Snowboard Big Air

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All right everybody! Do I have some exciting news for you!  As of this last year, the Olympic Committee announced the addition of a new snowboard event into the Winter Olympics!   And its called Bir Air… dun dun dun! So what does this exciting news mean… 

Well for starters, it will give you the view another awesome high flying, thrill seeking snowboard event that is sure to glue you to your seats in anticipation of whats to come next!  Secondly it will give freestyle snowboarders like myself another opportunity to qualify and metal in the big Winter Games.  Booyah!  Whats not to be excited about! 

Now for those that don’t follow snowboarding, your probably wondering… What the heck is Big Air?

FIS Snowboard World Cup - Istanbul TUR - Big Air - Stassel Ryan USA © Miha Matavz

Big Air Break Down

A Big Air event is pretty much what the name sounds like. It’s one enormous jump where athletes perform their hardest and craziest maneuvers which then are judged and scored. 

How each jump’s scored is based off four categories.

  • (Difficulty) - how hard the trick was to perform,
  • (Execution) - how well the trick was performed,
  • (Amplitude) - meaning both the hight and distance traveled,  and
  • (Landing) - how smooth and effortlessly the athlete landed & rode away.

A simple way to remember this is the abbreviation “D.E.A.L”. 

Now through out the qualifying rounds, each rider is allowed two individual attempts at landing their best maneuver.  Regardless if the athlete lands both jumps, only their best score counts for them to advance. 

In the Finals, the formate is a little different.  Instead of having two jumps to land one trick.  Each ride is allowed 3 attempts but needs to land 2 tricks.  For these two scores to count and be added together. The rider has to perform two completely different direction maneuvers.  What this does is eliminate that one hit wonder and make it so each athlete has to be well rounded and consistent to win the event!

FIS Snowboard World Cup - Istanbul TUR - Big Air - Horak Petr CZE © Miha Matavz

Over the last few years, Big Air has gained steam and become quite the popular event.   Where these massive jumps once had to be built on a mountain resort far away from civilization.  They’re now able to be built from scaffolding units and setup almost anywhere.  Because of this, Big Air has gone from a mountain event to a full blown city attraction, being held in stadiums all around the world!  

Even in places where you would think it's too warm.  All that's needed to make snow is a giant ice-maker and a refrigerated tent.

FIS Snowboard World Cup - Istanbul TUR - Photo: © Miha Matavz

Let the Events Begin!

As were already a little more than a month into the competitive season.  I have now traveled to three different continents and competed in four Big Air events.  And I have to tell ya, what a journey it has been!  

World Cup Stop #1 - Big Air in the City

To kick off the start of the World Cup season, me and the US Team hit the road.  Already in Austria, we traveled south through the Dolomites and much of Italian wine lands before reaching Milan, Italy... The fashion capital of the world!  This was definitely not your typical snowboard location.

The event was held in what used to be in 2015 the World EXPO Park, or better know as the Worlds Fair.   After being abruptly closed by the government,  the park has slowly transformed into a place where all events alike can be hosted.  With some of the EXPO's creative architecture still standing,  it made a great backdrop for the snowboarding venue.

After re-injurying my knee during practice, I was faced with two options. To pull out of the first event off the season, or dial it back some in hopes to earn some early season points. As you already know, I chose to compete. By the time the night was over and all was said and done, somehow and surprisingly enough… I managed to finish the event in 6th place! 

World Cup Stop #2 - Olympic Test Event

Less than two weeks later,  I was on a plane heading half way around the world to a place soon to be the hottest topic in sports…  Pyeongchang, South Korea! 

In preparation for the 2018 Winter Games, the Olympic Committee hosts a “test event” the year prior to evaluate and resolve any problems that may occur.  Good thing too!   

For reasons that I can not explain, the stairs going to the top of the ramp were not on the priority list.  I don’t think you could even classify what they had built as stairs.  It was more a series of ladders suspended between the empty spaces of each scaffolding unit with no guards or hand rails in sight. This went up for hundreds of feet, was very unsafe and none of the athletes were aloud to use them.  

So when the only elevator to the top of the ramp broke down and wouldn't start running,  they were forced to cancel the event for the day.  Not something you would want to happen during the big show, now is it. I guess thats why they hold a test event. 

Later that night, the ladders where transformed into stairs and the elevator was fixed with a second one on its way to be installed as insurance that this situation would never occur again.

When it came down to the actual contest day, the weather started to turn for the worst but held just long enough for the event to finish and for me to get my first podium of the season. "3rd Place!"  I'm definitely looking forward to returning in 2018!!!

World Cup Stop #3 - Big Air & Festival

Just a few days later, the third World Cup of the season was under way in a small city just outside Dusseldorf, Germany called Mochengladbach. If you can pronounce it, try and say that 5 times fast.

The atmosphere for this event was much different than the ones before as this event was a festival as much as it was a snowboarding contest.  By being hosted in cities field hockey stadium, this allowed plenty of room for the Big Air jump, food venders  &  music stage.

Unable to land my tricks during qualifiers, I was forced to be a spectator for the rest of the night.  Fortunately, this wasn't the worst event to be bumped out early at. With all the attractions, live music and the rest of the Big Air event still to happen. I was able to enjoy myself and have a great time being apart of the festival while watching the finals go down.

World Cup Stop #4 - 

The next morning,  just a few hours after the event finished,  I was en-route to the High Rockies of Colorado, USA for the fourth stop of the tour before heading home for the holidays.  Unlike the last three Big Air events, this World Cup was a more traditional type venue, being hosted on a mountain resort. 

This was a much needed change of pace!  With winter already in full effect and the resort fully open, I felt like a caged dog let off its leash.  How nice it felt to ride real snow on a run greater than a few hundred feet.  Theres nothing quite like the freedom of riding a mountain!  But with being in the mountains, you get mountain weather.   

All through out the practice days and into the qualifiers. The wind blew and the snow came down making it difficult to train and compete. But In the snowboarding world, regardless of the elements, the show must go on.  So after battling through tough snow and facing harsh winds.  I was able to hold my own and walk away from the event in 3rd place!

Is funny,  now that I’m back home all I can thinking about is how badly I want to do another event haha.  I guess thats the athlete in me. But with the holidays upon us, I need to use this time to relax and rest.  After the last few hard months of; training, traveling and competing. My body needs it.   Especially because once the holidays are over… I know I’ll be right back at it!

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