… by McRae Williams
First of all, this was my first year attending the European Freeskiing Open, and let me just say it was an amazing time even though the majority of the event was canceled. After all the good things I had heard about the previous years in Laax, I had to make it happen. Skiing, partying, hot chicks, and amazing chocolate; what more could a guy ask for.
Early Monday morning, my trip began as I headed to the Salt Lake City International Airport. Three planes, two trains, and a bus later I arrived in Laax. I can’t even begin to explain the beauty of these mountains. I hauled my luggage through the town in awe of my surroundings, as I desperately searched for my place. Once I finally found it, I was amazed at how much more luxurious the living was compared to those at the riders palace, courtesy of Orage. I stashed my things and headed out for some serious exploration. Little did I know, I would be up early the next morning ready to compete.
Exquisite views from the train!
As the tram broke through the clouds and the sun was exposed, I was able to finally see the course. The jumps, freshly groomed, seemed as though they were computer animated, and the rails looked fun and innovative. We began an hour of practice under a crisp blue sky, and before we knew it qualifications began with heats one and two. Following heats one and two we were given another hour of practice. At the same time, clouds were rolling in, and in turn the light was going flat.
By the time I ran it was hard to tell exactly how fast you were going, and I nervously stood in the gate awaiting the signal to drop. Before I knew it I was skiing to the lift stoked at how well my first run had gone despite the terrible light. I started it off with a nose butter 270 on pretzel 270 out of the down rail followed by a rightside 450 out of the flat box. I then managed to hold it together on the sketchy wallride with a lip side to backside 270 out. Through the jumps I started off with a rightside rodeo 900 japan, followed by a switch 1080 blunt, and finished with a switch 900 mute. I arrived at the top of the course to find out that I was in second place, just behind Park City rival and long time friend Alex Schlopy. On my second run I was not as fortunate and managed to mess up a few tricks, and received a much lower score. Immediately following the qualifications a few of us headed to the base for some pretty delicious burgers at a place called…yep, you guessed it…Burgers.
What a view, huh? Just outside my cottage in Flims.
The next day I was stoked to be able to sleep in and relax as pipe qualifiers were underway. That night I headed to the Riders Palace to hang out with some friends and catch the riders meeting, where the word for the next day was high winds and snow. I was up early the next morning to catch the 8:00 am tram.
We arrived at about 3,000 meters to be greeted by the expected; high winds and heavy snow. As we waited for the weather to possibly subside, the whole crew went over and made laps on the mini rail park. At some point during this time fellow Orage team rider Matt Margetts went down, smashing his knee into one of the rails. When he went to take a look he discovered a huge gash across the bending point, which would take some 30 or so stitches to sew up. Unfortunately, he will not be able to take part in the European X Games next weekend, but should be good to go within a few weeks. Positive vibes your way Matt. I am very sorry that happened.
Anyway, when it seemed clear that the weather was only going to get worse we all gathered in the No Name Cafe to discuss an alternative because the winds would not allow for a safe competition on the slope course. In the end, it was the man himself, Tom Wallisch, who had the idea of doing a rail jam at the base of the mountain, and that we did. It was rather disappointing, but much better than just canceling the event entirely.
In no time at all the event organizers put together a rail venue that included a down box on the right, down rail in the middle, and a down flat down box on the left. Riders were given an hour and a half to hike the setup with nearly sixty semi-finalists. Kids went crazy battling it out for a chance at $5,000, and the reigning champ in the end was none other than JF Houle, who put down an amazing nose butter 450 on pretzel 270 out of the center down rail. In second was the man with the plan Tom Wallisch, who threw down a 450 on pretzel 450 out of the down box. And, in third place was a french rail slayer by the name of Samuel Favret. I had lots of trouble sticking the trick I wanted, but ended up in a pleasing 11th place, which I believe pre-qualifies me for next years event.
A line of shredders awaits to begin the rail battle backed up by a thick crowd. Photo: John Vandervalk
So, overall it was a rather disappointing trip, but I began to look on the bright side, and decided it was not so bad after all. I was stoked to be able to come see this beautiful country, and get everything figured out so that next year will be much easier. Also, as most of you should already know, over the summer I signed with the german based company Amplid, and I am so stoked on all the futuristic products they are developing. For example, they are creating some of the most lightweight skis on the market by using materials and technology that the majority of other companies have never even heard of. So, seeing as Germany isn’t too far from Laax, the whole Amplid gang came down to cheer me on. That includes the likes of Peter Bauer, Teddy Berr, and Anian Thrainer. So I was super stoked to meet all the guys for the first time, and pick up some fresh gear.
As of now, I am finally chilling out in my home town of Park City for some much needed rest before my next adventure. In just a couple days time I will head to Winter Park for the Winter Park Freeskiing Open. In its second year, the Winter Park Freeskiing Open should be a very exciting and well organized competition. I look forward to taking part in it, and if you are anywhere near Winter Park next weekend, you should definitely make your way there. I’m sure you will not be disappointed.
Big thanks to Orage for providing a place to stay, as well as Amplid for helping make this trip possible for me. Also, thanks to all my other sponsors The Canyons, Poc, and Cole Sport. I look forward to next year, and hopefully the weather will be a bit more cooperative.