by Blake Kimmel
Nestled in the Tarentaise Valley on the French Alps, Val d’Isere is known as one of the premier ski destinations in the world. With immense vertical drop (5,650 feet), craggy terrain rises from the valley floor encircling the village. In Europe, nothing looks very large because of the few trees on the landscape and how truly massive these peaks are.
The Frostgun Invitational big air hit this French valley for the first time in the event’s history, adjacent to the massive L’Olympique Tramway near the pedestrian village. The deception of scale in the Alps proved true for this jump as well; its size and airtime were only realized once competitors began sessioning the jump. What looked like a modest size booter for a big air turned out to be anything but once a few lofty double flips were witnessed.
Organized by Denmark-based Michael Fugmann, the event’s single day competition schedule anchored a full week of local parties and music events. It coincided with a Danish holiday allowing bus loads of roller-bag-wielding partiers to flood the town’s motorcoach station.
Practice on Thursday night raised some concerns about the quality of the jump. With a very steep in-run, flat landing and a ‘WuTang’ lip (inconsistent in run transition with too steep a takeoff) competitors took only a handful of jumps in the morning and afternoon. Frostgun judge Laurent Favre was one of them, floating the jump under the Thursday night lights with lofty cork 360 truckdrivers and 540s, making most wish the Frenchmen was spending Friday skiing the comp instead of working in the judges booth.
The sun rose on Friday to heavy snowfall and wind that intermittently waned through the early afternoon hours. Initially set to go off at 2:00 p.m. the qualification round was pushed back to 5:30, as competitors killed time indoors snacking and lounging. By start time, considerably less snow was falling and winds had dropped; the sun dipped behind the Alps as the qualification round unleashed.
Some standouts from qualification were the two youngest competitors in the field: 17-year-old Norwegian Johan Berg—with a left double 1260 mute to japan grab—and Aleksander Aurdal with a switch left double 1260 mute. PK Hunder, another Norweigen, had been warming up all evening with only straight airs until the qualifications kicked off, dumping left double 1260 mute. TJ Schiller, a legend of big air competition and always a welcomed sight, crashed on two leftside double 1260s but looked to be strong. He marched up to the judging booth with a smile on his face. “The jump is so fun right now,” he exclaimed. It was now obvious that whatever tweaking was done to the jump from previous days’ feedback had worked, and a proper competition was about to unfold.
Ten athletes advanced to the semifinals, which were held in two heats with four jumps per athlete. Heat one advanced Vincent Gagnier, Jonas Hunziker and PK Hunder with Jules Bonnaire and Mikkel Jooranstad missing the cut. Heat two had Johan Berg, Alex Bellemare and Aleksander Aurdal moving to finals with David Bonneville and Luca Triboneau missing out. Without a doubt the highlight of the semifinals was not a run that had any scoring impact but instead a near disaster: Alex Bellemare threw a switch double rodeo rotation too quickly, resulting in a ski ejection in mid-air. As the crowd held its breath, Bellemare finished his rotation and landed forward with one ski and one boot on the snow. With little effort, he stabilized himself and skied into the finish area with more style than most have on two skis. The crowd reaction was immense and cheers roared while Bellemare’s ejected ski casually skidded down the landing, finding his feet waiting along the finish corral fence.
I had never spent time in a judging booth, it gave me a new respect for the pressures of the process. At Frostgun, the discussions were distinctly based on style. “Judge it like you see it,” were words heard from head judge Andrew Wickes, a golden rule when complicated judging discussions kick up. When this many athletes are capable of high risk double flips, the grabs, body control and landing quality speak volumes for who will come out on top. Variety was also key with identical tricks counting as one jump score and people like Vincent Gagnier and Alex Bellemare being rewarded for their uniquely different tricks.
Finals saw similar tricks to qualifications and semis. Bellemare, who finished first and Gagnier who finished third, both mixed in something different with their double cork spins to score as their second jumps. Gagnier had a rodeo 900 screaming seamen and Bellemare jumped with a silky switch left 1080 mute to shifty with a stomped landing. Johan Berg received second place using a left double 1260 mute to japan and a switch left double 1080 tail for his two best jumps.
Jonas Hunziker took 4th and PK Hunder rounded out 5th highlighting his performance with a big double cork 1260 landed practically at the bottom.
In the end Alex Bellemare’s flawless style gave him the top spot. As one of the most interesting skiers to watch, every trick Bellemare has in his bag is executed with smoothness. You would be hard pressed to find any rider to complain about Bellemare coming out on top on a night like that, and it is evident now that Bellemare is having his best season to date with this win close on the heels of a fourth place finish at the 2013 X Games Aspen slopestyle.
2013 Frostgun Invitational Top 6:
1. Alex Bellemare (CAN) — Left double cork 12 double Japan, switch left double rodeo 10 Japan
2. Johan Berg (NOR) — Left double cork 12 mute to Japan, switch left double cork 10 bwarrow
3. Vincent Gagnier (CAN) — Switch right cork 12 mute, right bio 900 genie octograb
4. Jonas Hunziker (SUI) — Switch left double 9 double Japan, left double cork 10 double mute
5. PK Hunder (NOR) — Left double cork 10 mute, left double cork 12 Japan
6. Aleksander Aurdal (NOR) — Switch left double cork 12 mute, left double cork 10 mute
Frostgun Invitational is an AFP Platinum Level contest. See how this affects the AFP World Rankings.