Who's the King of the castle? No-one, you're all just rascals. Gone are the Kings, Queens, Knights and Royals. They've let down the drawbridge to welcome in some new talent.
The Audi Nines (formerly Nine Knights and Nine Queens) have been getting us all excited with their insane SlopeX course. Is that a loop we spy? And what are those start gates? The past nine years have brought us several spectacular castles made of snow, and it’s safe to say we’ve never seen anything else like it. Each year brings a new level of innovation and creativity, with new tricks and achievements coming naturally as riders push their limits in bigger and better castle parks. This time though, the castle is gone.
This year the powers that be looked beyond freestyle and invited skicross and snowboardcross athletes into the mix. These invitations merited a whole new course and a whole new challenge for designers and engineers who would have to consider the abilities of all athletes. During the construction, the best riders in the business put their heads together to help design the track and jumps. The contest moved from South Tyrol to Sölden, Austria and course was re-imagined making use of the huge avalanche ramparts at Tiefenbach Gletcher.
The week leading up to Public Contest day on 14th April allowed the competitors to explore the terrain and get used to the unusual features. The course was designed so that it could either be used for racers or slopestyle athletes with an incredible mixture of jumps, drops, loops and shapes. The company responsible is Schneestern, who also maintain the iconic Stubai Zoo in the Tyrol, just of their insane park projects.
The highlights from Audi Nines came in thick and fast with two standout performances catching our eye. Firstly, the legendary Swede that is Jesper Tjäder treated us to a world first in the custom built loop, and took it on switch. Being the first person to complete a rail loop in Supervention 2, it naturally made sense for him to claim the switch title. Just think about dropping in to anything backwards, then think about going upside down. The man is a maniac, here's the proof:
On the same day, things were getting sendy over on the kickers and another Scandinavian was up to hijinks. Swiss freestyle skier Andri Ragettli greeted his buddy James 'Woodsy' Woods with an outrageous mid-air high five. There's trust excercises and then there's this:
One of the course features which gained a huge amount of attention was the Hammer Drop, designed to send riders flying into the course at speed. The tipping platforms made for some really cool footage - when they worked that is. Unfortunately for two-time Olympic freestyle gold medallist David Wise, his drop didn't go quite as he had anticipated. I don't think he expected to be Hammer Dropped in the stomach. Take a look:
Did Audi bite off more than they could chew with this feature? Nobody likes a broken rib for breakfast.
The course itself is an incredible work of art and drew the best snowsports talent from all over the world. Olympians from all disciplines including Cardiff Snowsports legend Sarah Hoefflin, James Woods, Pierre Vaultier and Brady Leman took home medals. Check out the results video here.
That's a wrap for the Nines 2018, but what will we see next year? Will aerial athletes bring their A-game? Will moguls be involved? We can't wait to see how the course and features progress as this event pushes its competitors to new levels. Pond skim-style moats could be a good shout, just saying...