Nov 25, 2007 - 8:10 PM
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At the top of a 10-story slope starting high and deep centerfield of the San Francisco Giants’ home stadium, Chas Guldemond snowboards down a 200-ton, snow-filled ramp and into the dip, disappearing from view at the base below. Two seemingly long seconds later and in perfect timing, Guldemond, known to “up the ante,” shoots out on his board from a ramp, twirls in the air and busts a smooth and full 1080 (three rotations) with a super-clean landing.
Hundreds of feet below him, thousands of people clustered at the landing base throw their arms in the air and yell out a few curse words and woots as he plays this card. It’s hot as hell in November, especially with the sun bouncing off the snow, reflecting a bright light back to the surrounding crowd.
On Nov. 3-4, Icer Air 2007 delivered a mighty big air snowboard and ski competition at AT&T Park, featuring snow bound pro athletes with notches such as the X Games, US Open, Vans Cup and Olympics. Icer Air is the largest arena big air competition and it’s settling in for the second time at AT&T Park. Their first big air comp in 2005 took place on the steepest streets in San Francisco and drew over 15,000 people to its daring, artificial snowed-in hills. This year, the Nevada-based snowboard wax company added three additional ramps for pro and amateur BMX and skate competitions and a motocross exhibition to round off their extreme sports showcase to over 30,000 people. The two-day event also featured live performances, including Talib Kweli and Mos Def who stole the audience through a few familiar beats at the event’s closing.
Big air competition can be about calculated risks or all-or-nothing gambles pulled from a bag ‘o tricks that leave the crowd in disbelief. But landing the trick with style and perfection is what gives the gamble-prone competitive athlete a shot at the $15,000 prize. It takes uncanny instinct and skill to nab the top spot in this aerial comp.
Guldemond scores 99.9 for that trick—gutsy, and virtually unbeatable, for a first run in the qualifying heat. But there’s stiff competition for Guldemond, who advances to the finals with pros Andreas Wiig, Ian Thorley, Wyatt Caldwell, Tim Humphreys, Jeremy Thompson, and last year’s Icer Air winner, Travis Rice.
These particular sports gods seem laid back, generally unpretentious, and hang as if they are all on the same team. After a run, they strip off their boards or skis, goggles, hats and jackets, chill at the rail near the landing and talk about tricks while the next competitor climbs 211 stairs to reach the top of the slope. One skier can’t find his poles and another announces a torn boot. There is media hovering nearby and they are fed accordingly. “What did you tell them,” asks one of the boarders as Rice goes to hang at the rail. Rice grins mischievously and responds: “I just talk about chicks. [Whatever’s] cheesy.”
It’s time for the qualifying ski runs. “Oooooh,” says the crowd as Mike Riddle drops in switch (ski backwards), executes an ill trick in the air but fails to land. “Awwwww.” Sammy Carlson lands a switch 9 (two and a half rotations). Jon Olsson skis down wearing a black collared shirt with pinstripes underneath his jersey and lands a proper switch 1080. But TJ Schiller tops Olsson’s wager and lands a switch 1080 with a double grab. He strips some of his gear at the base and walks over to Olsson with a smirk: “I wasn’t going to do it until I saw you do it.”
It’ll be a few hours until big air finals and a BMX competition is brewing at the Village. It’s a parking lot-turned-festival outside the ballpark: bodies, lines for alcohol, and booths marketing everything from headphones to energy drinks. Sixteen-year-old AJ sitting right outside the gates of the Village says he’s leaving for home. “I just came to see the snowboarding and try and get free stuff.”
At the far edge, there is a BMX park that resonates fierce competition. The music pounds and drives adrenaline. These bikers are relentless, aggressive. They’ve been repeatedly told to stop and clear for the next round but they keep at it with tricks, sometimes with two riders going in different directions. These bikers have scrapes on their arms and hands. They’ve got doorknobs for elbows and perhaps that feature comes from crashing into pavement a hundred times.
These BMX athletes kick up the competition by doing bike flips off ramps, and it drives the crowd into hysterical, back-to-back bursts. Several thumps are heard from the biker bodies that drop onto the wooden floor after a failed trick. Biker Nick Valencia takes his bike to the wall, falls over 8 feet and jacks up his knee on the way down.
It’s dusk by the time finals start and people fill into the mid-level seats. Skiers Sean Field, Mike Riddle, Tanner Rainville, Sammy Carlson, TJ Schiller, Jon Olsson and Simon Dumont make their way up the stairs. Carlson takes third place with this sick trick: he comes down switch, busts a 1080 and then lands in switch. Simon Dumont takes a huge risk on the last run with a 1260 (three and a half rotations). He doesn’t land it but nabs second place with a corked (off-axis) 1080 from his second run. Jon Olsson clean-sweeps first place with his signature Kangaroo Flip (skis forward, double flip, lands switch) in the first and near perfect third run.
The gold winner for big air snowboard is none other than Travis Rice, who insures his winnings with a sa-weet double rodeo (black flip) 1080 and a simple but stylish backside (in goofy stance: counter clockwise spin) 180 with a double grab. Tim Humphries takes second place dropping a Cab 9 (starts switch, two and a half rotations). Chas Guldemond, nominated ‘Rookie of the Year’ by Transworld Snowboarding in 2006, Slopestyle silver winner at 2006 US Open, and Slopestyle bronze winner in 2007 Honda Session, moves up two notches from last year’s Icer Air comps to take third place with a 1080.
Guldemond may not be as experienced with professional comps as the others, but he’s definitely raising brows with 10’s and 12’s wherever he goes. He’s the hungry new comer with a bag full of ballsy tricks that yields a return on odds.
Icer Air was an enormous two-day winter tease and their pre-season strategy works: Remember this thrill and count the days until ski season in December.
Jaime Roca is a wanderlust who loves to chop it up with harmless, personable strangers. When she is not working or navigating through the seeming throes of The Fool, you'll find her checking out of the country. She thinks her lost puppy-dog, BamBam, still kicks it in the City. Her favorite SF grid: Second Streets and surrounding.
Gretchen Robinette is a freelance photographer who shoots 300-500 photos a day. Double Espressos and Red Bull are her fuel. Photography is her life until the day she dies, and in her grave will be her body and her Canon.