humphries
Antti Autti vs. Marko Grilc

Marko, the double-backflipping Slovenian, stepped up to stand in for Seb Toots who nailed himself pretty seriously in practice yesterday. The uber-talented 17-year-old, perhaps excited by the sense of occasion, decided he’d like to guinea-pig the kicker before all the experienced riders around him. Toots hit it way to fast, sailing far beyond the sweet spot and landing on the flat from a height of about 30 feet.Luckily, what could have been a career-ending injury only resulted in a busted ankle, and Seb is now recovering in hospital. Unfortunately, that’s probably the end of the French Canadian’s season, and will almost certainly cost him his spot at the top of the TTR world rankings.

Thankfully, today’s practice session was a little less deadly, with the riders throwing down for an hour and then knocking a few feet of the lip to make the transition sweeter. Unfortunately Mikkel Bang still managed a stack serious enough to niggle an old ankle injury, which now makes him doubtful for tomorrow… but in general a good time was had by all. With some seriously impressive schnizz being cracked out towards the end of the day, including at least a couple of double-corks, tomorrow’s comp looks set to be a banger. I for one am well looking forward to watching Travis go head to head with Big Mr Wiig, and Risto trying to knock out his buddy Eero in the first round. Bring it on!

Check out our twitter for updates from the action as it happens tomorrow – from the start of practice at 12.00 midday UK time and the Rookie challenge in the afternoon to the finals in the evening – and read the full event report here on Sunday.

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