Words by Daniel Baur (http://www.raiders.ch)

Photos by Carlo Zimmermann & Christoph Schöch

“Mamma Mia! Here we go again!”

Year after year the Swedish pop band ABBA produced one hit after another, but tragically broke up in 1982. Fortunately, two years after their separation a new European star appeared on the horizon to the delight of all. Not a music star, but one of the most famous freestyle events in Europe…the Kaunertal Opening. At the beginning (in 1985) the event was a small event for local snowboarders with an enormous 15-foot kicker. Not too many people showed up initially, but year after year the competition grew and advanced from a local “Yeah-I’m-so-drunk-I’m-burning-my-sofa-on-the-glacier”-event (which did happen) to one of Europe’s nominees for the “number one hit”-competitions.

photo: Christoph Schöch

But one thing about the Opening that hasn’t changed over the years is the concept: competition…party. Reporters who attended last year’s event might be tempted to copy and paste their coverage. The same judges, the same competition set-up, the same riders, nearly the same winners, bands who sounded the same as last year and of course, the same hangover.

The reason the Kaunertal Opening hasn’t changed much over the years is the same reason why ABBA never changed their music style…because the format works. This year’s event did see some additional features added though, including a huge bag jump. The bag jump attracted a huge crowd of riders, who then had to stand in line forever, especially after one guy managed to miss the bag, smashing on to the glacier ice from approximately 24 feet up and shocking everyone. But since the whole bag-jump team did a very professional job, the jump was actually a safe and fun way to spend the day.

photo: Carlo Zimmermann

While the amateurs where learning new tricks and waiting in line, the pros had a competition to win. The course was set up in two areas. The mini-park, and the kicker line. Since a massive crevasse gaped where the pipe once stood, the pipe competition unfortunately had to be removed from this year’s schedule.

photo: Carlo Zimmermann

The qualification started in the morning, which as one could imagine, turned out not to be everyone’s favorite time. For one, the hangover was still throbbing. For two, the Swiss equip managed to arrive too late, after being told the qualifications were at 1pm. Obviously the mistake was not on purpose, but it turned out to be a good tactic for eliminating the competition. The four best men and two best women from the qualification would advance to the finals. They then had two runs in the mini-park and two runs on the kicker line. The mini-park turned out to be what it promised…mini. So the wowing action was delayed to the kicker line. Nevertheless some nice front flips, fast plants, hand plants, pretzels, 270-ons and offs where shown.

photos: Carlo Zimmermann

The kicker-line was where the action happened. The riders decided not to go for a spin-to-win show but to let the best grab win. So they threw down switch 7's going for double tails, nosegrabs and other things that haven’t even been named yet. In the end the winners were chosen. ‘Best Line’ and ‘Best Trick’ went to Bene Mayr, ‘Rookie of the Day’ went to Joas Thadde, ‘Ruler of the Day’ went to Roy Kittler, ‘Rulerette of the day’ to Maxi Böhmel. And much deserved props are in order for all the other finalists who ripped a great show: Patrick Hollaus, Raphael Schweiger and Lena Stoffel.

photo: Carlo Zimmermann

After rocking the kicker it came time to rock the party, which the skiers had no problem with. Everyone in attendance had a blast rocking out to the bands and the movie premieres of Claim and Aestivation. And after the bar closed watchful reporter eyes observed several freeski-pros rocking back home until the sun rose. Several ski-reps couldn’t show up for the ski testing since the police were checking for drunk drivers and the crowd of white-faced figures the next day was a little bit scaring…definitely everyone had fun.

photo: Christoph Schöch

So after 23 years, the question of whether or not the Kaunertal Opening is as successful as the ABBA musical Mamma Mia! remains…but in the end, perhaps it’s better if everyone decides for themselves.