The Final Day At The London Freeze

As we pulled into the London Freeze site at 11 o’clock I was pretty certain that this event would not be taking place later in the day. The rain overnight had annihilated the snow on the ramp. London’s first ever avalanche had taken place on the 46 degree run-in ramp, while down below the run out was non existent. The landing itself wasn’t much better, lumps of freshly made snow here and there, but basically the whole structure was a bit of a mess. To add to this generally depressing scene, dark clouds brewed in the skies above, circling the site like vultures at a carcass, occasionally attacking with showers of rain while the wind battered incessantly, blowing rubbish, crash mats, and any other untethered objects around the now partially flooded ground. The whole scene smacked of an apocalypse, rather than the snow and music festival it was billed to be. It was with some surprise then that at the end of the day I found myself catching the tube home from one of the greatest big air competitions I have ever witnessed.

Colby West makes the transition Snowflex to the real thing...these weren't ideal conditions, but how the competition ended up amazed everyone.

The mood in the riders area when we arrived was understandably edgy, most agreed that the comp probably wouldn’t run. The organisers had a team on the run-in stapling snowflex matting down as a replacement for the snow that had previously tumbled onto the table. This was causing concern as everyone assumed that the running speed wouldn’t be adequate enough to reach the landing, furthermore riders would have to make the transition from snowflex to real snow only a few metres before take-off, meaning any adjustments had to be made in just a few split seconds. The landing was starting to take shape as the diggers, who had been out on the slope since 4 in the morning, spread their lumps of snow about the structure like jam on toast.

After the storm clouds cleared out, the likes of Matt Walker started stepping the game he is mid flatspin 10

Finally at about 4, the shapers had done their job. The landing had enough snow on it, although down below on the flat run out, there were literally millimetres of the stuff to stop on, while the run-in remained half snow half snowflex. The riders were called up for practice, but no-one was particularly eager to test this beast. MC’s Christian Stevenson and Ed Leigh highlighted the dangers and quickly drew a crowd. Finally Brit boy, James Woods volunteered for the role of guinea pig.

Night takes hold as Roy Kittler executes a switch double 9.

“Woodsy is entering the lift of Death and ascending the tower of doom!” Cried Christian, all too aware of the possible truth of his words. As Woodsy got himself into place the clouds seemed to turn a darker shade of grey, and the wind seemed to pick up as if angered by the fact that anyone dared to step up to the ramp. This was the very definition of gnarly.

Oscar Harlaut...Kangaroo flip

There was a nervous silence as Woodsy prepared to drop; riders and audience alike willing him to succeed. Finally he flew down the ramp, and any fears of there being a problem getting speed were quickly dispelled as he soared deep into the landing (and by deep I mean f*%&ing massive!) with a floated 3 truck driver. As he landed, the shared outpouring of relief from all corners of the site was deafening. Now the riders charged the run-in in quick succession. The clouds got darker and the wind blew harder, and with the looming shadow of the imposing power station behind it felt like we were witnessing the assault on the gates of Mordor rather than a big air comp. Riders hit the knuckle, almost cleared the entire landing, span and flailed in the air, crashed into the end barriers, but every one of them picked themselves up, dusted off and went back for another round. The competitors seemed less bothered about outdoing one another and more concerned about sticking two fingers up to the weather and the unfavourable conditions, and the crowd were more than aware that they were witnessing a spectacle of gladiatorial proportions.

Colby West with a Cork 9 Tail
Spriggs with his crowd pleasing baaaaackflip!

With concerns that the snow on the landing wasn’t going to last, practice was cut short, and we were straight into the first round. The Ambuhl brothers kicked off proceedings, Andri with a 10, and Elias straight into a double corked mute, immediately followed by Bobby Brown and another double cork. Just as I was reflecting on the insanity of this level of trickery in these conditions, Roy Kittler dropped in switch (a feat that required balls the size of water melons on this drop in) for a double corked 9, followed by Osada with a switch 10, and then Corey Vanular took the whole big balls thing even further, nose buttering off the kicker into a corked 9 – something that I’ve never really seen at a city comp before. Things went on in this manner for what seemed like an eternity, double corks rained from the skies, and the riders seemed to be fuelled by the excitement of the crowd, pushing the level harder and harder in defiance of what were, to put it mildly, difficult conditions. Unfortunately we were reminded of the very real danger these guys faced, when Richie Permin landed hard on his side after a double cork. He stood briefly and then went down clutching his side, and when Richie Permin goes down you know it’s serious – he isn’t a guy easily floored. Our fears were confirmed, and minutes later he was taken from the ramp by ambulance, we’ll keep you up to date on any developments in that department as we hear them, but for the mean time, we’d like to wish Richie all the best in his recovery.

