words: Pat Bridges
photos: Oli Gagnon, Aaron Blatt and Mary Walsh
For the fourth year in a row Bode Merrill has put out the siren call to tweakers and twisters and other loose-limbed miscreants to come to Mount Hood, Oregon and put their low altitude antics out there for a display of summer shredding unlike any other. First held in 2012, the Merrill Minipipe Invitational has cemented itself as the marquee event of the Northern Hemisphere's off season snowboarding circuit, attracting old schoolers and X Games icons alike, with past champions including Austin Sweetin, Rio Tahara and Scott Blum.
In 2015, the Northwest was dealt the most mild winter in recent memory and the glaciated alpine of Mount Hood was arguably the most affected of all. While this circumstance deemed a minipipe undoable, Bode and the High Cascade Snowboard Camp slope crew, aka the Diggers, harnessed ingenuity and dug deep, so to speak, coming up with a solution that more than made up for any melting ambitions. Hence, the Merrill Minipipe Invitational was reborn as the Merrill Medium Quarterpipe Invitational. The last summertime contest quarterpipe erected on Mount Hood was nearly a decade ago and based upon the reaction of the riders and crowd upon seeing the two story setup nestled stoically in a secluded vein below the main High Cascade zone, the return of this true test of technicality, creativity and constitution was very welcome.
While the transitions of the past became singular, the start sheet at the MMQPI was as impressive and eclectic as ever. Former Robotfoodie turned freeride evangelist, Josh Dirksen joined Colin Langlois, Scotty Arnold, Corey MacDonald and David Pitchi as the veterans of the field. Repping for the next generation of rulers was Nils Mindnich, Erik Leon, Ben and Gabe Ferguson, Red Gerard and Toby Miller. Making the 2015 MMQPI an international affair were France's Victor Daviet and French Canadians Louif Paradis and Ben Biloq. Videopart icons Chris Grenier, Scott Stevens and Brandon Cocard were joined by wildcards Chris Beresford, Tim Humphreys, Brendan Gerard, Ted Borland, Brady Lem and Scott Blum. For the first time ever Bode opened the event up to women providing Alex Duckworth, Nirvana Ortanez, Jess Kimura, Kaleah Opal Driscoll, Amanda Hankison, Stefi Luxton and Madison Blackley an equal opportunity to tame the tranny. Perhaps the most intriguing subset of contenders were those who had an actual World Quarterpipe Championship title on their resume. This elite squad was Shane Flood, Olympic medalist, Scotty Lago and the host, Bode Merrill.
Bode employed a peer-judged format this year, adding greatly to the rider-friendly atmosphere. With the field broken up into two heats, the fifty-plus competitors were each given forty-five minutes to jam to see who would emerge into the twenty-person hour-long "super" finals. Once Corey Macdonald broke the seal on the first heat with a back one Andrecht transfer off the tombstone into the hip, everyone in attendance knew it was on. Notable occurrences abounded throughout the whole day. Scott Stevens threw a few of his more conventional tricks like cripplers and McTwists, but it was his front-foot-out judo-to-fakie and other unstrapped insanity that sent him into contention. Shane Flood's switch t-bags, eggplants on the extension, and laybacks-to-fakie proved to everyone why he is regarded as one of the best handplanters of all time. Brandon Cocard also put his own strong arm tactics on display with high-to-low egg plants and switch units, as well as a fastplant on the tombstone. Louif Paradis played with the saltbox extension with his signature proper style, spinning to stalls and taps and setting down an enviable Japandrect late in the day. Lago also planted the saltbox when he wasn't frontside spinning and getting photo friendly pokes over the deck. Gabe Ferguson chucked a few alley-oops, but his airs were most memorable. Red Gerard was the youngest rider to make his way into the finals, but his style was legit and tricks like nose grab alley-oop 900's kept him in contention. Whether you call him Littlest or Wizard, there is no denying that Alex Sherman has matured into being a rider's rider and his back three eggs off the saltbox were most outstanding. Ben Bilocq came into the MMQPI with a banged up rib which meant plants were a no-go, so he kept it above the lip, sending double overhead Japans and the largest frontside straight airs of the event. Victor Daviet came all the way to Mount Hood from France and kept traveling across the quarter with McTwists and other tombstone senders. Colin Langlois capitalized on his short commute to open up the saltbox plant session, Elguerial from low to high on the tombstone and stomp a few switch McTwists.
Nils Mindnich is a beast. From nuanced tricks like crail Miller flips to long distance cripplers, the SFD destroyer once again made his presence known and was recognized with a well deserved fifth place. Bode overcame the burden of having your own namesake event by charging two story heave-ho backside rodeos, fastplanting the saltbox and doing an unbelievable one-foot crippler to fastplant re-entry. See the GIF in the gallery to witness that radness. The voters decided that Bode would be absent from the podium, instead being bestowed with The Scotty Arnold Award for fourth place, which interestingly comes with less prize money than fifth place.
Taking home third and Best Plant was Scott Blum. While known for his hands-on approach to lip tricking, Blum's bag of tricks also includes frontside five truck drivers and alley-oop seven McTwists. Second place belonged to twenty-year-old Erik Leon whose surfy style provided a compelling counterpoint to his air awareness and agro board manipulations. Double poke frontsides, boned stalefish airs, lead shoulder cripplers and late double grab handplants proved that you don't need to be a transition jock to succeed in this show.
After having been denied access to previous Merrill Invitationals, Ben Ferguson arrived on the Palmer with something to prove. While most perceived Ben as the ringer of the field, his performance was still rife with spontaneity and showmanship. Nosegrab alley-oops, classic methods and exaggerated McTwists were more than enough for Ben's peers to christen him with the first ever Merrill Medium Quarter Pipe Invitational title. Joining Ben at the top of the podium was New Zealand's Stefi Luxton whose straight-on approach to the transition set her apart from her female peers.
It was evident by the enthusiasm of everyone riding and spectating that the rebirth of this type of quarterpipe competition has been long overdo. No other snowboarding discipline is as easily discernable and dramatic. When a singular trick is put on the line for fame or infamy within the controlled chaos of a jam format, one-upmanship takes precedence. Hats off to Bode as well as all of the MMQPI sponsors, including High Cascade Snowboard Camp, Salomon, Billabong, anon., Timberline, Cobra Dogs and Crab Grab, for once again making it all happen. Here's to 2016 and more quarterpipe contests in the future.
First – Ben Ferguson
Second – Erik Leon
Third – Scott Blum
Fourth (The Scotty Arnold Award) – Bode Merrill
Fifth – Nils Mindnich
Sixth – Scott Stevens
Seventh – Louif Paradis
Eighth – Scotty Lago
Ninth – Red Gerard
Tenth – Gabe Ferguson
First – Stefi Luxton
Crab Grab and Cobra Dog Individual Awards –
Best Grab: Erik Leon
Biggest Air: Ben Ferguson
Best Flip: Bode Merrill
Best Plant: Scott Blum
Worst Bail: Chris Grenier