Events draw huge crowds, top athletes
They came, we saw, they conquered.
Some of the top snowboarders in the country and the world converged in Whistler for two days of mayhem last weekend in the second annual Ripzone Snowboard Invitational.
With more than $65,000 in prize money up for grabs, and a long summer season to heal ahead of them, nobody held back. The fans and there probably more than 10,000 of them at the big air and close to a thousand for the superpipe also helped to get things going.
Ripzone Big Air
The tension in the air was as palpable as the rain, which thankfully held off until the event was wrapped up the in-ramp to the jump were already too short and slow, even after being salted.
Twenty-one jumpers, a veritable whos who of professional snowboarding faced off with a pair of jumps in the opening round, which was followed by a head-to-head finals featuring the top four jumpers.
The conditions clearly played a factor. As the riders struggled to gain speed in the training runs, they built a steeper ramp for the riders. When that wasnt high enough, the event organizers put the scaffolding up a notch, which meant that the riders had to drop about 50 centimetres onto the steep ramp.
It almost wasnt enough. Some of the riders who would usually be good for two or more rotations over the 15-metre table top had trouble getting around twice.
And because riders often had to physically huck themselves off the lip of the jump, a few riders went slightly off course into the fencing, while others under-rotated their landings.
Still, the riders gave it all they had, and the afternoons entertainment was nothing short of awesome.
Marc-Andre Tartre, a Quebec rider who divides his winters between Whistler and Europe, looked like the man to beat earlier on in the qualifier with his huge 900 spins.
It would have been enough to take first place after the qualifier, if not for the high-flying antics of Ontarios Miki Osachuk, who threw down a switch inverted 540 and a frontside 720 to take the lead.
Behind Tartre was Josh Feliciano, or Fletch, of Tahoe City, Nevada, who threw down a huge rodeo 900 to rank third heading into the final. Whistlers Travis Williams edged out Henki Oedegaard of Finland with a backside 720 stalefish to finish fourth and qualify for the finals.
Mike Page and Daniel Migneault, who were first and second last year, had to watch from the sidelines. Page landed a smooth frontside 720 and finished eighth, and Migneault had problems with both of his landings to finish near the bottom.
In the semi-finals, Tartre faced Osachuk and Williams faced Fletch the first rider with two points from each pairing would move on to face the other top runner in the finals, while the other two would battle it out for third.
Fletch started early and landed a nice backside rodeo 720. Tartre answered back with one of the sickest tricks of the afternoon, a huge switch cab 1080 to take the first point. Fletch answered back with a huge rodeo 900 in the next round. Tartre tried to top it with a cab 1260, but came up short and had to settle for another cab 1080 with a revert landing. The round went to Fletch and the two were tied 1-1.
Tied with one apiece, Flectch went for it in the tie-breaker jump, and missed the landing on another inverted 900. Tartre played is safe with a nice big cab 540 to advance to the finals, 2-1.
Meanwhile Williams edged out Osachuk 2-1 with his solid spin moves and landings to advance to the finals against Tartre.
In the finals, Tartre put the pressure on Williams by opting to go second. When Williams had trouble with his landings, Tartre went first for backside n720 nose grab to take the first point. Williams had trouble yet again, and Tartre put him away with a huge cab 900 double grab to take his first Whistler big air title in five appearances.
Osachuk beat out Fletch 2-0 in the consolation final with a pair of solid landings to finish in third place.
Tartre earned $8,000 for first place, Williams $6,000 for second and Osachuk $3,500 for third.
"This kind of event is just a lot of fun for us, because we all know each other," said Osachuk. "You want to win, but we want everyone else to do well, too. There were so many awesome riders in the qualifiers, its a big deal to make it to the finals, and its nice to get a little love from the judges and the crowd.
"The prize money is not as important to me as doing well and having fun, but a little cash doesnt hurt a brother, you know."
From the beginning of the day, it was Tartres show, as the 23-year-old stepped up to the microphone after every jump to scream at the audience. He was composed with every jump, had some of the biggest airs of the day, and the one jump he had any problem landing a cab 1260 is one of the most difficult tricks in the book.
The win couldnt have gone to a nicer guy. While the press lined up to photograph Tartre, he was shaking hands with members of the audience, handing out stickers and signing autographs.
When they finally got the backdrop together for the podium, Tartre smiled at the crowd, showed off his mullet, and had fun with his fellow competitors. He thanked the audience as loudly as he could, and proceeded to entertain his interviewers. This guy can talk.
In different interviews Tartre attributed the win to his mullet hairstyle, to his snowboard wax (Huknfast Stunt Wax, if youre curious), to the Blackcomb Terrain Park, to his backcountry riding, to his girlfriend in Austria, and to his love of punk music. And to a lot of training.
"The backcountry is good to go big, but its totally different. I grew up riding in Quebec and you get used to riding the ice and making nice landings. If your landings are off, youre going to get hurt there," said Tartre. "In the backcountry, its a lot more forgiving and you have to lean so far back in your landings. You dont want to get too used to that, because if you land like that on a hard surface, youre going to crash.
