Taken from Whitelines Issue 103 October 2012
Words by Tristan
Photos: Cyril Mubeller
Nike’s field of dreams
In April this year, a little-known resort called Montafon was thrust into the snowboarding spotlight. As the anointed location for Nike’s end of season extravaganza, it had been ‘Chosen’ to host the mother of all park sessions. Rumour had it that Nike would be spending a cool million to create the most progressive park the world had ever seen. But could this Austrian outpost deliver?
Following the massive success of the 2010-11 Nike Stairset Battle Tour – a Europe-wide series of rail comps – the sport’s biggest newcomer was looking for the next big idea. At a meeting in May 2011, their top marketing bods came up with the concept of a similar series of kicker comps. The idea was to galvanize the same kind of grass-roots shredders who rode the Stairset, and get unknown locals competing alongside established pros. But that tour had lead up to a massive final at the Munich Air & Style. How would they create a finale as fitting for this year’s tour? Jon Weaver, the former UK pro now managing Nike’s global snowboard team, explains: “Well, we realized we needed a final of some kind and every year we have a park shoot for the pros, so we thought ‘well, can we combine these?’” The pros would be shooting stills for future Nike adverts, and also making a video for Transworld Snowboarding’s Team Shootout. This contest pits four sponsors’ teams against each other in a bid to shoot the best web short, and nab the cover shot on following season’s first issue.
The logistics of running such a shoot and welcoming the winners of nine amateur contests from all over Europe at the same time would be daunting enough. But to complicate matters further, Nike also decided to invite amateur snowboard crews to submit videos, with the best three earning a place at the final. “They’d done something similar with Nike BMX recently and it had been super popular” says Weaver. “So we thought we’d make it a two pronged thing. The idea was that kids who wanted to do contests could get to the big final by doing the comps, and kids who wanted to do videos could get there in their own way too.”
By getting the best amateur video crews and contest riders together with the cream of Nike’s team, they would be putting the pieces in place to create potentially the most progressive park session ever. But to make it actually happen, they’d need an arena that could match these lofty ambitions. An insane snowpark – huge, and varied enough to make all the different strands of the event successful, with obstacles designed to push progression in completely new ways. Basically, they’d need the best park ever built. Thankfully, this was Nike. They don’t fuck about. They had the resources to back it, and most importantly they knew who to call to make it happen.
“They’d need the best park ever built. Thankfully, this was Nike. They don’t f**k about.”
German shaping experts Schneestern have been in the game for a long time. As well as building the kicker at the annual Freestyle.ch contest, they’re responsible for shaping countless freestyle arenas across the Alps. Joe Cavanagh, an experienced British shaper who had worked with them on several projects before this one, reckons “these guys really are some of the best shapers in the world”. To people like that, the idea of creating the ultimate park for the ultimate session was understandably exciting. Joe explains “Dirk Schumann, the head shaper, said to me at one stage ‘this isn’t just cool for Nike and their riders and the ams to show what they can do, it’s cool for us too. We can really show what shapers can do, you know, show that we don’t just have to build wedges.” The concept Dirk and his crew dreamt up was nothing if not ambitious. It would be big, obviously, but would also open avenues for real creativity from the riders. As Joe explains “he had this vision of a really organic park, with all of these incredible flowing lines. In his head he could see them all matching up and linking to each other.”
Making this vision a reality took some doing. Montafon allocated what Weaver calls “an area of rolling backcountry” to the project, accessed by a single lift. It was cordoned off, and as early as the summer the Schneestern guys were preparing it, moving earth around. Such was the size of the job that they went as far as negotiating sponsorship from Prinoth, a rival to JCB and Pistenbully. The digger makers were apparently so stoked on the final park they invited a whole host of Austrian businessmen down to show what their machines were capable of. As well as the monster earthmovers (one of which was so big it had to be driven the long way round, a route taking “about eight hours”) the crew had “heaps and heaps of snowcats. There was a little one called a Husky, two or three Bison Xs – which are basically the best park cats ever – then a whole bunch of winch cats. Seven or eight in total.” No fewer than 27 shapers worked on the project – most of them arriving two weeks before the first riders rocked up and putting in shifts that would have made Trojans blush. “Mostly we were working eight hour days,” says Joe, though “for a couple we did seven in the morning ‘til one or two at night.” But the results, when they emerged, were spectacular.
“It was huge,” says Joe, enthusiastically, “bigger than any snowboarding venue I’ve ever seen. About twice the size of the BEO course and four or five times the size of the World Snowboard Championship course, which I worked on. And it wasn’t just a standard competition course, but this massive snowpark with absolutely batshit-crazy features.” Weaver was also suitably impressed. “It’s definitely the biggest and the most creative park I’ve ever seen. I don’t want to claim too much cos there’s other parks that do a fantastic job, but I’ve never seen anything like it creativity wise.” Joe agrees. “It was the weird stuff was the coolest. Like I don’t think anyone’s thought of having a scaffolding wallride before. And I don’t think anyone’s built a snake pipe – like a pipe that wasn’t straight but kind of snaked down the hill. That was actually one of the funnest things I’ve ever ridden.” The other “batshit-crazy” features included a kicker off a cliff drop (which earned Sage Kotsenberg the latest cover of Transworld Snowboarding) a “re-entry kicker” that sent riders miles up in the air but only “six or eight feet forward”, an absolute beast of a hip, a kicker over a chairlift, a skate-style bowl complete with a diving board and a massive Nike swoosh, which could be ridden any number of ways.
“Jamie on some of the rail stuff was unreal. Everyone was just like ‘What the hell, where did that come from?’”
