Checking in From The World Snowboard Championships in Oslo, Norway

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It would be like arriving in Pamplona on the eleventh of July—the bulls run from the seventh to the fourteenth, and so does the party. I made it to Oslo, Norway last night, but the competition and festivities began a week ago. The show here at the World Snowboarding Championships is already amping like yesterday’s halfpipe semi-final.

I didn’t see much of Oslo in the dark as I came in from the airport on a fancy fast train. There was snow all around except for on the jet black roads. But I noticed snowboarding the instant I entered the arrivals hall at OSL. Nike has a large-as-life black-and-white banner, twenty by twenty feet, that has us tailing behind Kevin Pearce on a tree-lined powder run: I’ll do that. Then the train had a TV screen cycling through news, mostly in Norwegian—something about their slopestyle hero, Torstein Horgmo. I learned later, in English, that he and the Norwegians were slayed in slopestyle yesterday. I found more snowboarding in Norwegian at the Nationaltheatret station as I finally came close to my first taste of sub-freezing Oslo air. Unfortunately, it was a multi-media ad (video and print) for Keep It Green, the WSC’s initiative to make the event environmentally responsible, something that deserves the world’s attention. Terje supports them.

I awoke to cloudy skies. It snowed a centimeter or two last night. There were lots of bars and restaurants and garbage holes like TGI Friday’s and fake US-style sports bars on my way to the media shuttle stop. It’s at the “Snowboard Village” where they’ve set up a rail and funbox and big speakers and discotheque lights, all in front of the National Theatre—snowboarding has come a long way since, say, the early nineties. Met a cool Kiwi on the bus. He’s with their team, said yesterday was a bad day for slopestyle—windy, icy, lots of injuries for lots of flags, and the kicker ramps were rutted but filled with fresh snow. And there was some complaining about the television production crew, i.e. not enough warm-up time considering the conditions, but the TV overlord reigns mighty at these competitions. That’s what the riders say, anyway. The sponsorship show/circus must go on.

“It’s intense out there.” I interviewed Luke Mitrani today. Cool kid. We chatted over tea and some strange Norwegian beverage neither one of us could define. He seems to see the modern-day competitive snowboard circuit for what it is—beyond snowboarding. Too many events, too many separate tours, too much time spent training instead of freeriding (“but the level’s so high now you can’t afford to miss a few weeks”), and too many coaches and hypesters and TV goons. But the WSC is a little different. Luke’s enjoying himself at the Oslo Vinterpark and in Oslo proper—”I just love Norway!” He credits Terje with much of what makes the WSC distinct, with the mellow vibe that he doesn’t find at other contests. “TV ruins all the contests, it’s always on their terms,” he says. “Here, I haven’t even seen any TV!” One word to describe the WSC, Luke: “chill.” Somehow I figured he’d say that.

The sun came out, but the floodlights were already on, and the day slipped into evening slowly, as if half-frozen, making for an extended sunset at the bottom of the pipe. But I must first mention that the ladies were ripping in their semis. Talked about this with Mette, a cool Norwegian girl reporting for that country’s snowboarding association. She said Norway’s team wasn’t bummed to have lost because they’re such good hosts they’ll now let someone else win. They are friendly people. Anyway, some of the women, including the Americans and the lone Spaniard, Queralt Castellet (first place, heat one), busted way beyond my expectations. Looking forward to the finals. Another good thing about the WSC is that (according to Luke—I’ll look into it) the men and women get the same amount of prize money. Just as well, because Oslo is expensive, and that’s one common complaint about the WSC.

Back to the men’s semis. No complaining, the boys threw it down. Massive airs, spinning in riddles, grabs here and there, including straight, clean melons and methods down at the bottom. Lots of props for the high quality pipe, from the riders and others who know, like the Kiwi (they’ve got a girl in the final). It’s funny they have to take a T-bar up to the top. Same for slopestyle. MCs and music accompany the tricks—good hip-hop like Eric B. and Rakim, De La Soul, Wu-Tang—but you can’t hear any of that at the top of the pipe. It’s kind of nice that way. There’s just some chatter, mostly in Norwegian, from the others, press or spectators, hugging the low fence. Lots of little kids sledding down the walkway and then bailing down the stairs cut into snow, like good Vikings. It’s quiet, until you see a rider hi-five his coach and drop in. Suddenly there’s a whoosh that intensifies (when he’s hitting our wall first), then all goes silent, except for what your bedeviled eyes behold—fifteen feet over the lip, twenty feet down the line, gyrating perfectly, like a satellite, so sick—and then a smack and chatter as he lands and lines up for the next. Over and over. It got cold once the sun set, so cold I watched my breath travel intact past the eight feet between the pipe and me, into the same airspace some superhero just double-corked through. The Japanese riders were ripping, by the way, and Taku Hiraoka took first in heat one. Luke came in last place, but he’ll have fun tonight.

Meanwhile, I figured it was warm down in Oslo. Lots of parties and pretty girls. There’s even a music festival coincidentally during these same dates. Tonight’s WSC party is “Return to the 90s.” I don’t need to revisit the snowboarding years I lived and loved, not like that anyway, surrounded by riders who were only born in that decade. So I came home and ate the hotel breakfast for dinner. Guessing these Scans like full-sized ham, cheese, cucumber, lettuce, and mayo on whole wheat sandwiches first thing. Awesome. Big day today at the quarter-pipe—finals plus big air, and even Terje, who I did spot today, will be soaring. I’ll eat the sando for breakfast and have dinner out on the town: Friday night in Oslo, yo. Yes, the WSC is what snowboarding needs.

Words and Images: Daniel O’Neil.


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