Words and photos by Tristan
Last week's innaugural European Winter X-Games attracted many of the biggest names in snowboarding, creating possibly the biggest media feeding frenzy European snowboarding has ever seen. Not that you'd have realised if you were in the Austrian resort of Mayrhofen, where nobody seemed to even notice the circus over the hills and far away in Tignes. Instead, all eyes - and a considerable ammount of local pride - were focussed on the Wangl Tangl, the annual contest organised by the Aesthetiker Crew who call Mayrhofen home. And while the contest was smaller in scale than last year's event (thanks to a couple of big money sponsors pulling out) - and it clearly had nothing on the size of the spectacle taking place in France - it was clear from the outset that the local boys were out to prove a point.
And prove it they did. As well as creating what must be one of the most progressive slopestyle courses ever seen in Europe, the Aesthetikers decided to continue with the 'Gang Jam' team competition format that has made the Wangl Tangl stand out in previous years. Teams of three riders would be judged on how they attacked the course together, using the features creatively and playing off one another's talents. Riders could drop for the three team runs at the same time or one by one, but a fall by one of them would count as a fall by all three, meaning that consistency was key.
As in previous years, this pretty unique comp format proved enough to attract riders from all around Europe, despite the fact that the Wangl Tangl offers neither TTR ranking points nor TV glory. As well as Germans and Austrians, there were two Swiss teams, an Italian posse, and a liberal sprinkling of Scandis, Poles and Dutch riders. There was also a strong UK contingent, with Gary Greenshields riding for the Isenseven team alongside Norwegian Sindre Iversen and the German Tobi Strauss, while Scott McMorris led a Red Bull UK team made up of himself, Jamie Nicholls and James Carr.
Comp day dawned, if not exactly bright and breezy, then with enough light for the riders to make the most of the incredible course, and the teams from the first heat, were soon throwing themselves down it with a will. Gary's 'Isenstyle' crew were one of the standouts, with two of them whipping out mirror-image backside rodeos simultaneously over the first kicker while the third flew over the channel gap. 'Aesthetiker Team One' (the boys had a crew in each heat) were also looking on point, with Steve Gruber's considerable experience shining through in his uber-consistent cab and front sevens. Meanwhile, another local crew, the 'Absolut' team from Flauchauwinkl (or "flash my winkle" as commentator Henry Jackson had it) were also looking impressive, with their matching bright orange jackets making their moves look all the more co-ordinated.
As the teams lined up for the second heat, the sun came out properly, and with the irrepressible Mr Jackson hyping the impressive crowd like only he can, the scene was set. The 'Red Bull UK' crew hurled themselves into the fray, with Jamie Nicholls cranking out frontside threes and stomping a backside 1080 double cork on the team's second run through.
Following dangerously close behind Jamie, Scott McMorris and James Carr were whipping out steezy fives and sevens with such speed that the commentator found it difficult to keep up with calling the tricks!
The 'Scallywags' team, made up of Forum pros Jonas Mustonen, Simon Gruber and the uber-talented Ethan Morgan, were slaying the shit out of the course with their T-shirts reading 'Sex', 'Drugs' and 'Rock and Roll'. At least until a nasty stack took Jonas out of the action. Team 'Whatever', featuring the talented Polish jibber with the unpronouncable name of Wojtek Pawlusiak were also looking good, with Wojtek taking an interestingly different line through the course. Local young guns team 'Black & White' were looking supremely comfortable on their home course as well. Team member Tom Klocker managed to stomp a stupidly tech switch back 10 over the big second kicker. At the same time, the second Aesthetiker crew, made up of brothers Chris and Rudi Kroll alongside Alex Walch, were proving that age is no object when it comes to shredding hard.
One of the keys to scoring highly was making good use of the Red Bull End Section, which can only have been shaped by an enormous ADHD child with a bucket and spade - part bowl, part hip, part rail, part wallride, it resembled nothing more than an indecisive infant's sandcastle gone wrong. With literally dozens of rideable lines, the obstacle was always gonna feature highly when the judges marked teams for creativity.
Thankfully the teams didn't disappoint the shapers, and pretty much everything that could've been ridden on the beast was. Tonton Holland in particular was killing it, riding the right-hand side like a hip and then front-boarding the raised coping before dropping into the bowl. Young Mr Nicholls also deserves a special mention for dropping in from the right and consistently boosting clean McTwists out of the left-hand side, next to the Red Bull Rail.
In the end though, despite Jamie's super-tech tricks, the Red Bull UK team never managed to land a run cleanly all together, and so failed to make it through to the finals. Somewhat surprisingly, given the amount of international talent on display, the teams that did make it through were all-Austrian affairs - each of the Aesthetiker teams qualified from their heats, and were joined in the final by Tom Klocker's Black & White crew and the Flauchauwinkl Absolut boys in orange.
The final went off in impressive style, with all four teams stepping up the creativity a notch. In the training session before, the Black & White boys were trying to nail a trick where one of them upstrapped quickly on top of the hip in the End Section, and held his board up to be jibbed by the others who came flying down the hill after him! They couldn't get the move down quickly enough to make it work in the actual final, but the fact that they even tried it shows you the kind of craziness that the Wangl Tangl encourages.
In the end, despite dressing Chris Kroll up in a rabbit/cat/Dr Suess suit, Aesthetiker Team 2 lost out, leaving Steve Gruber, Werni Stock and young gun Georg Huber of Aesthetiker Team One to take third place, while the Black & White crew claimed second and the Absolut crew, who had been consistently nailing tech tricks cleanly all afternoon, took first.
Individually, Tonton Holland was awarded a prize for taking the best line over the Red Bull End section - obviously his front board off the hip had impressed the judges. Tom Klocker, who had thrown down the switch back 10 alongside other impressive tricks, earned best rookie rider, and Herby Thaler, captain of the Absolut crew, took best overall shredder.
Once the competition dust had settled, the riders took to the park again, making the most out of the awesome setup. Young German Ethan Morgan threw down a crazy spin that was either a switch back 12 or a switch back 1440 (it's hard to tell when they're going that fast!) while Jamie Nicholls took advantage of the perfectly shaped second kicker to land his first ever double cork 12!
With world class tricks like that being thrown down, and one of the best atmospheres of any comp Whitelines has ever seen, the Wangl Tangl had undoubtedly proved that pushing progressive snowboarding is not about the size of the event or the money behind it. The Aesthetikers' DIY punk-rock attitude had produced one of the best competitions in Europe, with a park that allowed old and young riders alike to take their creativity, innovation and technical skill to the next level - and what more could you want than that?