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Suzuki Nine Queens: The view from the drop-in

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Damn, Daniel: Perspectives from a week as the Suzuki Nine Queens course starter.


The Suzuki Nine Queens event has been around for six years now, and I’ve been lucky enough to be involved with it for many of them, first as a park shaper, then as a journalist. This year I got to try out a new role: course starter, aka starting at the top of the drop-in with a radio and making sure that no one lands on anyone else’s head.

At least, that’s all I thought it would be at first. But it turns out that there’s a lot more to being the Suzuki Nine Queens starter than just communicating with the landing spotter to close the jump when there’s a crash.

There’s also communication with the production team—eight or ten other guys with radios encircling the feature with a 360-degree network of camera angles and support staff at all times. Among the other major players on the radio channels—event frontman Nico Zacek,  video production manager Mark von Roy, on-hill production guru Lukas Krista—I found out that the starter has the unique role of calling the play as the action goes down, and attempting in some way to facilitate the chaos.

So this means: memorizing the names of all the girls so I can call their names as they drop for the camera team’s reference (yes, I got to ask several famous pro snowboarders “What was your name again?”); counting down the take-offs for our event photographer Klaus Polzer, who’s got a landing perspective for shooting sequences; making sure that the cameramen are paying attention for the big drops and identifying when, exactly, those big drops might be happening; communicating with the shapers to schedule fast reshapes of the features; and all the other minutiae that flows across the radio channels at an event like this. The radio is the secret channel into the hidden infrastructure of Suzuki Nine Queens: the small army of production staff that’s laboring constantly behind the scenes to create this event and broadcast it to the world.

 

jonee

This is Jonee. If you traveled to or from Serfaus-Fiss-Ladis or spent a night there last week, he probably had something to do with it. Photo: David Malacrida

loulou

This is Lukas, who took on the difficult task of on-hill production manager this year, and laced it like a boss. Photo: Malacrida

But that’s not all. The starter at this event is also expected to be a hype man and producer of sorts—keeping the vibe high in the drop-in, coordinating interesting events if possible: doubles drops of skiers and snowboarders together? Trains with all the girls dropping at once? Excuse me, ma’am, does that look of intensity in your face mean that you’re about to do a double? And sorry, that was awkward—I’m holding my hand up to stop you from hitting the jump, not for a high five.

Around the second day, Nico Zacek rolls by the drop-in and gives me the master class in starter etiquette. After repeatedly asking me to call down to the landing and ask, “Did she stomp that?”, finally I just hand my radio over to Nico, and he goes to town: “Is the drone ready to get the shot? Are the top girls in the start gate, ready for the drone? All other cameramen paying attention?” Boom, just like that, Nico is calling the shots and has stepped up the hype a notch. He hands me back the radio and skis off back into the whirlwind of action around the castle, to do a TV interview, revise tomorrow’s schedule on the fly with his team, chat with the representative of a big sponsor, and still find time to spend with his wife and baby daughter.

Of course, Suzuki Nine Queens is about the invited women and their sports, and I would hate to write an article about an amazing women’s event and not talk at all about the women. But given that this has already been done a lot already, and will continue to be done in the future, I’d like to give the people behind the scenes their fair shake—a little shoutout to all the men and women behind the scenes who labor to make this unique event happen. For example, there’s a guy named Ole who sits in the production office logging the video footage all week, while everyone else goes up onto the mountain. There’s a guy named Jonee managing a Gordian Knot of logistics. There are guys named Nejc, Jannis and Kaspars who are up late at night and early in the morning, and probably partying in between, working to keep the snow castle in top shape. And many, many others whose names I haven’t mentioned here, but are all parts of the great spinning Suzuki Nine Queens machine.

viola burnett, justine mulliez

This is Viola and Justine from PR – they’re responsible for making sure that your favorite news outlet gets all the latest updates from Suzuki Nine Queens, every day. Photo: Malacrida

Naptime in the production office: Sean Balmer from GoPro is all tuckered out. Photo: Malacrida

Now all that said, even if this article isn’t really about the Queens themselves, one great thing about being the starter is seeing all of the action going down, and I can tell you this—the women of freeskiing and snowboarding laid a hurtin’ on the feature last week.

From Hailey Langland’s beautifully corked frontside 360s and on-point shifty game to massive backside and frontside 1080s from Anna Gasser and Klaudia Medlova, the snowboarders put on an impressive showing. On the skiing side, despite the absence of several of the big names in women’s big air, the ladies of Suzuki Nine Queens rose up to show their excellence: event veterans like Coline Ballet-Baz, Emma Dahlström, Keri Herman, Katie Summerhayes and Dania Assaly kept the sleds lapping throughout all the sessions, sometimes even driving themselves if the sled drivers happened to be too hung over from the night before.

Meanwhile, newcomers like Maggie Voisin, Giulia Tanno and Johanne Killi kept up with the pace with an impressive showing, despite a scary crash from Killi, who compressed on the takeoff while skiing switch and managed to do a starfish half switch backflip onto the deck of the jump—narrowly avoiding the tunnel of the central jump through the tower. Thankfully she walked away with only bruises, but we missed seeing her cork 900 blunts for the remainder of the event. In other crash news, Suzanna Stromkova took a hard tumble on a rodeo 900, but returned for the contest day to bring her rodeo all the way to 1080.

NineQueens-start-gate-0769

Group photo in the start gate. Thanks, ladies, for an incredible week! Photo: Stone

All throughout the week, I watched these tough women stare down the drop-in, weighing new tricks on this massive feature without a hint of fear in their eyes (okay, I couldn’t see through the goggles, but I’m guessing)—lapping the jump for hours and days on end, pushing themselves, brushing off the hard crashes and exhausting sessions with the cool ease of professionals. Being able to watch all that from the start gate—a validation of all that the people behind the scenes have worked for—was probably the most impressive thing of all.

Big thanks to everyone on the Suzuki Nine Queens team and all the participants for another incredible week in Serfaus-Fiss-Ladis.

Disclaimer: Suzuki Nine Queens is organized by the Distillery, Downdays’ parent company. So everything we write about it is pure propaganda.

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2016, nine queens, Serfaus