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The Audi Nines: A Retrospective

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Last week the Audi Nines would have stormed the slopes of Sölden and Gurgl, Austria for its 13th annual edition. Of course, we all know that didn’t happen.

 

To keep the content coming nevertheless, the Nines just dropped “Nothing Quite Like It,” a 26-minute documentary offering an in-depth look at both the snow and the bike sides of the event. We decided to take our own angle to mark the occasion, and give you a look back at the evolution of Audi Nines over the years. Welcome to the Audi Nines Retrospective.

Nico Zacek at Nine Knights 2008

Audi Nines founder Nico Zacek takes flight at the very first Nine Knights in 2008. Photo: Klaus Polzer

The Beginning

As old heads will know, Audi Nines got its start under the name Nine Knights in 2008, when German freeskier Nico Zacek invited eight other riders for an exclusive session on the Nebelhorn in Oberstdorf, Germany. The event has snowballed into a much bigger happening since then, but even back in 2008 the essential elements were already in place: a stacked crew of skiers, a hustling media team and a unique snow feature.

Henrik Harlaut at Nine Knights 2009

Henrik Harlaut conquers the castle in 2009. Photo: Pally Learmond

The Knights stayed at the Nebelhorn for their first three years as the features slowly grew in size and complexity. The Knights’ stay in Oberstdorf was capped off by one of the single most ridiculous moments ever to take place at the event: Teddy Berr’s ungodly big 50-meter naked frontflip overshoot.

Teddy Berr goes full send at the 2010 Nine Knights.

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

The event undertook its first major expansion in 2011 with the debut of Nine Queens, a women’s-only event in Serfaus-Fiss-Ladis, Austria where the women of freeskiing received their own unique feature and free reign during a full week of sessions. The event was an instant hit and quickly became part of the program moving forward.

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In 2011 the Queens convened for the first time in Serfaus to session this feature. Photo: Ethan Stone

2012 saw the first year of dual snow events, with the Queens back in Serfaus-Fiss-Ladis for another go, while the men’s event relocated to Livigno, Italy—a remote mountain town on the come-up in the freestyle scene. Livigno would become the host of the Knights for the next four years, and the site of some of its most outrageous builds.

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Beginning in 2012, Livigno played host to a series of epic Nines setups. Photo: Stone

In 2013 the Queens continued their reign in Serfaus-Fiss-Ladis, where Lisa Zimmermann put down  the first double cork 12 by a woman in competition to take the win in the Big Air. Meanwhile in Livigno, the Knights shape crew carved out one of their most creative setups yet for the men, a huge big air jump over a towering quarterpipe, which connected with halfpipe extensions on both sides.

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Lisa Zimmermann on her way to a memorable win at the 2013 Queens. Photo: Stone

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Matt Margetts enjoys the crisp air above Livigno. Photo: Stone

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The 2013 Knights setup. Photo: Stone

High Times in Livigno

Due to a lack of snow in Serfaus in 2014, the Queens joined the men in Livigno for a dual Knights-Queens event. It was the first time that men and women had ridden together at a Nines event, and the ensuing session ended up producing some of the most memorable content to date; not to mention some gossip-worthy post-party hookups among the riders’ roster.

 

The 2014 Knights/Queens setup goes down among the craziest builds in snowpark history. The feature was built around a full-length halfpipe, with flanking Big Air kickers and a ludicrous transfer jump planted right in the middle of the halfpipe.

Nine Knights, Livigno Italy, Ethan Stone
Nicky Keefer, Cork 7 Blunt, Nine Knights, Livigno Italy, Ethan Stone

Nicky Keefer tweaking out over the 2015 Knights setup. Photo: Stone

Roy Kittler, 270 into Wall, Nine Knights, Ethan Stone, Livigno Italy

Roy Kittler floats a cork 270 into the wall. Sequence: Stone

Though there were plenty of highlights, Jesper Tjäder took the cake on the morning of the final day when he lined up the impossible-looking transfer gap over the halfpipe—becoming not just the only rider to attempt it, but also bagging it in legendary fashion with a double backflip. Jesper’s insane gap goes down in Nines history as one of the most insane stunts to be pulled, second only (maybe) to Teddy Berr’s front flip.

 

Jesper Tjäder’s legendary send across the death gap.

In 2014, snowboarders also officially joined the roster for the first time. People weren’t sure at first how the blend would work out. But as soon as Seppe Smits and Sebbe de Buck started pounding out doubles on the main kicker on their first session, it became clear that the skiers, if anything, would need to hustle to keep up. Snowboarders have ridden alongside skiers at every Nines event since—a notable achievement among two sports that still remain largely divided.

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Øystein Bråten explores the possibilities at the 2015 Knights. Photo: Stone

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Back in Serfaus, a crew including Maude Raymond and Nikki Blackall sessioned one of the most photogenic Queens castles yet. Photo: Christoph Schöch

The Queens returned to Serfaus-Fiss-Ladis in 2015 to session their own feature, while in Livigno the Knights setup became something like a mini-Superpark, with four distinct features instead of a single massive one. One of the most eye-catching parts of the setup was a massive hip topped by a skate ramp. Conceived for the potential to set a world-record air, the hip saw some massive airs, but was hindered by having the big-air jump as a mandatory part of the run-in. This set the stage for the Knights’ next mission.

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David Wise may have bagged the height record on the Perfect Hip, but Joffrey Pollet-Villard wasn't far behind on massive alley-oop hits. Photo: David Malacrida

The Perfect Hip

While Serfaus hosted the Queens for a final year in 2016, the men’s event made an unexpected move from Livigno to the ski resort of Watles, Italy. There, the build team set their sights on a singular purpose: building the “perfect hip.”

