words: Pat Bridges
photos: Aaron Blatt
On March 15th, 2014, a cross section of the world’s halfpipe-riding elite were summoned by multi-time World and US Open Champion, Terje Haakonsen to take part in the fifteenth iteration of his legendary Arctic Challenge. As the volume continues to get turned up on the conversations of style and self-governance, the test bed that Terje created with The Arctic Challenge once again allows Uncle T to lead by example. Adding subtext to the situation was the fact that the 2014 Arctic Challenge would serve as a harbinger of whether or not our sport’s opinion leaders would emerge from the rhetorical fray and take action by supporting one of the last large-scale, rider-centric events on the contest circuit. With icons like Iouri Podladtchikov, Danny Davis, Arthur Longo, Ben Ferguson, Marcus Keller, and more heading Terje's call, the 2014 Arctic Challenge was as exciting and entertaining as it was important to our sport’s ideological imperative.
Just as Terje created the first Arctic Challenge in 1999 to introduce exaggerated transitions to halfpipe competition with the intention of increasing amplitude and improving safety, a decade and a half later Haakon is still actively seeking a solution to the quagmire of predictability that the contest circuit is prone to being. Terje and others have grown tired of the linear progression that our sport has taken where athletes only look to add half spins and flips to pre-existing tricks. Diversity and spontaneity appear to have been diminished by this approach. Further monotony comes from top contenders learning tricks and dialing in "golden runs" in the off season, allowing for little variation from event to event, yielding a preordained outcome if everyone in the field perfectly executes their top attempts. The two main factors that caused snowboarding to arrive at such a mundane state are the fact that the halfpipe arena and the judging format have largely become standardized. In other words, if the playing field, tricks, talent, and competitive criteria are consistent, then ultimately the results of each showdown will be consistent.
At the onset of The 2014 Arctic Challenge, Terje tasked the assembled competitors with taking part in how the contest would be run and be scored. Over the course of several rider meetings, the attendees decided to forgo the three run and done format seen at the US Open and X Games in favor of a jam-style schedule allowing for more spontaneity. The TAC main event was split into two sessions where full runs would be accounted for during a set window followed by a breakout period where riders could focus on specific tricks and sequences. The competitors themselves were also given a hand in enhancing the halfpipe by figuring out where and how creative elements would be peppered along the decks. These implements included a nine-foot high wooden wallride halfway up the riders right wall, an eight-foot tall tombstone tower twenty yards further down the pipe, and a ten-foot long mailbox strewn between two extensions on the opposite deck. Riders were further challenged by large radius hips at the halfpipe’s entry points and a one-and-a-half story tall quarterpipe with a four-foot high wooden box atop it at its exit point.
With the particulars in place all that was left was for the riders themselves to strap in and set this experiment in motion. Under slightly overcast skies, The 2014 Arctic Challenge began and while the hundreds of onlookers expecting a traditional contest scenario may have been initially confused by the format, there was no mistaking how insane the riding was. Early in the session, Ben Ferguson introduced his surf-infused freestyle to Norway by following up his double-overhead first hit cripplers with near-coping edgers and backside 540 tripod butters in the transition. Young Coloradan, Jake Pates made his mark with backside wallies to method off of the wallride. Benji Farrow stood out from the fray by spinning various alley-oops and going nose-to-tail and his 720 cripplers. Fredrik Austbo is widely regarded as one of the best skaters on the contest circuit, so it was no surprise when he backlipped and boardslid the mailbox and sent it on drifty, mute grab frontside alley-oops. Frenchman Arthur Longo linked backside indy grab alley-oops to frontside lien alley-oop variations to fill his style quota while still keeping it fresh and technical with a vertical wallride-smash to 720 crippler out. Olivier Gittler's lines took him upside down off the bottom box and onto the deck, where he limbo'd the mailbox upon re-entry, while Kent Callister and Gabe Ferguson explored the hand-shaped highway launches to boost over the wallride and mailbox. Though an anomaly amongst the seasoned field of halfpipe practitioners, Scott Blum stood out by linking five handplants in a row and setting down various Phillips 66, Warlock, T-Bag and other invert variations. Yet none of Blum's strongarm tactics would usurp Marcus Keller's Elguerials on the mailbox slide in the hunt for the Best Trick Award. This fakie to forward frontside 360 handplant that drifted above the gap onto the steel sided slider was made even more impressive by the fact that Keller apparently started his Best Trick Award celebration the previous evening, causing him to still be "sleeping it off" as the contest began.
Just shy of forty years old, Terje Haakansen has used his influence to change the trajectory of snowboarding on multiple occasions. In the early nineties, his dominance in competition allowed him to subvert the spin to win sensibilities of the day in favor of lofty alley-oops, exaggerated airs-to-fakie and insanely tweaked Mctwists. At the cusp of the new millennium he successfully advocated for larger halfpipes making twenty-foot plus airs the norm and then at the age of thirty-two, he set the world record for the highest air ever achieved out of a quarterpipe, causing our sport to rethink its infatuation with youth. As of late, Terje has been on a tear and he came into The 2014 Arctic Challenge with a lot of momentum after his all time poaching performance in Vail at the US Open a week ago. The largest frontside tailgrabs and method airs of the TAC belonged to Terje, while some of the most technical tricks were his down to earth sadplants to fakie and McTwists off of the bottom box.
Sochi gold medalist, Iouri Podladtchikov chose The Arctic Challenge to strap in for the first time since achieving Olympic glory. His uber-poked melons to fakie and method grab caballerial's showed a depth of style from Ipod, proving that there is more to his bag of tricks than the point-chasing flips and spins we've seen from him in more conventional competitions. These moves, combined with a best trick contending backlip on the coping of the wallride secured Iouri the second spot on The 2014 Arctic Challenge podium.
On paper one would think that an event like The Arctic Challenge was tailor-made for an outspoken maverick like Danny Davis, yet in practice it becomes even more apparent. The rider who recently switched up the American halfpipe scene by switch airing his way to the Olympics came to Oslo Winter Park with a plan, and that plan was "no plan." It appears to have worked. Danny followed up his backside drop-ins to fakie with switch indy airs up top. Down below, Davis zeached the coping of the wallride, 540 frontside handplanted the double stack, and linked switch backside 720 corkscews to chicken wing McTwists over the mailbox. The judging crew, which included Ingemar Backman, Dani Sappa, and Greg Johnston, unanimously crowned Davis as the champion of The 2014 Arctic Challenge, further justifying why he is fast becoming the bearded face of modern halfpipe riding and the champion our sport needs now more than ever, both on the snow and off.
With The Arctic Challenge being the first of a series of atypical transition events, including the upcoming Red Bull Double Pipe in Aspen, The Holy Bowly at Park City, and Danny Davis' Peace Park in the Tetons later this spring, the new age movement to get people to think outside the tube will continue to gain momentum. Hopefully the halfpipe community at large will take notice of this shift and decide that different can become the norm.