In the end a slight revert on his landing might have cost Quebec's Sebastien Toutant the win and $7,500 in prize money, but he wasn't complaining.
He came into the Billabong Ante Up after rehabilitating a broken ankle and didn't have high expectations to start with. Those expectations were lowered after he fell on his first of two qualifier runs. By the time it was over, he was more than happy to take second place overall in the first TTR World Snowboard Tour event of the season on Whistler Mountain on Canada Day.
"Before qualifying we didn't have a good practice (because of the weather) and the jump - we hit it maybe three times before the contest went on so I didn't try any tricks," he said. "I had pressure on myself, and I did it and qualified in second."
In the finals, competitors had three runs with only the best run counting. Toutant - known as Toots on the pro circuit - dropped the jump switch for the first time and came up just short of landing a Cab Double Cork 1260 (coming in switch, spinning frontside three-and-a-half rotations while getting almost inverted on two of the spins - with a grab thrown in for good measure). He nailed it on his second attempt, but for the third he knew he had to go big to top American Eric Willett's Switch Backside Double Corked 1260, a more technical trick that he landed several times perfectly to take the lead with over 97 points out of a possible 100. Toots was sitting second with a 93.
He responded by trying a new trick - a Double Backside Rodeo 1080.
"It's a trick that a few riders do, but (my landing) was not really awesome," he said. "If I landed it, it would have been a pretty tough decision for the judges."
As for Eric Willett, he couldn't have been happier with his day.
"It was crazy," he said. "Mixed emotions for sure. This morning I couldn't do anything, I felt like I'd never been on a snowboard before. And then in the qualifiers it was so nerve-wracking because I didn't land my first jump and I was like, 'should I do it again or should I try something safer?' And then I went for it and stomped it, and once I was in the finals it just clicked."
The jump itself was massive, with a long run-in down Headwall into the 10-metre high ramp. From there riders had to clear an almost 15-metre gap just to reach the landing slope. At one point, riders were up to 15 metres off the ground.
"Every jump is different, especially big jumps like this where you have a big gap in the middle - even though you know you're getting over it, it still messes with your head. Yesterday (in training) it took a long time for us to get up the guts to event hit it because it's in your head. But a jump is a jump, we know how to snowboard, and we were definitely going to come out here and put on a show."
The win put Willett in the lead in the overall TTR World Snowboard Tour rankings with 160.19, followed by Seb Toutant with 153. Dash Kamp, another American rider, finished third at Ante Up and is third in the rankings with 147.57 points.
Also in the top 10 were Sage Kotsenburg of the U.S. in fourth, Yuki Kodono of Japan in fifth, Zach Stone of Canada in sixth, Roope Tonteri of Finland in seventh, Jeremy Thompson of the U.S. in eighth, Gjermund Braaten of Norway in ninth and Chas Guldemond of the U.S. in 10th.
The next opportunity for riders to earn tour points is the Burton Open in New Zealand in August.
This was the second year that the Billabong Ante Up has been staged in Whistler, but the 2010 event was confined to the glacier on Blackcomb. Because of the deep snowpack this season - there were still two metres of snow just outside the Roundhouse - the event was moved to Whistler Mountain.
Hundreds of spectators turned out to watch, although the number would have likely been higher if the weather had been warmer. It snowed the night before the competition in the high alpine, and while there were a few sunny breaks there was also rain and cold for most of the contest.
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