Following the contest's rise to a five star TTR event, the hype across Avoriaz in the build up to this year's O'Neill Pro Freestlyle contest was phenomenal. We watched as construction of the quarter pipe went from scaffolding to perfect huge 10m high, 20m wide slope, even as blazing spring temperatures threatened to melt what was left of the snow.
Snow conditions had already impinged the contest, with cancellation of the Slopestyle events, however with so much going down, from qualifications to O'Neill parties and the city sessions, we doubt anything more could have fit in.
City Sessions kicked off in the side streets of Avoriaz on the Thursday afternoon under the supervision of hundreds of spectators, none leaving disappointed after watching riders take their pick from various box rails, the up-rail or the trashcan jib. The riders were literally drowning under the $5,000 cash, handed out here and there by MC Dave Mailman to those who made the crowd drool. Flips off the curved box rail from 12 year old Dimi de Jong were a particular crowd pleaser as well as from Cheryl Maas, representing the girls.
As the day mellowed into the evening, the Night City Session got underway, double stacking the trashcan jibs, and more hectic rider sessions in the streets. Brave beginner Olivier 'Jeans', nicknamed after his lack of snow pants, was openly awarded $2 for being "the guy who can't do anything", after failing to 50-50 any rails against tricks such as one footed grabs over the jib cans by Russian Iouri Pdladtchikov. In the end Norway's Fredrik 'Shredrik' Austbo was a name no one could forget, but the UK's own Tyler Chorlton held down the 'Best Trick' of the day with a front flip over the trashcan jib.
While some joined a late night session with the band 'Rock It', it was an early start the next day for the girls with the Quarterpipe finals kicking off at 9.30am. Backside airs from Connie Bleicher well deservedly set her into third place, but the early morning crowd were convinced Finland's Meri Peltonen was guaranteed first with her 250 point McTwist before Rita Comi pulled out her 4.5m air, gaining her seven points over Peltonen. She beamed on the podium; "I'm so surprised, I didn't come here to win." British riders Lesley McKenna and Vicci Miller came in 8th and 9th place.
The blazing hot sunshine turned to near arctic temperatures as the sun dropped into the flood-lit men's Quarterpipe finals, broadcast live across TV. Thousands of people turned up to chill under the looming pipe on the Friday evening, set under the solid in-run and crystal skies, while enjoying the blasting tune sessions by DJ Massive. The qualification heats were tough, with a backside 540 from Fredrik Evensen and a smooth backside 720 mute from Peetu Pijroinen setting them in top spots alongside the 16 automatically qualified riders. 'Shredrik' Austbo made his stunning appearance again alongside inspiring runs from UK's Dom Harrington, and a massive backside 720 Japan from Finland's Miika Hast.
The airs were huge and the crowd were buzzing, but it was the French that pulled two of the podium spots. Jean-Jacques Roux took in third place with 253 points after an immense 6.5m out backside air, but Henning Marthinson picked up second place with 267 points after landing a perfect backside 720 mute. Then 18-year-old Arthur Longo pulled up to the challenge on his final run and effortlessly threw out a tweaked backside air, a massive 7.5m out of the pipe. The crowd were sent into a stunned avalanche of cheers as the young Frenchman was awarded first place with 284 points. On his biggest ever TTR win, Longo was in excited disbelief while collecting his $8000 prize money and 850 TTR points on the final podium.
While DJ Massive continued busting out his tunes at the after party in the rider's lounge, all the riders deserved their fair share of the free bar, but after this hectic leg on the TTR tour, no one deserved their places on the TTR finals board more than Longo and Comi, both eagerly awaiting throwing everything at Avoriaz again next year.
Words and photos by Karen Willmer