After an overnight flight from Toronto to Frankfurt airport and several hours of waiting for a connection to Innsbruck, our flight was cancelled just 3 minutes before boarding time, for no apparent reason. We were supposed to be picking up our rental car and Jess Rich in Austria who was waiting for us at the airport, to drive another 3 1/2hrs to Kreischburg for the first FIS World Cup Slopestyle of the season. After a bunch of phone calls, messages and re-bookings, we were set for a late night arrival in Austria and opted to stay the night in Innsbruck, heading out early the next day to log in for Practice day 1.
With the rental centre closing up, we managed to snag a staff member and our nifty SEAT Leon vehicle and hit our hotel exhausted after what was already a 24hr journey at this point.
Up at 6am and onwards through the Austrian alps, past the famous Absolute park at Flachauwinkl with signs of fresh snow, we gradually got less excited once we headed through the pass to find bare mountain and hillsides everywhere, punctuated by a thin strip of snow at the resort with several big mounds of snow. The run looked steep and icy and judging by the sounds coming from Snowboards on the course, not so friendly. First impressions are often incorrect and the jumps and landings were awesome, well-designed and built with good flow considering the pitch of the run. Both Matty and Jess were repping Team Australia and got stuck into the course immediately with some gap front boards and big backside 7s from Jess and Huge frontside 1080 tail grabs and backside 2 gaps from Matty. Unfortunately things didn't go quite as well on comp day with both of the crew coming unstuck on the last jump, Jess due to fresh snow mounds pushed in by the slip crew and Matty due to a misjudgement of airtime on the last jump. Nevertheless we greatly appreciated the Austrian Hospitality at Hotel Lercher and the awesome Dinners, Breakfasts and Open fire-heated lunches at the top of the course. People know hospitality here and were keen to make us feel welcome at every meal time!
With a forecast showing snow all day on qualifiers day, followed by snow all day during finals day at Kreischburg, we hustled off to Laax, leaving our Kiwi friends who had just made the finals to fend for themselves without a fan club. Carlos Garcia Knight and Tiarn Collins killed it and posted 8th and 5th in the finals. We ended up stretching what should have been a 6 1/2 hr drive to 12 hrs due to the Snow everywhere and traffic delays and re-routes. We arrived in Laax to find cars buried in snow and reports of deep pow at the top. Practice day 1 was looking like a good time!
Light snow, varying visibility and a late course opening meant a lot of early morning pow laps between runs. This was only the first major storm of what had been a lean season, so rocks were in abundance under the surface and nervous pow turns were made by all during the day and the following days.
The contest turned out to be unreal, with a heavily stacked field dominated by team Canada. Former Senders Tyler Nicholson and Mikey Ciccarelli moved on to the finals along with all 5 of the other team Canada riders competing. Matty exploded on the knuckle in practice and scrubbed his eye off his goggles and then the landing. With a swelling and closing left eye, Matty did his best but fell on the first Rail and then first jump during his two runs. The best of the best put on a show and the finals were looking like an all-time meat chucking fest with very tech spins and flips going down, much to the delight of the building fan base on the hill. Matty and I stayed busy with multiple rail lines through the park and had a blast watching the finals between runs. Tyler tore the course apart with a Cab 1440 Melon, to Switch Backside 1260 Japan, to Frontside 1440 Mute but it wasn't enough to pip Mark McMorris and Max Parrot who both crept ahead on the top to spots, Tyler having to settle for 3rd after a 2nd place finish the previous year.
The largest pipe in the world was prepped and ready on a perfect sunny day for the pipe finals. The showdown was all time with everyone absolutely sending it! HUGE airs and tech spins/flips with plenty of style to boot. Scotty James from Australia heading out to an early lead, upping his score on the second run and only just getting pipped by Chase Josey from the US who went back to back with 5 doubles, 3 of them in a row switch including the never seen before Switch Double Chuck Flip. Watching this was an absolutely insane way to end the week of amazing snow and riding! Thank you so much to Laax for such an awesome week!