It would have been too much to ask of winter 2023 for two perfect days in a row. Luckily, Red Bull Infinite Lines in Avoriaz got at least one. The weather in the French Alps this year has been challenging to say the least, and some may even have feared the event wouldn’t get the go-ahead. But the stars aligned, and we woke up to about 30cm of fresh snow and a bluebird day on Tuesday, 28 March. Thibault Magnin and Megan Oldham were the winners in a shortened program, but a look at the course and a skim through the start list should tell you all you need to know: Infinite Lines isn’t really about winners and losers.
Magnus Granér seeks his line among the infinite. Photo: Teddy Morellec
The invited riders had a lot of fun making the most of this "go anywhere" all-mountain freestyle contest. Hats off to Red Bull for the start list, with skiers from all sorts of disciplines: Olympic champions Alex Hall and Nico Porteous, style gurus like Antti Ollila and Magnus Granér, and history-makers like Megan Oldham. The face was littered with man-made features, along with their natural counterparts. Aside from the odd sponsor logo, there was no paint or markings, so the kickers and step-ups blended in nicely. Although neither are new events, Infinite Lines follows Red Bull Playstreets in offering entertaining alternatives to the perhaps more sterilized offerings from FIS.
Everyone brought their own style to the proceedings. You wouldn’t know it by watching, but some felt more at home than others. On the Combe du Formet in Avoriaz, Norwegian Sandra Eie was a long way from the perfectly manicured parks that she typically frequents. “It’s different compared to what I’m used to," she said after one of her training runs. "It’s fun trying to do some powder turns and maybe even some tricks!"
"I feel like I’ve been everywhere—left, right and middle," she continued. "I tried to ski everywhere, but when you’re at the top, you kind of don’t even know where you went on the last run, so then you have to figure out another way."
After a couple of hours of training runs, it was time to launch into the head-to-head battles to thin out this talented crowd.
Women in the start gate: Sandra, Ruby, Megan and Olivia ready to drop. Photo: Greg Sidaud
The ski men kicked off with the dream match-up of Olympic champions: slopestyle whiz Alex Hall versus halfpipe champ Nico Porteous. When the match-up was announced, A-Hall said this is the first time he'd competed against Nico, and because the terrain is so different to what they’re used to, the playing field was quite even between them. Unfortunately, we were denied the true "battle of the heavyweights" because Nico went down while trying a switch 540 on his second hit and injured his back. Even without his crash, Nico would have had a tall order to topple Alex, who seemed to have no trouble adapting to the varied terrain. His cork 7 on the first hit was followed up by a 5, showing flawless technique landing and skiing switch in the fresh snow. He landed switch twice more in his run and finished on the last feature, a step up to a whale-tail, with another 540 into a switch 360, and the bar was set. The second run was a formality due to Nico’s injury.
The judges gave Frenchman Jules Bonnaire the win over The Bunch's Magnus Graner in the next match-up to line up a semi-final with A-Hall. Magnus pushed him hard, and despite how idyllic the conditions and location may have looked, Jules said that they were all feeling it. "It’s a pretty tiring course!" he exclaimed. "We’ve probably done about ten runs in total. We all talked at the top and all of our legs are on fire! It feels like we’ve spent the whole day in the gym!"
Jules Bonnaire doing what he does best: going big. Photo: Harley C
Colby Stevenson showed that the terrain was no challenge for him with runs that included nose butter fives. His competitor, Antti Ollila, said he had a change of heart after his training runs: “At the beginning, I saw everyone hitting all the jumps and doing tricks, I was doing that as well. It didn’t really work out super well, so I just thought that I’ll just go slash some pow. Do straight airs and grabs, and just enjoy it.” You have to love his attitude, but the judges preferred Colby’s technical prowess to Antti’s more relaxed approach.
Colby goes big out of the hole-in-the-wall jump. Photo: Morellec
The final quarterfinal matchup pitted Thibault Magnin against Max Moffatt, and this is where things got a little bit crazy. Thib took a slightly different approach to the step-up at the top of the course, taking a page out of Max Palm’s book with an enormous double backflip. Just for fun, he did another dub further down the run, and the second one was even bigger! Two dubs in one backcountry run was enough to see off the challenge from Moffat and line up a Magnin vs. Stevenson showdown in the semifinals.
Thib´s massive double backflip was one of the biggest hits of the day. Photo: Morellec
Finally it was the women's turn to take center stage, with Megan Oldham coming off a historic X Games win to face off with Sandra Eie, while Olivia Asselin challenged the up-and-coming New Zealander Ruby Star Andrews. Megan continued her hot streak with an aggressive run, showing creativity on all her chosen features to sweep Sandra aside. Ruby took a similarly full-throttle approach to her line, but it was a closer call between her and Olivia.
At the end of Day One, Antti summed up the feeling of the whole crew: “I’m pretty relaxed and I don’t care too much about the result, I just want to enjoy the day and enjoy this super nice zone. I haven’t really skied good snow this winter, so this is just nice. It’s a treat."
The men's semifinals and the women's final were set to take place the following day. Unfortunately, the next day wasn’t such a treat, as warmer weather made the snow sticky and wet and flat light compounded the situation. Painfully but understandably, the decision was made to call the day off, and the women's final of Megan Oldham vs. Ruby Andrews and the men’s semis of Hall vs. Bonnaire and Stevenson vs. Magnin couldn’t take place. After some deliberation, the judges re-watched the previous day's runs to make a final decision for the women: Megan Oldham in first place, Ruby Star Andrews in second and Olivia Asselin completing the podium in third.
How much talent can you fit on one step? Megan Oldham invited second-placed Ruby Star Andrews onto the top of the podium with her. Photo: Morellec
For the men, the judged tapped Thibault Magnin for the top spot with his two big doubles, with Alex Hall in second and Colby Stevenson in third.
Despite the shortened schedule, most were happy with the decision not to ride in such sketchy conditions. “With the weather, the snow’s a little slow and there's bad visibility," Megan Oldham confirmed. "Everybody’s really happy with how they skied and snowboarded yesterday. I think there were a couple of people who were keen to ride, but I think for the most part people wanted to just keep yesterday’s results and get the podium from that."
"We all got some nice runs in and the conditions meant we could show our best skiing on the course," she added. "Whereas today it would have been a bit more dulled-down runs."
Men’s victor Thibault Magnin couldn’t hide his excitement so well. “I have no words, I’m so happy!" he exclaimed. "This means so much to me. It’s been a tough season, competing on the World Cups and to get this is what I dreamed of. This event is what I want to push my skiing towards in the next few years. We all had so much fun yesterday. When I have fun is when I ski my best, so I’m so stoked and big things are on the way."
Thib was one of the few skiers to ride both days. Photo: Morellec
A Hall, Thib and Colby showing off their prizes. Photo: Morellec
Red Bull Infinite Lines was a hit with the riders, even with the elements against them. Magnus Granér made the comparison to snowboarding's Natural Selection series: "You want something similar for skiing and this is that, or at least a step in that direction."
He went on to praise the course: "It allows for a lot more creative skiing than a slopestyle course, because there are hundred—infinite!—hits out there, so there’s a lot you can do."
In the end, Infinite Lines may have only been a one-day event—but what a day it was. I think Antti summed it up best: Red Bull Infinite Lines 2023 was a treat!