Words: T. Bird
Photos: Sami Touriniemi
While it’s true that all eyes in the United States are locked on the happenings of Team USA in Mammoth Mountain, California this week, I would like to remind our audience not to overlook what’s going down in Laax, Switzerland this weekend.
Over a hundred of the world’s best freestylers converged on the home mountain of Nicolas Müller for the 2014 Burton European Open, which just happens to take place outside of the States and is Europe’s biggest snowboard event of the year. And yes, many of the usual names were missing, but because of this, I have had the pleasure of being introduced to the next generation of snowboard superstars.
On Saturday, men’s and women’s slopestyle went down under blue skies and calm winds, and after a day of semi-finals where speed seemed to be an issue as a blanket of fresh snow hindered the riders’ abilities to generate enough speed for the course, it was a pleasure to watch the competitors take to the three rail, three jump setup and realize its full potential.
Women’s finals kicked off the morning with six women who had advanced through the semis. They were: Isabel Derungs, Enni Rukajärvi, Miyabi Onitsuka, Julia Marino, Elena Könz, and Merika Enne. With speed as a non-issue the gals had three runs to try and nab a spot on the podium, and right out of the gate, fifteen year-old Japanese rider Miyabi went on a tear, stomping a front blunt sameway in the rail section and then proceeding to put down a Cab five, back seven, and front five in consecutive order to take an early lead. Elena then put up a second place score with a 50-50 back 180 setup trick before the jumps and then tripled up with a Cab underflip, front seven and back three. With Enni Rukajärvi injuring herself in practice and not able to compete, all the spectators focused on Isabel Derungs, the hometown hero. On her third and final run, after not being able to put down the run she wanted, Isabel dropped in and hucked a switch back five, front seven, and back rodeo on the jumps while linking together a strong rail section, and that was enough to give her the win in the women’s category, bumping Miyabi down to second and Elena to third.
The men dropped in the afternoon and the BEO event staff decided to take sixteen competitors instead of the usual ten because of the inclement weather on Friday, but rather than grant them three runs, they were given only two tries to put down a run that they were proud of, so it got heated real quick. The sixteen qualified riders were: Kevin Backstrom, Tor Lundstrom, Carlos Gerber, Jonas Boesiger, Chris Tierney, Sam Hulbert, Mons Røisland, Leandro Eigensatz, Alois Lindmoser, Marcus Kelveland, Sean Ryan, Janne Korpi, Morten Kleivdal, Alek Østreng, Seth Hill, and Brage Richenberg. Now, the Norwegians have been a hot-button topic in slopestyle, because it is indeed, without a doubt, the hardest slopestyle team to make, and while this event wasn’t going to decide who would be on it, it served as justification as to why everyone’s obsessed with Norway at the moment.
Sam Hulbert, Seth Hill, Kevin Backstrom, Janne Korpi, and the rest of the field did all they could to try and stop a Norwegian podium sweep, but it was to no avail, as newcomer Mons Røisland put down a jump line that consisted of a switch back ten double cork and a massive front ten, and his rail line was equally impressive. That was worth third place. The battle between Alek Østreng and Brage Richenberg was intense and when Alek wook the lead with a run that had front lips to fakie up in the rails and a Cab nine, front ten, and back ten double cork on the jumps that scored a 91, it left Brage up top with the last run of the day to take the win. And he did. Brage dropped in and put down a switch backside 270 to 270 out on the first down rail and then in the three-pack jump section, he stomped a switch backside twelve, a double Wildcat, and a front twelve off the toes that came in at a whopping 95. It was all over, and the Norwegians took the top three spots here today in Laax.
The Burton European Open served as a reminder that it’s not necessarily all about the Olympics, because most of the riders here aren’t going or care not to. It also gave me a great opportunity to get familiar with some of the younger riders who will be taking the reins from the current crop of contest kids who are in the international spotlight, and that’s important to understand, because, as we all know, times change quickly and kids on the come up are destined to have their time to shine, progress the sport of slopestyle snowboarding, and ultimately, show the world that we’re not just stunt-hungry Jackass wannabees. Take that, Costas.
1. Brage Richenberg
2. Aleksander Østreng
3. Mons Røisland
1. Isabel Derungs
2. Miyabi Onitsuka
3. Elena Könz