Innsbruck, the location of the very first Air + Style back in 1994, will be the epicenter of snowboarding again on February 3 and 4, 2017. The inaugural affair went down on the grounds of the Bergisel Stadium, but for the 2017 edition, the ramp and stages are moved to the heart of the town—to the Olympia World. Witness big air and big music headliners during this legendary two-day snowboarding fest at Innsbruck, which is now in its 34th year. The centerpiece of the extreme sport showcase is a massive snow-covered ramp that stands at a monstrous 42 meters high for the riders to hurtle themselves down the scaffold towards the kicker, which sounds pretty crazy for the middle of Innsbruck. Being the first ever Air + Style competition for both, women and men, the world’s best female and male riders will battle it out for the ‘Ring of Glory’ on Innsbruck’s finest scaffolding.
If only for a moment, let’s put the spotlight on the true star of the two-day festivities: the 42-meter scaffold-based jump that will be erected just adjacent to Tivoli Football Stadium at the Innsbruck Olympia World, towered by the Olympic venue of Patscherkofel Mountain. The drop-in to the massive ramp stands at 16 stories and the sheer size of the insane structure standing on its own against the (mountainous) Innsbruck skyline can be seen from afar.
What debuted in Tirol’s capital Innsbruck in 1994 has since then expanded to be the largest music and snowboard festival in the world—indeed a very hot Tirolean export. Now a massive world tour, the Air + Style Snowboard Contest first got it’s humble beginnings with a Front Flip by Swiss snowboarder Reto Lamm who won the first ever Air + Style back in January 1994. Taking the mountains to the people—and to the city—was the idea behind the first Air + Style in Tirol’s capital Innsbruck. Air + Style is now one of the largest contests on the planet. The best athletes in the world compete at three stops around the globe; Beijing, China; Los Angeles, USA; and of course Innsbruck, Austria. The worldwide major event series has as well invented new disciplines of snowboarding called “Big Air” and “Quarter Pipe”. The Winter Olympics will be adding big air snowboarding to its roster in 2018, channelling further attention toward Air + Style.
Few sports stress aesthetics like snowboarding. Style is a huge part of freestyle snowboarding, even represented in the name of the prestigious Air + Style event. It’s all about achieving “air”, which is the jump, with heaps of “style”, which is aesthetics and creativity. In general, it is not about the most rotations or corks, rather it’s all about style. Based upon this principle, it wasn’t always the big tech trick that earned a spot on the podium, but the one that looked good. The best example to proof that is the jump that earned Sweden’s Ingemar Backman the top spot in 1998. His Switch Backside 540 might not have been the most difficult trick shown off in the finals, but hey, it looked that stylie!
Air and style could be thought of as the physical manifestation of the duality symbolized by yin and yang. In its beginnings, freestyle snowboarding was dominated by this duality, or balance. Up to the middle of the 1990s, 900-degree revolutions, that’s two and a half rotations, was all you needed to win the contest. However, always with bucket loads style. Only in the Munich phase of the Air + Style Contest, trick progression moved from 900s, to 1080s, and on to 1260s (three and a half rotations), pushed by athletes like Travis Rice, David Benedek, Shaun White and Kevin Pearce. Which, for many, gave rise to claims that the ‘style’ element in this competition has been suspended somewhat.
Ten years later, and with such an emphasis on spinning, some riders have suggested the sport might be blurring what everyone seems to agree is its most important element: style. When it comes to barriers and benchmarks, snowboarding had a 1440-degree spin about ten years ago (which is four rotations). In fact, however, the 1800 now seems to be the next revolution in snowboarding — literally necessary to win the Air + Style or the X Games nowadays as evolution is staggeringly fast. Now riders spin four and more rotations in the air. After Backside and Frontside Triple Cork 1440 Mutes, which were his money tricks on his way to victory at the Air + Style in Beijing in December 2015, Max Parrot had to throw down an unprecedented Cab Triple Cork 1800 to win the 2016 X Games in Aspen a few months later (for a visual example, click on the video below). A cab triple cork is a jump where the snowboarder spins clockwise five times mid-air while reverse flipping three times in a kind of corkscrew rotation.
The massive steel scaffolding jumps offer the riders the best possible conditions to push the level of freestyle snowboarding to new limits. At the X Games, Max Parrot picked up speeds of 75 kilometers per hour on the in-run, as he catapulted himself 30 meters wide into the sky. During the landing, he was exposed to 15 G-force (three times the pressure Formula One drivers have to cope with in a corner). Such a performance was not possible on the former jump of the event, Bergisel, where spins had scratched the upper limits of what is possible. That is why the event was moved from Bergisel to the heart of the town.
The rider list for the prestigious Air & Style series is always the who’s who of kicker riding and the Innsbruck Air + Style never disappoints. With riders like Max Parrot, Sebastien Toutant and Yuki Kadono making the journey out to the birthplace of Air + Style, it is a showdown between the old guard and the new. However, as I am a style vs. air naysayer, I would way prefer to watch Ingemar Backman on this killer ramp do something simple like a 540, but with heaps of style, rather than a big tech trick that looks super sketchy. To make my personal dream of air and style’s duality, symbolized by yin and yang, come true.
Learn more about the largest music and snowboard festival in the world here.
Photo Credits: Air + Style