Travel Stories

The Secret Diary of a Park Shaper

Interesting Stickers

Photos by Oskar Wilk
If you’ve ever wondered about what it’s like to work behind the scenes at one of the biggest events in snowboarding? Well, it’s right here, warts and all. Our tame park shaper Joe Cavanagh spent six weeks at the first ever World Snowboard Championships in Norway, and experienced everything, from the endless hours completing thankless tasks to the elation when things went right, and the near despair when they didn’t. He survived sleepless nights, the gratitude of thankful riders and the fierce temper of the not-so-grateful ones throwing their toys out of the pram. It might not feature Billie Piper in the buff, but this diary still contains plenty of juicy secrets…

23rd of January 2012

The countryside around Oslo

I flew into Oslo a little un-prepared for the size of what we were about to do. I’d worked with The Arctic Challenge crew the year before and was really stoked to be going back and working with them again on the WSC. I remember walking into the car park at Tyvann where the offices and all the production centres were located and realising how big this would be. The competition offices had literally doubled in size (to the dizzying heights of two stories…)

25th of January 2012

The rest of Europe was nipple deep in powder, but not Norway. So the snow cannons had been pumping for three days solid. These snow cannons use about 10,000 litres of water a minute so the slopes where the slopestyle and halfpipe were meant to be resembled Travis Rice’s wet dream.

The first few days of any event is spent mainly trying to get some form of an arena ready. A Swedish tent company was brought in to build the catering, VIP, medical, storage and shopping tents. We recruited the Norwegian Army (the army!) to come in a build us a road in-between all the tents as we were expecting thousands over the course of the nine day event.

Whilst all of the infrastructure for the championships was being set up at the bottom of the hill, the snow cat drivers were hard at work pushing snow into tables and transitions for the kickers and pipe.

28th January 2012

I was really blown away by the pipe; I think it’s going to be regarded as one of the best pipes in the world for a long time. With the trees running down the side it’s a photographer’s dream. These also keep it shielded from wind, which is handy when you’re boosting 13 feet out, as the riders would be in two weeks time.

4th of February 2012

The slopestyle course

We put the first rails in six days before the event. From then on I probably averaged about five or six hours sleep a night, as did the rest of the crew. We left our accommodation at about 6am and worked shaping the course through till about 5 or 6pm.

6th of February 2012

We got the test riders in to dial the course so we could make any changes before the start of the competition. Six young shred dogs from the NTG in Geilo – the Norwegian’s Uber school of Snowboarding. Past alumni include Horgmo, Braaten and Ostreng, so we all knew that any comments these guys made on the course would be worth hearing, and treated them as gospel.

Our test riders were six young shred dogs from the NTG in Geilo – the Norwegian’s Uber school of Snowboarding. Past alumni include Horgmo, Braaten and Ostreng, so we all knew that any comments these guys made on the course would be worth hearing.

Watching the first hits, you’re crossing your fingers hard that the course is good. Seeing the first rider boosting over the channel gap my heart was really in my mouth. Luckily all the riders were really on point and there were no injuries. We made the decision to remove some features due to having too much speed on the 2nd and 5th feature but apart from that all of the riders were really happy with the course. With two days left to the first practice day that was a relief!

A rider hits the kickers that have taken so long to build

9th of February 2012

At this point, my job on the course shaping pretty much came to a halt. Earlier in the week I was told I was going to be the starter for both halfpipe and slopestyle, as well as looking after all the staff on course during the competition.

We needed 24 people minimum to run the competition from a safety point of view. I spent the next two days calling people and organising the different venues’ staffing needs. I think by this point I was averaging 20 Marlboro Reds and 15 cups of coffee a day!

10th of February 2012

7am start. We had three hours to get the course ready for 10am. Sounds like a lot of time but with it being the first day there is some confusion in getting what I need to the course on time. I had to liaise with NRK who were broadcasting the whole competition, attend riders’ meetings and staff meetings. Averaging 40 Marlboro reds a day now….

