Reporting from the Burton European Open: Welcome to Laax

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Traveling through the Swiss darkness, on a city bus from a town called Chur, in some German-speaking canton. The driver is agro, whirling around turns, cutting it tight through little villages, as if on a tree run. We climb up and around switchbacks as the snow banks on the side of the road begin to surpass the height of our bus.

Blackness keeps the mountains hidden. A banana-shaped moon can’t illuminate these Alpine expanses. I won’t see where I am until morning. Clues, though, are omnipresent. In front of the hotel a Mini is strapped to an orange fuel tank and two long, white boosters, like the space shuttle. I enter the elevator and Marko Grilc punches floor three for me; later it’s Mark McMorris going up. Snowboards slapped up with huge stickers stand before the room doors, and smelly boots air out beside them; taped up are notes asking the world’s top riders to use the lockers instead.

The world of snowboarding is here right now, in Laax, under the Burton flag, a flag as commanding as that stars-and-stripy one they once put on the moon. For four days already, and for the next four, the Burton European Open (BEO) controls Laax air and snow space, with a moon landing, astronaut theme.

Daylight delivers views of skyscraping white mountains. After I ride up a gondola I hop on a chair that leads to a lodge and scene where I might see Lando Calrissian—mid-mountain, in a rolling lunar landscape smoothed by ten feet of snow. Almost there, I sight the scaffolding of the starting gates, and then the blue-lined walls of a superpipe that rockets people past the limits of gravity. If the chair stopped here, at least I’d have a perfect view—it’s within snowball throwing distance.

Slide off, head left, strap in, descend, and to the right another NASA-like set-up appears only a few hundred yards away. Kicker after kicker, with little black dots drifting over them, rotating, like satellites, at the slopestyle course. Orange or white competitor vests are all around, cruising to and fro.

I drop into the Snowpark Curnius, a run that is equipped with rails and pyramids and mini-booters, all integrated into the trail, as ski families make turns beside us. This is Laax, a resort that welcomed ISF events in the old days and has now hosted the BEO for eight years straight. Strategically, Burton picked a sideways-loving spot for their Euro landing. Snowboarding is in the hands of a well-equipped mission control.

Contests, however, represent only a sliver of what snowboarding means to most of us. But their greater message is important to all of us. Skiers still outnumber snowboarders in the Alps and elsewhere, and if they had their way we might not even be on the hill. The days of outlawed snowboarding are still the status quo at some resorts, on some lifts.

Reason, then, to support events like the Burton Global Open Series, of which the BEO forms part, backed by the rider-driven Ticket To Ride tour. It’s a show of snowboarding’s strength, an emphatic planting of our flag that stakes our claim to the mountains. It’s also a method toward progression, a competitive gathering of the best, a proven level breaker—to the moon, Mars, beyond. Contests like these keep the party going.

So, across the upcoming semi-finals and finals in pipe and slopestyle, over these next four days, we rule Laax. Snowboarding is, for now, mightier than skiing. Proof: my buddy got bashed and bloodied today on the side of a slope. Some out-of-control guy who shouldn’t have been allowed on the hill plowed into him as he stood there, strapped in. The accused: a two-planker. The tables are finally turning in our favor. We owe some thanks to missions like the BEO.

The slopestyle semis are tomorrow. More posts to be beamed out shortly—stay tuned.


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