Not only, were the ideas mental, but “everything was worked out perfectly,” according to Joe. “Like the gap hip, an absolutely massive 19-metre gap onto a hip that was at like 60 degrees with a 6-metre pole jam on top. That had to be so precise and it was the most difficult feature to shape. But Schneestern are so technical, so good. All the sides of the kickers were perfectly straight and the flat sections were all perfectly level too.” So what would the assembled pros and ams do with this all-time setup?
THE PROS, THE CONS AND THE AMS
Well, the pictures on these pages tell their own tale, but the breathless accounts of the people there definitely back it up. “The park helped push progressive riding for sure,” says Weaver. “The jumps were big enough for people to try new things. Like Jan Scherrer did a front 12 double and a switch back 9 kind of double thing which he’d been trying all season but hadn’t really found a jump big enough to try.” Of course perfectly shaped features are not the only ingredient needed to push progressive riding, but they did help in other ways too. Weaver said: “The bowl especially helped push creativity. Not just ‘cos that kind of thing hadn’t really been seen before, but also because the session there had a real vibe to it.” He explains: “When you do say a skate demo, everyone’s in a 60 square foot space so you have this atmosphere. Usually in snowboarding you need a jump of say 60 foot, a run in of 100 foot, so to get the atmosphere, to get people working together isn’t that easy. But with the bowl it was super good because everyone was standing around and just hiking. It was like halfpipe used to be back in the day, where you’re hiking, you watch the next dude drop in, you try something he’s just tried… In the bowl session you had the ams following the lines of the pros, and people just trying new stuff.”
So who were the standouts? “Standout pro for the week would have to be Peetu [Piiroinen]. He was going absolutely maaaaassive off of the hip. He was hitting it alone, and it wasn’t even a great weather day. And on kickers he has so much pop. Some of the shots I’ve seen on the 30 metre kicker, he’s about 15-20 foot higher than everyone else.” And what about the ams? “Ah all the contest winners killed it. When you’ve got ams and pros riding together, the ams always really want to impress and show the pros what’s up. There was one jump session where that Norwegian kid Jorn Simen Aboe did front double rodeo off the toes, which was the first time I’d ever seen that in real life. And then Nuddsy did front 10 off the toes. Those two especially stood out” It’s always nice to hear that the UK’s Chosen winner Andy Nudds was holding it down. Weaver continues “Yeah, Nuddsy rode so good, he impressed everyone. He’s just got such a strong, powerful style and it’s so clean.” The amateurs of course were judged, and while it might have been galling for us Brits to see Nuddsy miss out on a top three spot by just two Facebook votes, he clearly made an impression.
And what of the UK’s sole pro representative, Mr. Nicholls? “Everyone was super impressed with his riding too” says Jon, “he was doing stuff that was really out of the ordinary.” Joe Cavanagh agrees. “Jamie on some of the rail stuff was unreal – transferring across the bowl and onto the wallride. Everyone was just like ‘What the hell, where did that come from?’” So did the shapers get to sit and watch people enjoying the fruits of their labour? “Not really. We got to ride a bit which was cool, but for us it was mostly pretty stressful. We’d always have to be re-shaping stuff or dropping what we were doing to salt in-runs of kickers and that sort of thing. There were some tense words with one particular rider who I won’t name. I don’t know if people like that maybe don’t realize how much work goes into creating the stuff. Sometimes it was a bit like ‘guys, we’ve built this unreal park for you and you’re complaining that it’s too windy, or there’s a tiny little bump somewhere’”.
For the most part though, it sounds like Joe was about as stoked as those Austrian businessmen with their digger demonstration. “It was so cool to see them all ride the stuff we’d created. Austen Sweetin and Danny Kass kept going off on these little missions, that was cool to see. And Spencer O’Brien kills it. She’s so sick and she was never freaked out by the size of things. Most of the riders are totally down to earth too, like Jamie’s such a nice kid, and Danny Kass is a total dude.”
“It was huge. Just this massive snowpark with absolutely batshit-crazy features.”
Unsurprisingly, it was the same total dude who was allegedly “leading the charge” at the after-party, when “stuff got pretty loose at the hotel”. Because having wowed the world with possibly the most progressive park session ever, it was only appropriate that all those involved should celebrate. With the overall winners of both the Chosen series and the video contest announced at once, the final send-off was always going to be riotous. “It was amazing,” says Joe “I got pretty maggot drunk, and apparently there was a bit of hotel trashing that went down. Old school, punk rock snowboarding stuff.” The German Rock on SB crew who won the video contest didn’t even wait ‘til they got back to the hotel to get stuck in. As Weaver explains: “I think the German crew scared a lot of people. That fucking kid Dani Rascyanjani? He’s mental. He’d obviously been drinking for a fair few hours already, but when they announced the winners they were like ‘Dani, what do you have to say?’ and he just goes ‘ernnnnnnnnnerrrrrgh’. He didn’t say anything, he just made noises! And then he just starts taking his clothes off. Bobby [Meeks, the American MC] is desperately trying to keep some clothes on him, but the next thing you know he’s standing there butt naked. And get this – he’s got a fucking black cock! Apparently he’d been suntanning it specially, I don’t know. But you’ve got this skinny white kid standing there naked with a Mohawk on his head and this black cock hanging out. And all these Americans who were just freaking out. You know how Americans are at times, they didn’t find it all that funny.”
To be fair, whether or not the yanks escorting the winners on their trip to Baldface Lodge (site of the Red Bull Supernatural) will be looking askance at Dani probably won’t bother him much. I mean, when you’ve just been given the top prize at probably the best park ever built, you’ve got to celebrate in style right?