words: Mark Clavin
photos: Brandon Davis
video: Drew Hastings
Earlier this year, the largest indoor ski resort in the world opened up in China’s northernmost province. Not wasting much time since its July opening, it has already hosted an international slopestyle competition. For a behind the scenes look at this brand new facility and its maiden hosting, we caught up with Brandon Davis and Nik Baden to talk about their first experience with an indoor slopestyle layout. But first, here is a little background on the spot:
What “play money” can buy you. p: Brandon Davis
The 860,000 square feet structure boasts 6 runs, is located in the “Ice City” of Harbin, China, and is called The Harbin Wanda Indoor Ski and Winter Sports Resort. The resort was built by China’s wealthiest businessmen, Wang Jianlin, and cost a little under $6 billion. It doesn’t seem like too much sweat off of Jianlin’s back, who is reportedly worth around $30 billion dollars and sits at #18 on the Forbes’ world billionaire list. His son, Wang Sicong, is the chairman of the Banana Sport board, who hosted it’s first snowboarding event back in February. The Banana board then brought the riding indoors this past month for the 2017 Summer Banana Open held at the new mega-resort.
Out of the short digging we did, it seems like us and Wang Sicong see eye-to-eye on the important things. He obviously likes snowboarding, and he reportedly spent over 2.5 million Renminbi ($385,000) at a karaoke bar in one night. We haven’t met him, but our staff would like to send him an open invitation to join our karaoke anytime.
Now that you know what you are stepping into, here is Brandon Davis and Nik Baden (via email from Chile) to answer all of our questions:
So, as we understand it, you guys were invited to China earlier this year for an indoor slopestyle comp?
B: Yessirrrr. We got an email late this spring and were told they are going to run a contest in the world’s largest indoor snowboard hill. The contest is called the Banana Open, which is put on by Banana Sports. Which is owned by Wang Sicong I think, the son of Wang Jianlin, the richest man in China. Probably one of the richest in the world. Apparently the rumor is his son is pretty into snowboarding and that’s why they started running events? Not sure if that’s true but pretty wild to think about having that kinda of play money.
Brandon Davis, Nik Baden, and crew skating up to the entrance in Harbin, China. p: Brandon Davis
Who is the leader that runs this thing?
B: Technically the guy fronting the money would be Wang Jianlin, but the main dude who puts everything together is this guy named “Woody”.
N: “Woody” took care of us and lined everything out.
B: Super cool guy. He’s way down with snowboarding and does a super good job of making sure everyone is having a good time on and off our snowboards.
N: I didn’t meet the rich dude but Woody was very nice and cool.
We heard he was late and he had a dramatic start to the event?
B: Well at the first Banana Open in February, we were just about to start running the finals of the contest and apparently the organizers got a call telling them to hold everything until “The Prince” arrives. That is Wang Jianlin’s son. So, basically all of TV and everyone else involved took a quick 30-minute chill and waited for the guy to fly in. As soon as he made it, the contest was on.
Is it a trophy or a model of the building? p: Brandon Davis
Where was it?
B: This one was in Harbin, China. It’s pretty far north. It’s pretty much Siberia. They have the tigers and all that.
How did this thing start?
B: I honesty have no idea. I think they are trying to push our industry into China to get more people involved. A good way to do that would be to fly a bunch of the international field out there to show the people what it is all about.
N: Yeah, there was an event by the same people this past winter that went well, so I guess they were down to try an indoor thing?
How was it taking a full slopestyle lap indoors?
B: It was super wild. All the walls are painted blue so it is pretty easy to get confused where you are when spinning on the jumps. But I was surprised at how fun it was. The run is actually pretty long. Totally exceeded my expectations.
N: Yeah, it was weird dude. But the slope was pretty long so it was the same as any snowboarding anywhere…
Quite the view. p: Brandon Davis
How many times have you been overseas for an event?
B: Ahhhh it would be tough to count nowadays. These past few years I have been bouncing around quite a bit. All I know is that it never gets old. Being able to travel around and snowboard at all these different places is that classic “dream coming true”.
N: Been lucky to be able to travel a lot the last few years.
This was your second year for the Banana Open right?
B: Well, technically it is the same year. Apparently they were pumped with how the first event went and they planned this event just a few months after the first. Rumor has it they are putting another one on in November.
N: This was my first!
What was different from the first and second year?
