New French competition winches elite skiers, snowboarders into stadium full of features
The Albertville Olympic Hall on Saturday and Sunday brought a different crowd to the French stadium that hosted figure skating and speed skating at the 1992 Olympics.
Calling the event “a new rendezvous of winter,” the White Festival took the new popularity of winching tools used by skiers and snowboarders in flat areas and created an entire event around that concept. It was essentially a winch-propelled, indoor, big air-style freeski and snowboard competition with its own verve.
Watch the behind-the-scenes filming of any good ski or snowboard movie to come out in recent years, and you’ll see a lot of athletes using winches to pull them into areas once thought to be un-navigable on skis. Incredible rail slides and wall rides once deemed impossible often ensue.
The next logical progression following the winching revolution, of course, is to set up an enormous, four-sided snow castle feature inside of a refrigerated stadium, where skiers and snowboarders are pulled in from outside the building by winches at 30 miles per hour.
Going from flat ground to a double backflip off a jump in a stadium full of people suddenly became possible for skiers and snowboarders.
The White Festival attracted top talent from around the world to try out this new format, and organizers seized the opportunity to merge the sports of freeskiing and snowboarding by forcing athletes to form teams of two with one skier and one snowboarder per team.
Six-time X Games gold medalist skier Henrik Harlaut and 2018 Olympic silver medalist snowboarder and Silverthorne resident Kyle Mack were among the many decorated athletes to attend.
Avon skier Taylor Seaton was paired up with California snowboarder Brandon Davis, and the two put together a solid grouping of runs. At the end of the competition they were surprised to find themselves third overall and first among Americans.
Both athletes said they were excited for the opportunity to participate in a fun new format.
“I could see this type of competition starting to blow up,” Seaton said. “But the technicalities of putting it on were insane, between the lights and the electric winches which were both human controlled, if they weren’t on point with giving you a good pull on the winch or making sure you had good light on your takeoff and landing I could see it easily becoming a mess. But they managed it really well with very few screwups so I think it went off nice, better than I was expecting, honestly.”
LARGE, LOUD CROWD
While snowboarding and freeskiing has been brought into a stadium atmosphere already through the sport of big air, the White Festival added a new level of variety to the indoor atmosphere.
With four different winches pulling in athletes from four different directions, the competition was scored on those four runs, which athletes received two attempts at apiece. A total score was added up for both athletes to arrive at the final standings for each team.
“It involved a lot of strategy which was cool. You had to think a lot about what you could do and what you could land on each feature,” Seaton said. “Also, there was strategy in picking a good teammate. I was lucky to get linked up with one of the illest snowboarders out there.”
A day of semifinal competition on Nov. 17 narrowed it down to the Nov. 18 final.
Seaton said the crowd was so loud for the finals he found himself momentarily deafened by the noise at times.
“I had never experienced anything like that at a competition,” he said.
Seaton and many other elite halfpipe riders head to Copper Mountain Resort next for the first World Cup halfpipe competition of the season, the U.S. Grand Prix, from Dec. 5-8.
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