12th of February 2012

Who’d have thought those lines would be so tricky to get right?

Pre-qualis went down for men’s slopestyle today. Good to see our very own Billy Morgan throwing down with the 2nd highest score of the day. Things running smoother on course today. I don’t think people, riders, TV, anybody realises how long it takes to do the little things to a course. Take the blue lines on the jumps for example – it has to be a perfect ratio of paint and anti-freeze so that it doesn’t freeze on the lip of the take-off. You then have to transport it in these five litre canisters that you use for spraying fertilizer. The hosepipes fall off every ten minutes and the cannisters leak if you make the slightest movement.

By this point I was averaging 20 Marlboro Reds and 15 cups of coffee a day!

This was a long day, with halfpipe practice going down. Kilner was taking no prisoners during practice getting in as many runs as possible. We also used him as the guinea pig for the NRK guys wanting to practice their camera articles. They’re all wearing white coveralls, makes them look like ninja vikings….

13th of February 2012

Seb Toots gets ready to drop. On time, presumably…

Managing the TV is tricky. The whole event is being produced as a webcast with it being picked up by terrestrial TV in Norway from the semi-finals onwards. Can’t be long before we see Sue Barker in Laax commentating on the BEO!

Our production is then being re-broadcast to 35 countries worldwide by IMG so there’s a real emphasis on timings. We worked out that from the top of the halfpipe to the bottom takes about a minute. You then add on 30 seconds for the judges to score and confirm the scores then another 30 seconds for the replays with all the graphics playing.

This gives us two minutes per rider, but that number doesn’t account for little things like the judges deliberating over a trick score, or the graphics not running properly. Or my personal favourite, which is the rider deciding that the moment you say “drop” is an ideal moment to take off their gloves and search for a better song…or Kelly Clark just singing out loud….watch the replays… seriously!

16th of February 2012

After another long day of shaping… Expression says it all

First day of terrestrial TV broadcast today, which means we’re running even tighter on time. Constantly checking my watch to see if we’re on time for the start of the broadcast as well as ensuring all the riders have a fair practice time, and making sure the course is shaped and ready for a start time.

Anybody who thinks events are glamorous is seriously misguided.

One of he worst parts is effectively being the fun police, and telling the riders when to stop practice, start practice and if practice has been cut short. Anybody who thinks events are glamorous is seriously misguided. The last thing I want to do after a 14 hour day is go drinking. With that kind of pressure, inevitably, sometimes you make mistakes. Today I accidentally sent a girl down the halfpipe before the production centre was ready. Luckily the cameramen always track the riders and the judges have a live feed but I still feel like a mug. Sorry Elena Hight!

17th of February 2012

Relaxing at last. Not for long though we’re guessing…

Semis on the slopestyle for both men and women today, then straight over to a different venue for the quarterpipe finals. I had nothing to do with the quarterpipe, which is good, because I know how much of a pain building a QP can be. We had a scaffold company working for about a week building a 16-metre wall for the quarterpipe and then two 12 metre towers for the TV Crews. The crew over there had to bolt on wooden panels to the scaffold then start to push and blow snow up the walls. Luckily Claes Hogstrom our head shaper is pretty much the world leader for quaterpipe building.

Amazingly, I had nothing to do during the quarterpipe finals so I actually got to watch as a spectator. Was really nice to chill out with the crew and enjoy the competition. I think for the first time I was really able to take a step back and appreciate the enormity of what we were doing and what we had all achieved. Managed to fool myself into thinking it was all over…

18th of February 2012

Iouri Podlatichikov prepares to drop in.

It’s raining.

Of all the weather conditions, rain is the worst at least as far as slopestyle goes. For halfpipe it surprisingly worked out well – the rain froze a little and turned the pipe into an Autobahn for the finals. Luckily pipe riders keep the edges on their boards sharper than a ninja sword, so ice isn’t a problem. Frank Wells at SPT who built the pipe claimed “its probably one of the best pipes we have ever built”. So that was OK.