B: A lot different. The first contest was outside at a mountain some 25 miles from the border of North Korea. This time it was a full switch up into a big city, Harbin, in the middle of the summer. It was a trip skating around shirtless, sweating, then jumping into a huge refrigerator and starting to freeze immediately.
Is it weird going to a private event like this?
B: No! This event honestly treats the riders much better than any other event. They pay for your plane ticket, lodging, and food for the week. On top of that, they offered a two day tour of the city so the athletes would get a chance to check out the surrounding areas and activities. Meanwhile, X Games and other big, mainstream events make athletes pay for all their own travel, lodging, food and have a lower prize purse. Basically, it just goes to show how much these big corporate events are just using us athletes as the show and continue to walk away with much more money than you could ever possibly make as a snowboarder.
N: It’s a little weird but it is kind of great! They are happy to help and actually listen to what we have to say which is different from most other contests happening right now…
And they even paid for your plane ticket?
N: Yes Sirrrr!
How was the course?
B: The course was surprisingly good. They had to build the landing out of scaffolding rather than snow, which actually worked better than expected. Everybody quickly warmed up to the course and basically ended up maxing out what would even be possible on that course.
N: The course was decent especially for being indoors but the snow was still pretty shitty, the rails were standard, and the kickers were very poppy, but all-in-all it worked.
How many riders? And who was there?
B: They invited 11 national Chinese riders and 11 internationals. It was not easy to win by any means. Legends like Roope Tonteri and Yuki Kadono were out there getting it. The boys Darcy, Mikey, Eric, and Nik where out there as well. And you can’t forget about the other few Japanese that were there. Hard to remember there names, culture impossibility, but they are all a bunch of machines. Definitely keep your eye out for that country producing some next level kids over the next few years!
What was the setup?
B: They had two different rail options up top, a longer down bar and a down bar waterfall style, then a flat bar with a whoop at the end, then two jumps… And a battleship rail next to the U-banana rail haha.
How big was the crowd?
B: The live crowd wasn’t as big as the first time. I think that’s because they charge people money to come into the building to watch. But they filmed the whole thing for TV so I think that’s where most people will see it.
It is a relatively unknown comp, why do you think it isn’t that big?
N: Well the course is kind of small and not that many people want to go to China for an indoor contest that doesn’t have a very baller course…
B: This contest isn’t as big as it could be because it has probably been focused for showing the event in China, which is basically a closed market. The “Great Firewall” blocks Faceboook, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube… basically everything the rest of the world uses. To film something there and get it out globally would be a much bigger challenge, I imagine.
Any funny stories from the trip over? Did you blow 2.5 Million on karaoke?
B: Hahaha too many. The boys made sure that the bar had plenty of business the night after the contest. Some shit definitely went down. Haha. Asher drank a cup of burnt cigarettes and some mystery liquid, Antoine Truchon got soaked by some drinks and sand, and we all got pretty hammered and talked some good ole snowboard shit with the judges.
N:The day of the event the mall was closed until about the time practice was scheduled to start. The best part was hanging and stuff after riding. We were all in the same hotel and didn’t know what to do in China besides party.
What about during the comp?
B: Nothing too funny, but Yuki is the SAVAGE. He fell after his first jump and proceeds to send a 25-35 foot front flip off the knuckle all the way to flat. Didn’t end up landing it and he may have been knocked out, but he’s sending shit, no worries.
N: Wasn’t funny at all, but that was during his run and it was gnarly.
What were the results?
N: Roope took first ($20k), Darcy second ($10k), and Eric Beauchemin took third ($5k).
Is it more fun than the X games or U.S. Open?
B: Hmmm tough. US open I would say is more fun just because all the boys are they from halfpipe as well as slopestyle. Pretty small field in this contest, but it would be insane to get all the squad out on a China trip. Good chance some of us wouldn’t make it home…
N: Hahahaha probably.
What are you looking forward to coming up this season?
B: Snowboarding. Just want to get out there and ride. I really want to film some stuff this year. Whether it is a part in a movie or just making a movie with all the MAYHEM boys. Either way would love to get out there. And try my hands at some new new.
Finally, have to ask going into this season… Olympic plans?
N: Hopefully my friends and I go.
B: Maybe, maybe not. That’s the plan. Honestly not stressed about making the team. Olympics is great and all, just wasn’t my dream when I was growing up. I just wanted to be able to ride with all the guys I get to ride with now. And that’s much more fun then some bullshit quad cork airbag meatball go-huck-yourself for some “gold medal”. You don’t need one of those to be happy.