"To get ready for this, I just took a few spins through the Terrain Park, not really spinning or anything, just going big and getting used to being in the air, and concentrating on my landings.
"It worked. I was relaxed, and feeling pretty good coming into the contest. I had a lot of energy, you might have noticed."
Tartre, who has finished among the top riders every year for the past five years, said the win before his hometown crowd and the hockey mask trophy he and the other finalists were given was even sweeter than the payday.
After more than half an hour of interviews, Tartre signed autographs for all of his fans who stuck around after the contest.
If that doesnt say enough about Tartre, you should have seen him about half an hour after that. He hung around and helped the event organizers set up the boxes for the Ripzone Jibzone contest, which was scheduled for the following day.
With the hip hop band Abstract Rude on the mainstage drawing the crowds attention, only a few people saw Tartre make his coolest move of the afternoon. He hopped up on a C-shaped slanted box in his snowboard boots, slid to the end did a twisting backflip off the end to land on his feet in the snow.
1. Marc-Andre Tartre
2. Travis Williams
3. Mike Osachuk
4. Josh Feliciano
5. Henki Oedegaard
6. Guillaume Morisset
7. Kraig Kinsmen
8. Mike Page
9. Jon Roth
10. Jesse Fox
Some 29 men and 20 women took part in the Ripzone Superpipe contest on Sunday, which was decided by an open jam format whereby the riders squeezed in as many runs as they could in a set length of time and only the best run counts in the final standings.
The women went first, enjoying almost perfect conditions. While the bottom was a little softer than many of the riders would have liked, the walls were soft and easy to launch from and land on.
The race for the top spot was close, with most of the riders squeezing seven runs into the time frame.
Try as the competitors might, the day was really settled in the first four rounds. Tricia Byrnes of Stratton, Vermont, took the lead after the first jump with a score of 17.0.
Maelle Ricker of Vancouver and Whistler spoke up in the second round to post a 17.8 and take the lead. Natasza Zurek, who also divides her time between Vancouver and Whistler, scored an 18.0 on her third attempt, bumping Ricker into second place. Thats the way it stayed until the end of the contest, although Byrnes came close to second after scoring a 17.7 in the fourth round.
According to judge Marcello Centurione, Zurek earned the win.
"With a super straight frontside 540 and a crippler 7 (inverted 720 spin), shes pushed the envelope of womens snowboarding," he said.
Rickers run included a frontside 540 and a frontside 720. Byrnes top run featured a huge method the biggest air of the womens contest a frontside 540, and a switch frontside 540.
In the mens Superpipe, Guillaume Morisset of Stoneham, Quebec established himself as the guy to beat right from the get-go with a score of 19.0 enough to win the contest it turned out. He started off with a switch backside 900 to a cab 900 to leave the rest of the field playing catch-up.
As it turned out, he was the only guy who could have bested that first run, posting a 19.8 in his fifth run.
"That kid can put anything together," said Centurione, as Morisset emptied his full bag of tricks with a lot of varied tricks in his runs.
Second place went to Whistlers David Carrier-Porcheron, who scored an 18.1 with back to back 900s, frontside alley-oop 360s, and a switch frontside alley oop 360.
Whistlers Crispin Lipscomb, the top Canadian on the World Cup this past season, finished in third place with a score of 18.0 for a combination that include a fronside 900, followed by back to back 720s, a huge backside air-to-fakie, and a switch alley-oop 720.
When the competition wrapped up, the SuperHit contest began in earnest with a Skidoo MX7 800 worth $12,500 up for grabs. Lipscomb took the sled hands-down with a huge frontside 1080 a pretty rare and spectacular move. He then followed it up with four more frontside 1080s keeping the bar high for the other competitors.
After he won, he was so excited he jumped on the sled and went for a little ride in the area around the halfpipe. "Its yellow and its cool," he proclaimed.
Mens Superpipe Top-10
1. Guillaume Morisset, 19.8
2. David Carrier-Porcheron, 18.1
3. Crispin Lipscomb, 18.0
4. Justin Lamourexu, 17.6
5. Josh Duncan, 17.3
6. Guy Deschenes, 16.3
7. David Melancon, 16.1
8. Chris Runge, 15.6
9. Daniel Migneault, 15.4
9. Gabe Authier, 15.4
Womens Superpipe, Top-10
1. Natasza Zurek, 18.0
2. Maelle Ricker, 17.8
3. Tricia Byrnes, 17.7
4. Mercedes Nicoll, 16.8
5. Avery MacKenzie, 15.7
6. Bekki Read, 15.6
7. Sarah Kopinya, 15.1
8. Megan Pischke, 15.1
9. Lori Glazier, 14.5
10. Dominique Vallee, 14.3
The last event of the Ripzone weekend was a jibbing contest at the base of Whistler. The win went to Simon Chamberlain, followed by Jesse Fox and Dennis Bannock.
In the womens Jibzone, Leanne Pelosi took the win, followed by Roberta Rodger and Ming Kao.