Words & photos: Ethan Stone
Up-and-coming Czech-turned-Austrian star Matěj Švancer stole the show at the inaugural Big Air Chur, snapping up first place with a groundbreaking nosebutter double cork 1800. France’s Tess Ledeux won the women’s competition with her polished Double cork 1260.
It’s been a while — two years to be exact — since a World Cup city Big Air event took place. That lapse was broken last weekend as Big Air Chur kicked off the 2021/22 season with a bang.
Chur is one of the smaller locations to host an in-city Big Air event, but what it lacks in population, it made up for in enthusiasm. A crowd of several thousand turned out to watch the nightime event, as well as take in acts from leading national and international musicians in the German-speaking scene.
When it comes to organizing events, the Swiss don't mess around. Besides the Big Air itself, the event in Chur featured leading musical acts and a huge festival area.
It's been a few years since we've seen a crowd like this at a Big Air event.
I arrived in Chur on Friday morning just in time to watch the women’s qualifications round go down. The level of competition was one of the highest I’ve seen at a women’s Big Air event: all eight of the women who qualified for finals stomped a double cork variation to get there.
Elena Gaskell on her way to the finals. Photo: Christian Stadler
The women’s qualis were followed by the first men’s heat, where big names like Antoine Adelisse, Birk Ruud, James Woods and Evan McEachran were among a field of 27 vying for five precious finals spots. With only two hits, best one counts, it was a go-big-or-go-home throwdown. When the dust cleared, Ruud and Austria’s Lukas Muellauer led the heat with whirlwind double cork 1800s, while local favorite Kim Gubser and Canadians Max Moffatt and Evan McEachran also made the cut.
Ukraine's Orest Kovalenko throws down during Heat 1.
James "Woodsy" Woods busts out the Jesus grab.
Ralph Welponer wraps up a double cork 16 with a double tail grab.
The wind picked up noticeably in the afternoon, forcing a delay of the men’s second heat. As dust devils swirled across the festival venue and the music acts rocked the stage alongside the big air venue, crowds of stoked Swiss fans slowly started to fill the viewing area in anticipation of the evening finals. Luckily, the wind died down enough to continue the contest, with men’s Heat 2 packed into the schedule immediately before the finals. The finals format was changed up last-minute to accommodate the new schedule: instead of three hits with the best 2 counting, the format reverted back to the qualification format, with just two hits and the best one counting.
After a few hours' delay, Men's Heat 2 got underway as the sun set on Chur. Local boy Colin Wili in the mix.
Fabian Bösch showed off a mean double 16 tail-to-tail grab but couldn't punch through to the finals.
Cody LaPlante showed off a beautiful double 16 blunt to double japan.
In the women’s finals, Canada’s Elena Gaskell led after the first run, stomping a switch bio 10 mute clean for a score of 91. The standings were shaken up in the second run however as several other girls laced their doubles. France’s Ledeux claimed the top spot with the help of her polished double cork 1260 mute, while Swiss veteran and 2018 Olympic slopestyle gold medalist Sarah Hoefflin slid into second place ahead of Gaskell with a switch double 1080 mute.
Freshly returned from an injury last season, Giulia Tanno impressed by stomping a picture-perfect double cork 10 safety, which was good enough for fourth place. Another impressive performance came from Italy’s Silvia Bertagna, the oldest competitor in the field, who’d stomped her double cork 12 cleanly during qualis, but couldn’t repeat the performance in finals. The other major podium threat came from Russia’s Anastasia Tatalina, who unexpectedly cleaned up at last season’s World Championships. On this night, however, Tatalina wasn’t able to put down her own double 12 clean, and had to settle for seventh place.
The women's podium: Tess Ledeux, Sarah Hoefflin and Elena Gaskell.
“Today was hard for me,” said Ledeux. “I crashed hard two days ago and during the training this morning, so I wasn’t so confident with my body. But I’m so happy to land my trick tonight.”
“The level of competition was insane,” she added. “It’s just incredible to see the women land all of their doubles.”
“There’s such a big crowd here—I haven’t seen a crowd this big since 2019,” said Hoefflin. It’s just insane. its so cool to come second in front of a home crowd. I feel like I’ve won—I’m that happy.”
Hoefflin was also impressed with the level of the women’s contest. “There were so many doubles in every direction. I am so proud of the girls,” she said. “This evening there was a lot of wind and it was really tricky, and we still saw some ladies just throwing down and doing such good tricks.”
The men’s finals got off to a rocky start, with only two of the field able to put down a clean trick. That quickly changed in the second run, with several big tricks stomped back-to-back as the leaderboard quickly changed.
One of the biggest surprises of the night came from a relatively unknown rider, David Zehentner of Germany, who took a cue from fellow competitor Birk Ruud and sent a massive double cork 1800 with a tweaked mute grab, launching into first place with a score of 95. However, he was quickly supplanted from the top spot by Birk Ruud himself, who put down the same trick for a score of 97.25.
A German in the running for the podium? David Zehentner's performance was one of the evening's big surprises.
Teal Harle's triple 12 was as stomped as they come.
Matej looks for 18.
Not content to let the whirlwind 1800s win the day, Canada’s Teal Harle shook up the leaderboard yet again with his physics-defying triple cork 12, stalling out his spin to land the trick switch. Harle was awarded a dominant score of 98.00 and appeared to be the evening’s winner—that is, until Matěj Švancer stepped up to the drop-in.
Švancer, who was regarded as an up-and-coming rookie to watch at the start of this contest, fully exceeded all expectations with stellar skiing throughout the qualis and finals. On his last hit of the night, he added an extra 180 to his stylish nosebutter double cork 1620 japan, taking it to 1800 and stomping clean. Just moments after seemingly giving Teal Harle a near-unbeatable score, the judges came in with the whopping score of 99 for Švancer, granting him the win in his first full-fledged World Cup appearance. Harle bumped down into second, while Birk Ruud completed the podium in third place.
The men's podium: Matej Svancer, Teal Harle and Birk Ruud.
“I had no idea I could win,” Matěj said after completing a speed run of post-contest interviews with a crowd of Swiss, German and Austrian TV news teams. “I was just super happy to ride a city big air event again because I like the vibe of it, with all these people watching.”
“The level of competiton was so high,” he added. “David did a super heavy switch 16 mute with a dope axis and it was paired with a dub 18 mute. I have no idea how his bindings are still working. Teal did a mind-blowing trick, he did it so good on such a sketchy kicker.”
Of his own winning trick, Matěj said, “I was aiming for stomping the trick, not for the podium. I was just wanting to get my trick down, and it worked out.”
Full Results | Women’s Freeski Finals | Big Air Chur
Click here for the complete results including qualifications.
Full Results | Mens’s Freeski Finals | Big Air Chur
Click here for the compete results including qualifications.
The next World Cup Big Air of the 2021/22 season is scheduled for 3-4 December in Steamboat, Colorado, USA.
New Zealand's Ben Barclay throwing down during Men's Heat 1.
Silvia Bertagna may be 34, but she's still at the top of her game in Big Air.
Argentina's Mateo Bonacalza.
Leonardo Donaggio double mute.
Jakob Gessner's double cork reverse mute was a thing of beauty.
Switzerland's Kim Gubser was one of our favorites coming into this event, but couldn't seal the deal with his switch triple in finals.
Lukas Muellauer gives his tail a good flexing.
Alex Hall doing Alex Hall things.
Birk Ruud tweaking out.
Nils Rhyner was working a unique flat-axis triple.