The 2020/21 FIS Snowboard Park & Pipe World Cup finally got underway on Saturday and did so in a huge way, with a remarkable big air competition going down under near-perfect conditions in Kreischberg (AUT), where Zoi Sadowski-Synott (NZL) and Max Parrot (CAN) walked away the winners from a heavy-hitting competition.
Leading up to Saturday’s event in Kreischberg was a 10-month layoff as the snowboard world – and, of course, the world at large – negotiated the covid-19 pandemic. However, thanks to an exceptional effort by the organizers in Austria to ensure the safety of the athletes and teams on hand, the world’s best snowboarders were finally able to get back to doing what they do best in an environment that felt almost normal over the past few days, with the incredible riding on display a testament to that.
With women’s qualifications already completed on Thursday, Saturday started with men’s quali rounds, where a star-studded entry list of 60 riders was whittled down to just 10, and with several of the sport’s biggest names – such as Mark McMorris (CAN), Markus Kleveland (NOR), and Sebastian Toutant (CAN), amongst others – not making it through to finals. But while the bar set in qualifications was high, the level seen in finals managed to surpass it.
The women’s finals was an eye-opener, with nearly every rider spinning a 900 or above for one of their jumps, and four of the final six women stomping at least one double cork.
However, one of the two riders who didn’t put down a double in one of her runs was also the women who took the victory, as Sadowski-Synott instead relied on good, old-fashioned amplitude, style, and rock-solid landings to take the win with a two-jump combo of a backside 1080 Weddle grab, and a switch backside 900 Weddle for a score of 162.40. That she managed to get back to the top of the course and stomp her second and third runs after landing on the knuckle and crashing in run one made her win even more impressive.
“I’m super grateful to be able to compete again after nine or ten months off. I’ve just been back home all this time, training in New Zealand” said Sadowski-Synnott just before the awards ceremony, “I’ve never won a World Cup in big air, and this is my first FIS competition in a while, so it means a lot to be back and be competing and win with such a big field again. It’s really exciting to see what all the girls are putting down and I’m looking forward to see what the rest of the season brings as everyone gets more and more consistent. It’s going to be exciting to watch.”
Sadowski-Synnott’s win was by the barest of margins, as the gap between first and third place was just a single point. Taking second place, just .60 back of the New Zealander Sadowski-Synnott, was rising Japanese star Kokomo Murase, who stomped the highest scoring trick of the competition on either the women’s or the men’s side when she earned a 92.00 for a massive backside double cork 1260. However, she wasn’t quite able to maintain that standard with her final hit double underflip 900, falling just short of Sadowski-Synnott’s mark with a final score of 161.80.
Third on the evening went to Austria’s own Anna Gasser, who stomped a backside double cork 1080 melon and a cab double underflip 900 Weddle for a score of 161.40, missing out on a home-soil win by just a point. There was some speculation that Gasser might look to become the first women ever to stomp a triple cork in competition on Saturday night, however it seems we’ll have to wait a little bit longer for what will be a momentous occasion for snowboarding – once it arrives.
The men’s competition was an absolute barnburner, with an exciting mix of lesser-known riders on the come-up and names that sit amongst snowboarding royalty, and every rider on hand stomped at least one trick that would have been nearly unthinkable even a few years ago.
Canada’s Max Parrot has a way of making the incredible look routine, and once again on Saturday he was in his zone, coming out of the gates swinging with a first hit cab triple cork 1620 Weddle grab.
However, he followed that up on the next run with one of the scariest crashes of the week in Kreischberg, as he hooked his nose on the knuckle while coming around on his signature frontside triple cork 1620 Weddle, sliding down to the finish area on his back before getting up and walking off course gingerly. However, he would be no worse for the wear and make his way back to the top of the course for his third hit.
Heading into the final run, then, Parrot found himself sitting behind a number of riders, the most notable of which were Sven Thorgren (SWE) and Mons Roisland (NOR), with Thorgren the leader after two runs and with Roisland launching himself into top spot in run three with a massive switch backside 1620 nose grab that earned the highest signal-jump score of the night for the men – a 91.00.
Still, despite missing badly on his first attempt at the trick, Parrot again went for the frontside 16 on his final run and stomped it perfectly, earning an 84.80 for it and vaulting himself into the lead with a combined score of 165.00.
There were a still a number of riders to go between Parrot and the end of the competition, but none were able to put a run down cleanly or improve significantly on their scores until the final rider of the night, when Thorgren dropped in and stomped a huge, essentially perfect frontside triple cork 1440 nose grab.
When the scores came in Thorgren was able to improve his score in a big way, but the 78.20 he received for his third run, combined with the 85.80 he scored for his first hit backside 1620 melon, gave him a total of 164.00 – enough to surpass Roisland but just a point short of Parrot.
“It feels really good to be out here,” Parrot said once the dust had settled, “The last contest was pretty much exactly 10 months ago at X Games Norway, so this is pretty much the longest break between contests ever. So I’m definitely really happy that we’ve been able to start the season and I’m definitely happy to start the season with this win.
“And it’s just really nice to be out here and see all the boys again after 10 months. Everybody’s been training really hard in those 10 months though, you can see that. The level of riding has been upped. The field was really stacked. It’s the first Olympic qualifier today and you can tell that everyone really wants to do well here…we don’t know what’s going to happen for the rest of the season.”
With Thorgren into second, Roisland would be forced to settle for third, ending up less than one point off of the mark of his Swedish counterpart with a score of 163.20.
Next up for the FIS Snowboard Park & Pipe World Cup is one of longest-running and most legendary competitions in snowboarding, as we head to Switzerland for the halfpipe and slopestyle season-openers at the Laax Open from January 19-23.