words by Daniel Eros

photos by Sarah Richards and Daniel Eros (http://www.studiopropaganda.com)

The French resort of Tignes kicks off 2008 in style with the first major comp of the year.

For everyone in North America scratching their heads, some background:  Tignes is one of those monster resorts (think insane terrain, 98 lifts, and a train inside the mountain up to the glacier) scattered around the Alps.  The resort is famous for its freeride vibe, and has been laying out the Tignes Airwaves for the past 4 years in an attempt to create a Euro version of the X-Games.  With a budget of $1.8 million, $230k in prize money, and past winners like Tanner Rainville and Charles Gagnier, it’s not off to a bad start. The freestyle events for 2008 are a hip session on Day 1, pipe on Day 2, and later in the week a backcountry freestyle invitational created by Laurent Favre.

Kalle Leinonen

Day 1:

Last year’s event was downsized due to lack of snow, so it’s only fitting that this edition kicks off with a snowstorm.  Despite the zero visibility, the organizers don’t seem too concerned and after a short delay riders are dropping in and going huge even with the hard landings and sticky in-run.

Laurent Favre

Props to French riders Kevin Rolland for going huge all day and Laurent Favre putting his bindings through a workout with his infamous nose-kang grabs.

Tucker Perkins

The surprise winner was 17-year old East Coast warrior (and Nike athlete) Tucker Perkins, who styled out an alley-oop flat spin 7 to grab the $10k first prize.  Finnish rider Kalle Leinonen took second with a flat spin 3, and Canadian Mike Riddle went cork 7 mute for third.

Day 2:

The snowstorm clears, and it’s a bluebird day with perfect powder.  The monster pipe is one of the biggest ever built this side of the pond, but the crowds for the daytime qualification sessions are sparse as most of the resort heads out in search of fresh.

Charles Gagnier

Kevin Rolland

Mike Riddle

With one wall in the shade and one in the sun, the riders stepped their game up to deal with an unforgiving pipe.  With the exception of an unlucky JF Houle mangling his hand on two consecutive runs, most saved their amplitude for the evening finals but set the stage with styled out big slow spins and a few Cork 9’s and 10’s. As the cold set in, the lights went on, the crowds came back, and the network TV cameras started rolling.  Despite hitting the coping on his first run, Mike Riddle came back strong and took the night.  The winning run:  540 truck driver, 540 mute, cork 1080, and switch 720.  The podium is rounded out by French rider Kevin Rolland in second, Kalle Leinonen in third, and a stripper.  Vive la France.

After Mother Nature screwed with the event last year, the Airwaves are back with two solid first days and some excellent riding.  A day off for recon before Laurent Favre’s backcountry powder event on Thursday should give the riders a chance to check the place out, but it looks like most are already planning to be back again next year.  As Tucker Perkins put it, “Sick comp, sick place.  I’m definitely back next year.”