EDMONTON — Organizers are promising a steeper, faster slope as the FIS snowboard big air World Cup returns to Commonwealth Stadium this weekend.
Sixty of the world’s top male riders and 30 female riders are set to hit the man-made slope that’s been installed in the stadium.
Organizers have introduced significant improvements to the scaffolding ramp, learning from last year when eight out of 21 women withdrew from the event because the track was too slow, depriving them of the proper airtime to safely complete their tricks.
The pitch of the slope is steeper, and two storeys longer than last year. It now stands at 15 storeys tall, from above the stadium lights to field level.
And, unseasonably warm weather in Edmonton may actually help make the event more competitive. Because the city has yet to receive a significant snowfall, the white stuff is being made at the nearby Rabbit Hill ski resort, about 35 kilometres south of Commonwealth, and hauled into the stadium.
“The warm weather may be a blessing,” said Richard Hegarty, the director of major events for Canada Snowboard. “We will have the snow, and that warmth will help the snow set once it warms and freezes. It makes the snow fast.”
Environment Canada is predicting temperatures of around 0 C for both Friday's qualifying and Saturday's competition.
Last year, the snow was laid down on the slope at temperatures below -20 C, which made for a slower track.
“At that temperature, it almost sticks like Velcro,” said Hegarty.
Jasmine Baird, the Georgetown, Ont.-raised rider who won her first-ever World Cup Big Air event in Edmonton last year, is looking forward to the faster slope.
“Last year, the issue I was having and that it seemed like everyone was having was the speed,” she said. “You were pointing it in, you were tucking, trying to go as fast as possible to just hope you’re going to make it. There was really no room for error on the run-in or the takeoff.
“Knowing there’s enough speed this year, it’s going to take a lot of that stress off and let us be able to focus more on doing our tricks. It won’t be just hoping that we will make it to the landing.”
Nicolas Laframboise of Saint Jean, Que., took bronze in the 2022 event, and did his final runs wearing a blue Oilers jersey. He said the jersey will be back this weekend, and he promised a secret twist will be revealed at the competition.
He was also impressed by the changes to the course.
“Last year, the big issue for everyone was lack of speed,” he said. “With the drop being so much higher, I think it won’t be an issue this year. People will be able to go bigger and further down the landing, which will allow us to do bigger tricks.”
Australia’s Valentino Guseli will be in Edmonton to defend his 2022 title. He also won the Crystal Globe as the World Cup overall Big Air champion in 2022-23. He said he prefers the stadium events like Commonwealth to being on the side of a mountain.
“One thing I love about the Big Air events, especially the scaffolding ones, is that there’s such a huge crowd,” he said. “It’s like the atmosphere is so awesome and all the people get behind you, for sure.”
One athlete who won’t be competing is the three-time Olympic medallist and all-time Winter X Games medal leader Mark McMorris. He broke his fibula in late February, and still doesn’t feel well enough to compete at a World Cup level.
“I’m feeling pretty strong and healthy right now,” said the 29-year-old McMorris. “I am getting really close to 110 per cent. But it takes longer than ever, nowadays, to get back to that 110 per cent that I am looking for. Quite honestly, it doesn’t make me feel that awesome if I put myself into a situation to compete knowing I’m not at 110 per cent.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 6, 2023.
Steven Sandor, The Canadian Press