There’s no place like home, and the home of global freestyle riding is undoubtedly Laax. Last week the European park and pipe mecca played host to the 9th iteration of the world-famous Laax Open. This wasn’t an event, it was a straight-up spectacle. The calibre of riding was next-level, the vibes were immaculate and thankfully, the weather held- a perfect storm for the comp of the year.
Snowboard judging has seen its fair share of controversy in recent years, and an updated scoring format was debuted in Laax with riders anxious to see how this would affect the standings. FIS’ Roberto Moresi explains, “The level of riding is going so technical, so to bring back the vibe and to find more balance between what is technical and style and flow, we decided to change the judging system. In slopestyle, you have to bond many obstacles together. New is that it’s not judged feature by feature, but how you ride through the whole course. It is about the composition and how you feel the run and how you show it to the people.”
With zero wind, crisp blue skies and the sun pumping on Saturday for finals, Mother Nature is clearly a slopestyle fan. Women’s snowboarding is arguably the most exciting it’s ever been and the stacked rider list in Laax demonstrated just how many wildly talented ladies are vying for podium spots at the moment.
If you felt the earth shake mid-afternoon on Saturday, it can be chalked up to silver medalist Annika Morgan’s seismic level BS10. I cannot overstate how insanely big she went, touching down at the very bottom of the landing and sending the crowd into an absolute frenzy. USA’s Julia Marino married tech tricks with über-style to finish first, with Olympic Gold Medalist Anna Gasser rounding out the podium in third place.
Men’s slopestyle finals didn’t see a single top 10 finisher from 2023 starting, leaving room for a smörgåsbord of young and hungry riders looking to claim glory in Laax. It was a nail-biting final, going all the way to the very last run where young Canadian Liam Brearley stormed the course, edging out Ryoma Kitama to claim his first World Cup victory. Cam Spalding took third, edging out Francis Jobin and Kalle Jarvilehto.
Under the floodlights and the eyes of 15,000 spectators, the halfpipe riders were pulling no punches. The Aussies were on a blitz in men’s pipe with Scotty James claiming the top spot and teenage Valentino Guseli taking home silver and a world-first with his insane FS1620. Japan’s Ruka Hirano threw down a super tech performance and walked away with a well-earned bronze medal.
Japanese domination for the ladies in the pipe, with Mitsuki Ono and Ruki Tomita putting on a show and finishing first and third respectively, with the young USA prodigy Bea Kim storming into second. Current Olympic champion Chloe Kim made her return to the competitive field taking the semi’s top spot with an impressive 97.0. Unfortunately, she was unable to stick either of her runs under the lights, but still managed to snag a respectable fourth-place finish.
As 2023’s Open wrapped up it was hard to imagine the riders and event coordinators being able to put on a bigger show, but somehow they pulled it out of the bag, Laax Open 2024 was well and truly one for the books. The world’s top athletes descended on the world’s favourite freestyle resort and left nothing on the table, with a slew of never-before-seen tricks, mega style and camaraderie that proves snowboarding is still the best sport in the world.