Wanting to take advantage, myself and the head of sport for WSC, Marius Gjerso took a few runs on the pipe during the medal ceremony. If you saw a guy in the background a blue jacket and grey pants getting four inches out of the pipe that was me!

19th of February 2012

In all my elation after the pipe finals, I totally forgot about the consequences of the rain for slopestyle. Overnight the landings and the jumps turned into a figure skating rink. This meant that on the take-off of the jumps you were running the risk of slipping out and flying 50ft to bulletproof landing.

It also gave us a nightmare trying to shape it, not helped by the fact that a few people went out last night and had a few drinks. Of all the nights to go for a drink, last night had to be the worse as the schedule was so tight.

Standing on the landing of the 5th feature I lost my balance spraying the lines. Got cuts up my back from sliding down the landing in a T-shirt but I was more concerned when I started coughing and sneezing up blood. A quick trip to the medics showed my blood pressure was through the roof and I had burst the blood vessels in my nose and throat. Living the dream eh?

My blood pressure was through the roof and I had burst the blood vessels in my nose and throat.

Despite all of the challenges we had that morning, everyone gave everything they had left to get it all together for the practice session. We got a bit of criticism for the icy course, which is completely ridiculous. The weather is one of the only things we can’t control at a competition – despite what some team managers may think. Short of having a whip around to get the cash together to pay staff for an extra day and organising a Norwegian Bank Holiday on the Monday, we had to run the finals. Sometimes you’re just unlucky, that’s life.

Spencer O’Brien throws some shapes before dropping in.

I still think the right girl won. Spencer O’Brien was on fire all season and bearing in mind she was struggling to walk the day before the finals I think she really deserved a win. By the time the men’s finals started the ice has started to melt a little, which gave the guys an opportunity to throw down. For the third and final run we reverse the running order so that the rider in first drops first and then we work from the rider at the bottom dropping second and the rider in second dropping last.

The only disagreement I had during the entire competition with a
team manager/babysitter was over this system. Someone apparently didn’t inform one of the riders that this would be happening. No names mentioned, but the rider really threw his toys out of the pram when he didn’t land his run.

Apart from that small episode the atmosphere at the top of the course was awesome. Some riders that didn’t make the finals came up just to support the guys and I think despite the conditions we saw something special.

No names mentioned, but the rider really threw his toys out of the pram when he didn’t land his run.

Chas Guldemond was so relaxed at the gate which I think won it for him at the end of the day. Watching the riders’ attitudes, it seemed to me if you treat the finals just like any other run and get yourself into the mind-set of just having fun out there the pressure’s not there anymore. You’ve just got to do it for yourself. He put down a flawless run as far as I’m concerned. And he’s a proper gent – he ended up delaying the medal ceremony coming back up to the top of the course and thanking all of the crew for all the hard work.

Alek Oestreng has a right to be smiling – he was the only Norwegian to qualify for the finals

We all had a last team meeting before starting to tear everything down, we left at about 7pm and had a quick shower before we all decided to go out and ended up getting maggot drunk…

26th of April 2012

Two months have passed now and we’ve all seen the photos and videos from the Champs. We ended up winning two Norwegian Emmys for the TV production. There was criticism sure, but I think for the first World Championships in fourteen years we did a bloody good job. It was a steep learning curve for everyone, and it could have run better but I think that with every event I do. I think the right people got the titles and I think we proved to the world that we have the experience to run our own World Championships rather than relying on the Olympics.

I don’t want to get bogged down in that though. I just want to say thanks to everyone that didn’t sleep for a month. Thanks to the people that put their bodies on the line for the success of the event. I want to say thank you too Tristan, Adrian, Niklas, Ole, Kristine, Thomas, Anna, Oskar, Vladislav, Roy, Helene, Marius, Emanuela, Greg, Tor and the rest of you that put yourselves out to make it work for those nine days. GIFD.

That’s our man Joe Cavanagh on the left. He looks exhausted, doesn’t he?
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