Note: I’m the event photographer of the High Five Festival and I don’t pretend to be objective. Not that there are any journalists who really are, anyway! That being said, it’s Monday morning and I’ve got so many memories in my head from the weekend. Here are a few of them.
In the years since it parted ways from its iF3 (International Freeskiing Film Festival) license, the High Five Festival has stepped up its level, adding more events, guest riders, details, brands and creativity to put itself right up there with the world’s biggest gatherings in skiing. Thousands of fans young and old descend on Annecy for a weekend filled with ski movies, brand booths, film premieres and free goodies.
“Do you have stickers?” was probably the most used sentence of the weekend. Around a hundred riders were also around, boosted in number by The Bunch from Sweden, who rolled in 12 deep to the festival.
Aside from the mainstream events, the first night was also an occasion for the ski industry (which is big in this region) and local politicians to meet and greet at a private party complete with presentations, movie showings and free drinks. It was a night that showed the inner workings of how a dream like High Five comes true, with event organizers Rafael Regazzoni, Aissam Dabbaoui and Gaylord Pedretti explaining some of the challenges behind the scenes. This was an emotional moment only witnessed by a few.
That was Thursday evening and the inauguration of the Cafette, a restaurant reserved by the festival to become a kind of headquarters, including DJs, a new design and furniture, and for the few of us who were there, that was the real start of the event.
On Friday the event officially kicked off at noon with all the things that I already mentioned. Nothing revolutionary here, just the same recipe that’s worked for years, including an outdoor skate park free for all to use, and hundreds of signing sessions.
Inside the theater, all the best movies were here, and the crowd’s enthusiasm was present as well. That was made clearly evident by the disappointed screaming when Henrik and Phil’s movie started 15 seconds late due to a technical issue. But the real disappointment was from Field Productions, who presented a 20-minute teaser instead of the 110 minutes scheduled for their new film Supervention II.
Before talking about the Sosh Big Air, let’s conclude the High Five recap with the parties. This year, besides the couple of private parties in the bar hosted by movie productions, shops or brands, there were three official public parties: the opener and two closers, which were necessary to split the massive attendance in two locations. Because there’s no club in Annecy that can hold three to four thousand drunk and raging ski fans.
Let’s talk about the Sosh Big Air now. Wow, that was big.
Annecy’s first major in-city Big Air event wasn’t without its challenges. The venue had to be moved from the large field by the lake to the parking lot in the middle of the city just a few months before the event, and the weather made everything a lot more complicated. Even so, more than 25,000 fans—from stoked kids to families to retirees—turned out to watch the show.
Flashback: It’s Thursday and the invited riders are arriving at the feature. They ascend the stairs to the flats of the jump, checking out the really steep landing and the short inrun, wondering about speed while the day’s hot sun blasted the snow. Leo Taillefer, the crazy Frenchman famous for his backcountry war-whoop POV videos, is ready for the guinea pig attempt — four guys in the flats are ready with mats in hand, ready to throw them underneath Leo if he comes up short. Leo drops, flies through the air, and smashes hard into the knuckle. He’s okay, but the confidence level drops - some riders don’t think that the Big Air will happen at all.
The organizers postpone the qualifications for a few hours, and the shapers have one more chance to improve the inrun. Finally the qualifications take place, with some guys landing super low in the landing after a 30-meter flight. The level is really high, with 30 guys fighting for only three wildcards.
After an overheated Friday, the temperature drops for a rainy Saturday. And as you know, rain is just great for the snow. 45 minutes before the practice starts, I get a message on my phone while rain pours down on my head: “It slides even better than yesterday night, it’s on!” From the perfectly positioned balcony of a mystery woman named Berangère that we’re allowed to use for media production, the illuminated feature is a sight to be seen, especially with 14,000 cheering fans underneath it.
The riders put on a show, only sometimes respecting a format that was probably too complicated to achieve for the riders, and too hard to understand for the public. But whatever the tricks and whatever the results, the show is awesome, the public is on fire, and smiles are on all the riders’ faces.
Although Henrik Harlaut takes home the win, the biggest medal should go to Luca Schuler, who decides to toss a double front flip for the crowd rather than opt for the podium, then says, “ Freeskiing is just about fun, so let’s have fun!” Later on Facebook, he writes: “That’s something that simply has to be said.”
In conclusion, the High Five Festival was as great as always, and the Sosh Big Air had a successful debut — great news for the future of the event.
From a tired guy who still has thousands of photos to work on — cheers friends!