PHOTOS // Crispin Cannon WORDS // Jesse Fox
Two weeks ago a jump was built on Blackcomb… That doesn’t sound too special, does it? After all, jumps are always being built, because jumping snowboards is awesome and snowboarders hit jumps and always will, because like we said, it’s awesome and that’s what we do. This jump is kinda special though, see, for 40 hours this jump was meticulously sculpted by Charles Beckinsale and Charles has a reputation for being (one of, if not) the best jump builder in the world. He has been commissioned by the Canada Snowboard SlopeStyle Team who happen to be the best squad in the world at jumping their snowboards. See where we’re going? The best jump builder builds the best jump he can for the best snowboarders and there's one goal — learn new shit.
It’s hot-as-balls for being at 5200 meters with 200+ centimetres of snow beneath our feet. Maxence Parrot, Seb Toutant, Tyler Nicholson, Darcy Sharpe, Mikey Ciccarelli, Spencer Obrien are here along with their entourage of personal filmers and photographers — hell, even Tyler Nicholson’s parents are here for the show. And while we are standing in awe over the monstrous 75 foot tabletop gap and towering takeoff in front of us the team is warming it up. One straight air, maybe a 360, then right into textbook 1080’s. Mellow. For them.
We talk to Chris Witwicki, one of the team coaches who set this jump-build in motion, he’s telling us this week is about progression. “As much as these riders love snowboarding and doing front 3’s all day” he says, “their pay cheques demand they keep up and ahead of what other riders are doing.” And here we are, watching the world's best get even better.
Witwicki breaks down the design and target for this monster build. “We built this to simulate a contest jump." he explains, "We didn’t want a step-over or step-up because that’s not what we see in contests. So this jump has a slight drop, the knuckle being one meter lower than the takeoff. We’ve found with that it’s still pretty safe to knuckle.” There’s only one way to properly learn new tricks and that’s airtime and repetition. “We needed something that would give them enough airtime when learning a 1440 or 1620 they’ll have time to think about what they’re doing.” Once you get into rotations 1080 and higher the tricks have to be broken down into individual steps to be learnt safety and consistently. The team works with resorts to provide the needed tools and coaches like Witwicki and Elliot Catton are here to provide the guidance some riders need to stalk down the next kill on their trick list. Elliot, has grown up along side a couple of these riders, he is directly responsible for helping them get to this level and played a big roll in the teams overall success this past season.
In between the team high-fives and jokes you can tell the riders came here today with an agenda. We watch Max Parrot put down a half-dozen backside triple cork 1440’s in about 15 minutes. Going bigger and opening up earlier with every land. Picture the trick being done with the first 1080 Double whipped around quickly and then opening up like a gingerbread man for the last third. Wide in the air floating the last cork while eying up the landing from the peak of his trajectory. He’s warming up for something bigger, gauging how much time he has in the air. On his next send he attempts a Backside Quad-Cork 1800, but gets lost somewhere in the last part of the rotation, Max is so calculated you can immediately tell when things go wrong in the trick. He slams. He's unharmed, spooked, and doesn’t flirt with the quad again.
Max’s personal push is partially the reason why were here. He had a jump built to similar specs last year so he could throw down the first ever Quad Underflip. “They said the jump is five feet bigger this year,” says Max. “but I can’t tell.” No shit, once you’ve flown 80+ feet to the sweet spot of the landing gauging five feet is like feeling a misquote bite on a body of beestings. After watching Max attempt something that’s only been accomplished by two others on the planet we ask the coaches about what other NBD’s might be on the menu for the week. “The core team riders are working on different triples and 14’s. New to them, maybe not new to snowboarding,” they say, “mixing up grabs with the heavier tricks they’re doing.” Progression isn’t always about adding another 180 or cork into the mix. It’s about sprinkling creativity to their riding, changing up the style with moves they’re already comfortable with.
High above the tree line there’s still buzz about the Backside 1620 Mikey Ciccarelli was coming close on the day before. "Mikey is riding really, really, good." Adds coach Elliot Catton. He has worked with Ciccarelli since he was grom and knows him as a rider who never sacrifices his style in the push for progress. His first attempts looked good enough to have the team talking about it 24 hours later. We get Witwicki’s take on the pains progress is having on snowboarding’s accessibility as nobody here wants to see progression putting a leg out to have style and execution fall on its face. There’s a mutual responsibility from all riders, judges and coaches to make sure the balance is in check. “Judges have to have say on style and execution," he says, "and the riders have to do their part to not let over-progression get out of control. It’s a joint responsibility — everyone needs to come to a consensus.” Everyone here started snowboarding because its fun-as-all-hell, a race to see who can do the most 1800’s in a run would ruin what’s best about what we do.
With competition at the forefront of this endeavour you’d never know it. Riders talk each other up, laugh at near disaster, dare each other into trying something new, blast Drake from the drop in, and hang like snowboarders sessioning any other jump. There isn’t a secret recipe to what the CS team has done to help their riders crowd podiums all season long. Build good jumps, get some sleds to increase repetition on tricks. The magic of the team is the way the riders feed off each other and having resorts like Whistler Blackcomb get their back to help in the push. No matter how you feel about snowboarding as a "competitive sport", it’s not going anywhere and these Canadians might as well be the ones on top.
When the week ended there were plenty of personal firsts and minimal injuries. From here the team breaks till summer camp at Camp of Champions and then to the Southern Hemisphere for an Australian winter.