Richie Permin before he was sadly taken away in an ambulance...get well soon Richie.
Tom Wallisch unleashes the bow and arrow.

The crowd was now seething, and it was a relief when John Spriggs launched a huge laid out backflip to ease their tension; it was as if the spectators were more nervous than the riders. Eventually the qualifying runs came to an end and the judges picked out their top eight for the final.

Andreas Hatveit sails through to the last eight.

The finals were quick, but spectacular. Elias, Andreas, and Jacob all went huge with their double corks, while Corey stuck to his buttered 9 and Roy Kittler his switch 9 double cork. Bobby Brown, jumping second last, launched a huge double cork 10 mute, boning the grab, and stomping deep into the landing. The judges awarded him 96 for his efforts, sure that that was one of the best tricks they had seen so far this year, and it wouldn’t be topped in these conditions, but then came Russ Henshaw with a double cork double mute, which he also boned. Left with only 4 points to themaximum 100, the judges awarded him with 97 and the crowd went mad.

Jacob Wester threw double 10's and 12's all night.
Corey Vanular mixes it up with his nose butter 9 blunt.
Elias Ambhuel couldn't quite stomp his double 12's in the final, but his true nose mute double grabs were a thing of beauty.

Bobby Brown...that'll be another near perfect double 12.
The man of the hour...Russ Henshaw.

On the second round things went much as they had with the first, and Andreas secured a definite third place, sending a double corked 10 so deep into the landing he left a crater on the slope, before careening into the barriers, unable to stop on the now almost non existent snow, and ending up pressed against the appreciative crowd. Then Bobby stepped up and launched a double 12 with a boned mute, practically landing on the fans below. With almost nowhere left to go the judges awarded him a 98 – the whole site erupted. Finally Russ came in like a man possessed and launched his counter-attack: a double corked 12 with a double mute-boned and massive. The screams from the crowd were now wild and bordering on animalistic, and when the computer came up with his winning score of 99, everyone went mental. There was relief, bewilderment, excitement, and possibly a bit of Euphoria as well. It had been a battle, not so much between the riders, but more with the conditions, and the skiers had come out on top, not only putting on one of the most exciting shows, but also pushing the sport to a new level. To see some of the crazy action, check out this episode of Riding News.

Sorry for the cheat podium from the big screens, but i couldn't get anywhere near for the adoring fans who had just seen one of the sickest big-air finals in a long time!

A massive shout out to the organisers, Sportsvision and Soulsports, and not forgetting Graham McVoy. Finally huge props to all the riders, not just for hitting such a gnarly kicker, but for absolutely slaying the damn thing!!

Full Results:
1. Russ Henshaw, 99
2. Bobby Brown, 98
3. Andreas Håtveit, 96
4. Benedict Mayr, 94
5. Jacob Wester, 94
6. Corey Vanular, 90
7. Roy Kittler, 89
8. Elias Ambuhl, 50

9. Fridtjof Fredricsson, 85
10. Phil Casabon, 84
11. Matt Walker, 83
11. Paddy Graham, 83
13. Tom Wallisch, 82
13. Alexis Godbout, 82
15. TJ Schiller, 81
16. Oscar Harlaut, 80
16. Colby West, 80
18. Oscar Scherlin, 79
19. James Woods, 78
19. Gus Kenworthy, 78
21. Steffan Karpiel, 77
22. Shinji Osada, 75
23. PC Fosse, 70
24. Justin Dorey, 64
25. John Spriggs, 63
26. Fabio Studer, 61
27. Matti Raty, 60
28. Andri Ambuhl, 55
29. Mike Hauser, 51
30. Matt Margetts, 25
31. Mike Riddle, 20
32. Pekka Hyysalo, 15
33. Richard Permin, 10


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