The White Festival: First Ever Winch-Propelled Indoor Big Air in Albertville, France

words/photos: Brendan Hart

The weekend of November 16-18, 10 of snowboarding's elite riders flocked to Albertville, France to compete for a $25,000 cash purse in the White Festival Freestyle Show, a never-been-done winch-propelled indoor big air on eco-friendly artificial snow. If the event sounds kind of crazy, that's because it was.

Albertville was the site of the 1992 Winter Olympics. Due to its Olympic tenure, this modest French town is home to a colossal stadium. In recent years this aging arena has been renovated with the goal of making it a modern and prosperous venue for world-class events.

The contest consisted of four features, each based on a different discipline: Big Air, Slopestyle, Halfpipe, and Urban. A hulking structure was designed by skatepark architect Lao Chazelas and built inside the stadium's ice rink, where a green-certified company called Air Products produced 500m2 of snow to cover the wood-and-metal framework. Riders were able to get enough speed for the features via electric winches. Four narrow tracks extended into the parking lot and served as drop-in points. The tracks relied on two of snowboarding's sketchiest friends: dry slope and winches. The riders started on dry slope, which transitioned into snow as they held on for dear life through the arena's open doors, reaching speeds up to 50mph before sending a trick.

Miraculously, there were no gruesome winch-related injuries. Yes, the snow was hard, and there were some harsh overshoots and even harsher knuckles, but there was not one single instance of a comical winch slap to the face or a less comical dismemberment. After the first practice everyone seemed pretty comfortable on the setup.

On Saturday November 17 over 3,500 spectators crowded the stands to watch the event. There was a plethora of nationalities on show: Americans Brandon Davis, Nik Baden, and Kyle Mack; local French boys Titouan Bartet and Sacha Moretti; Finnish phenom Roope Tonteri; Swiss rider Max Buri; Québecois Frank Bourgeois; Belgium's Sebbe De Buck; Sweden's Ludvig Billtoft; and Germany's Ethan Morgan. Each rider was on a team with a compatriot skier. The team with the highest score brought home the bacon. Given the gnarly factor of just about everything involved in this contest, the guys killed it. Kyle Mack put down a clean frontside bluntside 450 out on the rainbow rail; French rider Titouan didn't make the podium, but he stomped a massive double backflip on the big air jump. Sacha Moretti did a clean backside 900; Ethan Morgan had one of the heaviest and most stylish hip tricks, sending a tweaked frontside underflip Japan. Roope's ceiling-scraping michalchuks on the hip were also a crowd favorite.

Unfortunately the two invited women riders weren't able to come due to scheduling conflicts and last-minute injuries. It's a shame there wasn't a female presence for the snowboarders. Considering that Anna Gasser landed the first female triple cork last week, a bigger effort should have been made to get some of snowboarding's many talented ladies in the mix. However, as an attempt at a groundbreaking event format, the White Festival Freestyle Show did succeed at giving birth to new possibilities when it comes to a snowboard contest.

1st place team: Roope Tonteri and Anti Ottila ($10,000)
2nd place: Ethan Morgan and Tom Ritche ($2,500)
3rd place: Brandon Davis and Taylor Seaton ($1,500)
4th place: Sacha Moretti and Hugo Laugier ($1,000).

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