Winter Games New Zealand: The Obsidian Big Air Challenge

Nathaniel Lewis | | Industry NewsIndustry News
Cool Wakushima flying over the Big Air in style. Image: Winter Games NZ

Cardrona Alpine Resort, Wānaka (9 September, 2023) – The Obsidian Big Air Challenge, the first challenge of the 2023 Obsidian Team Challenge, went down on the world-class 70-foot big air jump at Cardrona Alpine Resort.

With 31 of the best riders in the world, split across four teams, the level of riding was out of this world. 

The Four Obsidian Teams. Image: Winter Games NZ

 After a heated qualifying round, heading into the finals Team Americas and Team Europe had the advantage, as the only two teams to have multiple athletes in the same category qualify through to the finals.

The finals are where the format really differed from what is more commonly seen at Big Air events. The aim of the Big Air Challenge was to reward the athletes who were able to match the most technically difficult Big Air tricks with the silkiest and most stylish tricks.

Sven Thorgen showing style. Image: Winter Games NZ

Scored out of 200, the athlete’s score is a combination of their best technical trick and their best style trick. Each athlete was attributed a score based on their ranking, first place got one point down to fourth place who got four points. Anyone who didn’t make the finals was given five points. The team with the least points at the end of the day took the win.

After the Big Air Challenge Team Americas is at the top of the leaderboard by a significant margin, finishing with just 23 points. This was thanks largely to the fact they had three out of four category wins, keeping their overall team score low.

Team Europe is sitting in second place with 29 points, Team Oceania is in third place with 32 points and Team Asia is sitting in fourth place with 36 points.

Max Moffat giving it his A game. Image: Winter Games NZ

Canadian freeskier Max Moffat, men’s ski category winner and member of Team Americas, said:

“This team format doesn’t feel like a crazy contest, it just feels like you and your friends are sessioning a big jump. The Team format is sick, you rely on other people, not just yourself for a score, it’s cool and fun.”

Moffat’s teammate and women’s snowboard category winner Momo Maheux agreed, saying:

“I really like the team aspect of the event, I’m really enjoying training with the skiers. I could hear my team cheering for me—we all love each other so it’s really nice.”

The Freeski judges explained how in the style round the athletes dialed back the technicality of their jumps and focused on injecting style and steeze into their tricks, and that it was awesome to be able to reward style in this competition. 

Elena Gaskell tweaking out the grab. Image: Winter Games NZ

The Freeski judges also mentioned Elena Gaskell’s (Team Americas and female Freeski category winner) switch-bio 1080 mute grab as being up there with one of their favorite tricks of the day. They also gave Alex Hall (Team Americas) a shout-out for throwing a huge cork 180 in the qualifying round.

The snowboard judges were particularly excited about Sven Thorgren’s style trick (men’s snowboard category winner and Team Europe member), who styled out a back rodeo 720 nose grab with a cool axis and sent it deep down the landing. They also loved Cool Wakushima’s (Team Oceania) double-dipped 1260 rotation.

Team Americas after the Big Air. Image: Winter Games NZ

After the Big Air, the second Obsidian challenge went down yesterday (11th September, 2023), with the teams battling it out in the Park Challenge in a custom-built rail garden at Cardrona.

An epic throwdown saw all four teams getting equal parts technical and creative to impress the judges and try and get ahead in the Obsidian challenge. The Park Challenge format went back to the roots of freeskiing and snowboarding, utilizing a knockout format.

After each ten minutes elapsed, the lowest ranked athlete was dropped off the leaderboard and out of the competition. Once the top four athletes were left on the board, they battled it out for 20 minutes trying to outdo each other and claim the top spot.

Alex Hall setting the bar in the Park Challenge. Image: Winter Games NZ

Although Team Europe had some phenomenal performances, Team Americas retained their lead. Alex Hall, Beijing 2022 Freeski Slopestyle gold medalist, led the charge for Team Americas taking the men’s Freeski category win, stomping technical tricks, finding creative lines, and transferring onto the rails in unique ways.

The snowboarders were up first, with a tightly contested competition. We saw Cool Wakushima (Team Oceania), Annika Morgan, and Mia Brookes (both of Team Europe) battling it out right to the end. Wakushima was throwing down huge inverted tricks off the whale’s tail rail, but current Snowboard Slopestyle World Champion Brookes was in a class of her own, claiming the top spot.

Momo Maheux sliding down a feature. Image: Winter Games NZ

In the men’s snowboard category, Sven Thorgren (Team Europe) took the win. Thorgren was a crowd favorite, with enthusiastic spectators cheering him on from the chairlift overhead. His teammate Nicolas Huber was working hard to give his team the best chance, carrying snowboards and skis for his teammates to help them get extra laps on the course.

After the snowboarders’ session, Team Europe and Team Americas were tied for first place, with 39 points apiece. It was the freeskiers’ turn to drop in, and after watching their snowboard teammates compete they were frothing for their turn in the rail garden.

Sven Thorgen showing his pop. Image: Winter Games NZ

In the women’s freeski category, Team Oceania’s Ruby Star Andrews had an absolute standout performance. She took the lead within the first ten minutes of the jam, and remained at the top for the duration, with no one able to beat her creativity and technical skills on the rails.

Ruby Andrews on her way to the win. Image: Winter Games NZ

Andrews explained:

“I love this format because you get to choose any feature and any trick. It’s a jam so it’s not nerve-wracking, you just get to ride with your mates and have a great time. I have been loving the team vibe, everyone is cheering each other on at the top and everyone is super hyped, it was a great session!”

Ruby Andrews is stoked with taking the number 1 spot. Image: Winter Games NZ

The men’s freeski category was an absolute showdown, with the athletes combining their incredible technical skills with insane style, pushing each other further and further with every run. 

Hall and his teammate Max Moffatt worked together, strategizing ways to get the most points from the judges. A shout out to Gen Fujii from Team Asia who threw some mind-blowing tricks on the whale’s tail rail, to the delight of the crowd.

After the Park Challenge Team America retained their top spot on the leaderboard with Team Europe in second place, just seven points behind them. Team Oceania is sitting in third with 66 points and Asia is in fourth with 83 points.

Up next is the backcountry freestyle challenge, likely to be held on Wednesday 13 September, the final decider of which team will take home the Edgar Challenge Trophy.

A very happy Team Americas after two wins in two days. Image: Winter Games NZ

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