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Slopestyle Finals at the BEO: Laax Beach

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Another bluebird day: ouch. I crossed the snow plaza as late as possible, barely making it in time for breakfast, wearing sunglasses. My head was light like windless snowfall as I loaded my plate with greasy, crunchy, just-right bacon—I didn’t think Euros knew how. Lay it in a croissant, add some sliced meat, sip OJ and a double espresso, and slowly soak up last night’s whiskey, beer, and Jäger.

Nevertheless, I was light-headed on the gondola. Neither was I sure about taking laps through the Snowpark Curnius. But I followed my friends anyway, and felt progressively better after each slushy descent as fun took over—snowboarding as a magic hangover remedy. Ready to go report, I cruised to the slopestyle course for the Burton European Open finals and grabbed onto a poma lift, just like the world’s top riders must do.

My apologies to the female finalists, who dropped first. Had I not stayed out until three in the morning crushing Calandras, living the snowboarder stereotype, I would have watched you rip. Next year, I promise.

The men were already on their first run by the time I let the poma sling away. I stopped mid-course and sat with my back to the unsettling sun until run two began. There were spectators on the other side, legs dangling off the edge of the tabletops that form the normal Laax slopestyle park. Even a few skiers sat there, uncomfortable in their plastic boots. Tank-tops and T-shirts, fruit-flavored Swiss sodas, noses white with sunscreen—it was like a surf contest.

Shapers came through with snow shovels and buckets of salt. Except for contests like the BEO, Laax doesn’t allow salting. It was afternoon now, and the course was on a wide open pitch facing south. Nuclear meltdown. That salt may have saved the day.

I shot photos during those last two runs. I should have been watching it on TV. Everyone, from the organizers to the riders themselves, were calling it the best slopestyle finals of the season. The level was high, so high that a poor placing didn’t mean utter defeat—victory for the progression-seeking BEO. Torgeir Bergrem stomped two 12’s in one run, then shrugged off his ninth place. Not to worry—he had fun. The course was mellow, he said, its first two kickers (of four) allowing not much more than a 7. There was time between hits. It was fast enough, but not sized to do “crazy shit,” as Seppe Smits put it—that’s why they had fun. By request of the riders, Burton agreed to keep the course shaped over the upcoming days. Others would have bulldozed it by dawn. Props.

The last feature was an interesting concept sponsored by the people at Mini: the Creative Use of Space. He and she who slapped down the most unique jibs would win five grand apiece. The designers were in competition, too, against the teams who dreamed up this feature at the three other Burton Open events. An award awaited in the halfpipe as well. It’s a cool idea, but I am rarely impressed by rails. Instead, they should have been thrashing the brand new Mini parked there, like in the old days—only back then it was more like a late 80s Toyota Corolla, all stickered up, windows broken.

The slopestyle winners were decided—Jamie Anderson and Alek Ostreng. Seppe called Alek’s final run “beautiful.” Torgeir was impressed by Alek’s impeccable landings. Later that night, hopping around in the packed bar, Torgeir demonstrated to us how a stomped frontside whatever could lead seamlessly to the next backside something to bolts—the ladies took note. Hopefully Torgeir took numbers.

And that was it for this year’s slopestyle. So I packed up my camera and joined the homies for more laps. We were in good company—Ethan Morgan and Spencer O’Brien, amongst other undercover pros. Spencer’s methods and a drifty, slow, backside 1 tailgrab reminded me of the roots. She’s a Vancouver Island girl, so that makes sense. Another reason to like her.

To the awards podium, down by the hotel. I didn’t drink, but others did. A DJ hooked up the electronic music needed for the Euro vibe. Foot-tall astronaut trophies were given, along with checks—same pay for men and women—and what an honor it must be when Kevin Pearce hands it to you. KP filmed his Frends in the pipe earlier in the day. It’s hard to imagine how standing in the pipe must feel for the guy who beat Shaun White at the latter’s last BEO appearance in 2009, yet can no longer charge it. I bet he still mind shreds better than we do. Kevin is all smiles, all day and all night. It’s rad.

He, Danny, and Jack joined us media types, for some reason, at the media dinner later that night. Laax cranked the gondola up just for us, and Burton sent us to a mid-mountain restaurant where we all turned Swiss for a few hours. Good white Swiss wine, a fondue applauded by the Swiss girls beside me, and schnapps for those who dared. As more schnapps went around to help digest the cheese and bread, the time for speeches came. The guys from Burton and Laax spoke affectionately of one another, Euro cheek-kisses included (after our prodding). Their relationship does seem natural. A new three-year contract was announced. More schnapps flowed.

Tradition has it that the descent back down to the hotel (the Indy Bar, really) be done while lying flat on a garbage bag. Instead, I walked. It was late, dark, and cold. We tromped our way down the final slope, a crunchy swath of foot-high moguls illuminated only by the hotel buildings below. I had seen a guy take his snowboard on the dinner gondola. Then, suddenly, we heard and saw him bombing down, straight-lining it to the bottom, blasting only ten feet from us. You the man! But twenty yards down he cart-wheeled once, twice, then half, and—slam. After a deserved pause, the mysterious hero was up, perhaps to drink schnapps no more.

Just another day at the BEO. Halfpipe expedition ready for ignition in 3,2,1 . . .

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