The first major snowboard contest of the 2010/2011 season -- the Air & Style Beijing, presented by Oakley and Shaun White -- is taking place Saturday in China. It's the first six-star TTR event of the season, which means that not only will sixteen riders be competing for a 100,000 dollar prize purse, and the glory that comes from an Air & Style win, they'll also be competing for 1,000 TTR World Ranking points.
What does this mean, exactly? Well, if you follow the TTR tour, it means that whoever wins this contest will be closer to knocking current TTR point leader Gjermund Braaten out of the number one spot -- unless, of course, Braaten wins. But that will do nothing to hurt the standing of fellow Air & Style competitor Seb Toutant, who's currently ranked number one in the FIS Big Air standings -- you know, the other global ranking system for snowboard competition. And, no matter what happens, it won't affect the rankings for the Dew Tour Dew Cup or the Burton Global Open series because those series haven't yet started.
Confusing? Yep, and that confusion is something we'll wade into throughout the coming competition season. For now, let's just focus on the Air & Style (which, by the way, has it's own series with an expected three events this year). These events date back to 1994 and some of the sport's next level tricks have been unveiled at them. Think Travis Rice and David Benedek unleashing their doubles in 2006. The world's greatest riders have competed in an Air & Style at some point, so just getting invited is a great honor. Titles and rankings aside, an Air & Style win means something because it's an Air & Style win.
We're on the ground in Beijing right now to cover the contest, and will be posting updates here and on the @Espn_Snow Twitter feed. We're 13 hours ahead of East Coast time here, so forgive the blog delays and midnight Tweets. The contest will take place Saturday night Beijing time, and the middle of the night Friday/Saturday your time. If you're up after being out at the bars on the West Coast, you can watch the live webcast of the event at 3:30 PST on the Air & Style website. Otherwise, we'll have results posted by the time you wake up, with a full story, photos and videos shortly thereafter.
In traditional Air & Style style, the big air scaffolding jump has been built in the middle of the Olympic Sport Center, next to a full concert stage where one of China's leading rock stars will be performing for a (rumor has it) sold out crowd. Whether the Chinese -- who, as a nation, have only a brief history with snowboarding -- are coming for the musician or the snowboarding is up for debate. The expectation is, no matter why they show up, they'll be pretty stoked on snowboarding when they leave.
The jump is massive, and on Thursday the winds were so high that practice was cancelled at the request of the riders -- or, all the riders save one. Scotty Lago showed up to the venue in full shred gear, two tuned snowboards in hand, and guinea pigged the jump solo, while the rest of the 15 confirmed riders, three alternates on standby, and four Chinese riders who will be jumping in an exhibition before the contest, all watched and cheered from the stands.
Shaun White (who is on hand to promote the event, not compete in it) has been on a whirlwind press tour, stacking up so many back-to-back interviews with the Chinese media in an effort to spread the word of Oakley and Air & Style, it is debatable whether or not he's even slept.
And finally, the rider draw took place Thursday night, determining who will be facing who in Saturday's head-to-head, winner-advances, jump off. The matchups are as follows:
Halldor Helgason vs. Peetu Piiroinen
Seppa Smits vs. Gjermund Braaten
Kazu Kokubo vs. Elias Elhardt
Scotty Lago vs. Andreas Wiig
Ståle Sandbech vs. Werner Stock
Seb Toutant vs. Markus Malin
Eric Willet vs. Janne Korpi
Mikkel Bang vs. Marko Grilc