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LAAX OPEN 2023: “first times” making history

By: Lisa Misconel

It’s more than an event, it’s an icon. 300 of the world’s best snowboard and freeski athletes…and the weather. The story of an edition full of first times that, while challenging athletes and staff, made history.

If there’s a place and date that the snowboarding world waits for every year, it’s without a doubt the LAAX OPEN. The ultimate event that brings together around 300 of the world’s best riders at Europe’s snowboarding Mecca. Starting with 2023, the freeski circuit has also become part of this event; a natural transition, as Donald Nader event director remarks: riders and freeskiers have always shared the Noname park here in Laax, and the resort has been involved in hosting the European Freeski Open for many years in the past. The slopestyle freeski finals will be held on Sunday, while snowboarding will be on Saturday.

One race in particular thrills and fascinates young and older ones, enthusiasts and non-skiers alike: the Half Pipe Finals at Crap Sogn Gion. The Big Beast sets the stage with its 200m length and 6.90m height, the largest and most famous half pipe in the world. The night atmosphere creates an extraterrestrial scenery that is spiced up by the athletes’ show, in short… everyone is waiting for Saturday night!

There is a crazy atmosphere at the bottom station: riders from all over the world are roaming around the venues and hotels as well as enthusiasts and professionals, all with an unmistakable style and an enthusiasm that turns into smiles, laughter and pleasant moments of sharing. The much-loved side events are back after the forced stop of the pandemic, and thus in the relaxed atmosphere of the Rockresort between a concert and a few beers at the Indy, fans and spectators enjoy days of competitions and fun-filled nights.

Saturday: big day has come!

The slopestyle and half pipe finals, the athletes, the organization and then… the weather. In the morning, temperatures are definitely severe and visibility is almost none; all topped off with white snowflakes. It would seem like what everyone is waiting for in this warm winter, but not in Laax. Visibility is essential amongst the conditions needed to hold competitions, and after a few false alarms there is no doubt: the slopestyle finals cannot take place, they will be postponed until the following day. It’s sad but necessary for the success of the competition and for the safety of the riders, yet the half pipe is still a few hours away and hopes are high.

Crap Sogn Gion is bursting with skiers and riders from all over Europe; there is music, celebration and lots of excitement that keeps the mood high and enthusiasm burning, despite the bad weather.
4:30 p.m., Training begins. A mini rider with a sign in his hand yells and shouts the name of his idol, Scotty James, who approaches him and after some chatting and a hug gets his picture taken with him: that day, as little James writes on Instagram, is the best day of his life.

The riders drop! Jump, fog, jump, wind, pipe setup, jump, fog and so on…. Visibility seems a distant dream on this night where the only stars that can be seen are those flashing on the snowboards. The finals are postponed twice but the audience does not give up and so do the athletes, it is 7 p.m. and no one has moved…not even the fog. The finals are cancelled, the results of the semifinals will be kept, but a bigger show that will write a little piece of history of the sport is about to begin.

The athletes for the first time, after expressing their opposition to the running of the competition, are about to unleash all their energy to give the audience a night they will not forget. The speaker sings and warms the spirits, announcing the start of the show where all the athletes will have fun in honor of their fans. One after the other they drop into nonstop jumps and tricks, greeting the fans as they climb back up the snowmobile.

Music and snow accompany this incredible show that ends with a moment that no one will forget and that went viral on social media: Valentino Guseli (Australian talent and the only rider to qualify for the finals of both disciplines) followed by Kaishu Hirano drop into the ‘biggest jump you’ve ever seen!’ and so it was.

It was an evening of first times not only for the development of the competition, but also for some athletes. In fact, for Japan’s Ono Mitsuki and Ruka Hirano, standing on the top step of the podium is a new milestone. Scotty James (AUS) and Yuto Totsuka (JPN) finished second and third, while Wu Shaotong (CHN) and Maddie Mastro (USA) completed the women’s podium.
Champagne Showers say goodnight to the spectators who, skis and snowboards on their feet can descend as per tradition down the illuminated slope in the direction of Rocks Resort that’s awaiting with a big party.

HERE is a little recap of FIS Snowboard Half Pipe Finals’ best moments

Time for Slopestyle!

Sunday over Laax rooftops starts with a whole different flavor: the sun is shining and warming up the white landscape that can be seen from Crap Sogn Gion, and finally the slope finals for snowboarding and freeskiing can be held.The fog and the wind gave way to the athletes who, one after another competed on rails and jumps amidst the cheers of the spectators.
After many years in Laax, another first time: Marcus Kleveland dominated the race taking home a result missing in his career as well as New Zealand’s Zoi Sadowski Synnott for the women’s category.

HERE is a little recap of FIS Snowboard Slopestyle Finals’ best moments.

The day continues with the super new event, the slopestyle freeski final. There is buzz from the valley up to 2252 Noname Park since a local skier, and not a random one, is about to set off on his run.
It is Andri Ragettli, a 24-year-old from the area who, accompanied by the energy of home and the cheers of his fans and friends, finishes in first place ahead of Olympic champions Alex Hall (USA) and Birk Ruud (NOR) and declares,

“This is the first time freeskiing is part of LAAX OPEN and to win here is just great! I had to adjust my race because of the weather, but that is what distinguishes a good skier, and I am very happy with the result.”

Best of FIS freeski slopestyle finals

A LAAX OPEN filled with “first times”, compromises and hard decisions. Of enthusiasm, resilience, and passion that will remain in the hearts of those who were there and in the eyes of anyone who followed it from afar. A place that is a symbol and that every year creates an opportunity for exchange and sharing that flows into an incomparable show.

See you next year in #laaxbaby!