 

The result: a double-sided hip towering 18 meters high. If the goal was building the perfect hip, the Nines nailed it on the head this year, setting new hip height records in both skiing and snowboarding and bagging hours worth of shots of riders rocketing skywards.

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Jules Bonnaire goes up and over. Sequence: David Malacrida

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The 2016 Queens castle included some interesting new architecture. Photo: Malacrida

Nine Royals

After the success of the combo Queens-Knights event two years previously, the women joined the men in Watles for the Nine Royals in 2017—the first official men & women, ski & snowboard throwdown for the Nines, in celebration of the event’s 10th anniversary.

 

The 2017 Royals feature was a creative play on the previous year’s Perfect Hip. Though it didn’t end up producing quite the same level of spectacular imagery, the riders were able to get down on the setup nonetheless, and notable sends were not lacking.

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Having options was the name of the game at the 2017 Royals event in Watles. Sequence: Malacrida

The Modern Era

After a decade in the game, the Knights flipped the script in 2018 with a nearly complete rebrand. Audi joined as the title sponsor, the Knights/Queens/Royals/castles themes were put to rest, and the Audi Nines was born. Completing the revamp, the event also relocated to a new host resort in Austria, Sölden, where two massive avalanche barriers provided the canvas for feature designs for years to come.

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Out with the old, in the with the new. Luggi Brucic rides the wave into the new era of Audi Nines.

Audi Nines debuted in April 2018 in Sölden with an innovative “Slope X” course that blended elements of skicross and slopestyle. In hindsight, the skicross crossover may not have been the best idea, since many of the resulting features weren’t very conducive to freestyle progression. Even so, the SlopeX course still made for some spectacular images, with highlight features like The Loop receiving special attention.

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The Slope X course may not have been made for tricks, but features like The Braid were still impressive design feats.

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Jesper goes switch on The Loop. Photo: Malacrida

The Nines returned to Sölden in 2019, dropping the skicross element while adding an additional partner resort in nearby Obergurgl. For the first time the event occupied two different locations at the same time, with features in Obergurgl and Sölden being sessioned at once.

The Audi Nines 2019 – Day 4

Caroline Claire is down with the Obergurgl jump. Whether she can pronounce Obergurgl? That's another question. Photo: Polzer

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In Sölden, the massive two-tiered venue bloomed into a maze of transitions big and small. Photo: Malacrida

The 2019 setup transformed Sölden’s two massive avalanche barriers into a huge playground of features, from massive Big Air hits to more unconventional transitions. The result was a no-holds-barred throwdown, as double and triple corks quickly became standard and riders like Andri Ragettli put down whoppers like quad cork 1980s. Meanwhile, the Launch Pad feature—a narrow, 10-meter high metal ramp leading into a 30-meter gap—made for some memorable sends from the likes of Tom Ritsch, Sebbe de Buck, David Wise and others.

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Launch pad anyone? David Wise gets a boost. Photo: Malacrida

The 2019 Nines also included twin left and right quarterpipes to extended hip landings, designed for riders to send massive hits with a greater margin of safety. David Wise quickly took advantage, boosting 11.7 meters on a straight air tail grab to set a new height record. The only question was: what record exactly did David set? After some initial confusion, things were set straight: David’s air did not break Simon Dumont’s 2008 quarterpipe record set on a “true” quarterpipe, but instead established a new record on a quarterpipe to banked landing. (In an odd turn of events, French halfpipe legend Kevin Rolland sustained a serious injury a few weeks later on his own attempt to break Simon’s record.)

2020: The year that wasn’t

The Nines had some big plans this year. Though they’ve managed to stay hush-hush about it, organizers had planned a brand-new expansion event this year in Secret Garden, China, the venue that will host freestyle events at the 2022 Beijing Olympics.

 

At Secret Garden, the Nines wanted to debut a so-called Hyperpipe—a full-length halfpipe modified with all the bells and whistles the team could come up with. A month later, the main event would return to Sölden and Gurgl, Austria, where the year’s new  features included massive “wormholes,” a kind of spiral loop based on this skateboarding project.

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Design concept for the 2020 Sölden feature.

Alas—as we are all well aware, none of this came to pass as the coronavirus epidemic shut down international travel and forced the closure of ski resorts. And that’s well and good—fighting an epidemic is a lot more important than having a rad session. However, it’s also important for us to remember all the good times to be had when we aren’t stuck inside, waiting out a virus—and the good times still to come. I wonder what the creative minds at Audi Nines will come up with for next season.

Photo Gallery

Video archive

 

 

Nothing Quite Like it – An Audi Nines Documentary

 

Nine Knights 2008 – Rebel.TV

 

Nine Knights 2009 – Aestivation segment

 

Nine Knights 2010 – Legs of Steel segment

 

 

Nine Queens 2011 Big Air

 

 

Nine Knights 2012 Highlights

 

 

Nine Queens 2012 Highlights

 

 

Nine Knights 2013 Highlights

 

Nine Queens 2013 Highlights

 

 

Nine Knights 2014 Highlights

 

 

Nine Queens 2014 Highlights

 

 

Nine Knights 2015 Highlights

 

 

Nine Queens 2015 Highlights

 

Nine Knights 2016 “The Perfect Hip” Highlights

 

Nine Queens 2016 Contest Action

 

Nine Royals 2017 Highlights

 

Audi Nines 2018 Highlights

 

Audi Nines 2019 Recap

By:

April 23, 2020


Audi Nines, Nine Knights, nine queens

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