Sochi Winter Olympics: Checking Out The Slopestyle Training Session

One of the New Zealand riders

You know a day is going to be good when it starts off with clear skies. As the bus drove up the mountain this morning to the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, the sun was beginning to rise over the valley, turning the sky from pink to blue. Everyone seemed excited because today was the first official training for the snowboard slopestyle, which is making its debut at the Winter Olympics this year.

Lookin' sweet up top in Rosa Khutor

Lookin’ sweet up top in Rosa Khutor

I arrived on site early before the other photographers had arrived. It was quiet, just the sound of the snow cannons topping up the slopestyle course. By 9am, the riders were beginning to trickle down the slopes. First the British team, followed by the Americans, Canadians, Norwegians, Swedes, all hooning down the 30ft drop at breakneck speeds. I saw every snowboarder I’ve been writing about for the past three months ride by. Torstein Horgmo, Shaun White, Torah Bright, Stale Sandbech, the whole British team and so many more. It was unbelievable, like a snowboarding celebrity parade.

Sage Kotsenburg being interviewed by NBC

Sage Kotsenburg being interviewed by NBC

chas and shaun

Left: Chas Guldemond. Right: Shaun White hiding from the paps behind his USA bandana

Torstein Horgmo pre-breakage!

Torstein Horgmo pre-breakage!

Brit rider Jamie Nicholls with his Nike LED boots

Brit rider Jamie Nicholls with his Nike LED boots

After standing there gawping like a starstruck teenager for about ten minutes, it was time to get to work. The best shots are taken from the sides of the slopestyle course. Getting up there, however, is no mean feat. There’s no steps or chair lift, just an icy pathway to climb.

By now the sun had spilt over the mountain peaks and it was starting to get hot. Like t-shirt hot. There were dozens of photographers and camera crews, laden with tripods and heavy bags, clambering up the slope beside me. Slipping back to the bottom was a very definite possibility. By the time I reached the top, I was so sweaty I just want to strip off and stand in my pants, but decided maybe that wasn’t a good idea. Particularly as 95% of photographers seem to be men.

People often say that can’t really believe what’s happening in front of them. It sounds cheesy, but there’s no other way to describe seeing the world’s best snowboarders (obviously a sport that’s very close to my heart) hucking insane tricks off the biggest kicker I’ve ever seen just metres from my face. It’s an amazing sight. I was so distracted by the action, I nearly didn’t notice my water bottle rolling down towards the Olympic course, right into the riders path. I managed to grab it just in time.

Torah Bright going for a mute grab

Torah Bright going for mute grab

Later on I accidentally met Tim Warwood, the BBC commentator for the snowboarding and freestyle skiing, while papping away. He was chatting to James Woods, the UK’s top male skier. They were quickly joined by Anna Willcox-Silverberg, his New Zealand skier girlfriend, and Katie Summerhayes, the UK female skier. They were checking out the snowboarders before their training session on the same course that afternoon.

Tim Warwood pushing Ed Leigh down the edge of the slope

Tim Warwood pushing Ed Leigh down the edge of the slope by his feet!

I heard a few riders talking about how crazy steep the landing was. Some felt the landings were too steep, others weren’t so sure about the state of the transitions. I saw some crazy wipeouts – one epic bail from Spencer O’Brien and plenty of flailing arms. Later on, I heard a rumour that someone had been taken down the slopes on a rescue sled. It turns out that was Torstein Horgmo, one of the main contenders for gold, who had broken his collarbone while tackling the rails up top. So it’s understandable that riders were taking it easy and holding off throwing down triple corks just yet.

Jamie Nicholls

Billy Morgan representing the UK

New Zealander taking a tumble

New Zealander taking a tumble

Screen Shot 2014-02-03 at 23.27.01

Watching it all unfold

I’ve never photographed slopestyle before, but it was a great learning experience. Firstly, it’s hard to get a good angle because the kickers are so huge. I started off standing beneath them to get the shot, but this caused a major problem – you can’t see when the rider is approaching the jump. So it’s a bit of a guessing game, camera poised and focused, waiting in case someone pops over the knuckle of the jump.

Screen Shot 2014-02-03 at 23.19.07

Waiting for these guys to pop over the top. Great Russian Doll feature they’ve got there

Then there’s the sun to contend with because the photo positions are situated directly opposite the sun. However, as the sun moved further over the course, I could position myself further up above the jump and get some nice ski close-ups like these below.

Screen Shot 2014-02-03 at 23.22.14Screen Shot 2014-02-03 at 23.21.59 Screen Shot 2014-02-03 at 23.22.29

I finished the day heading back down the mountain to grab some food at 4pm before making my way back up for the moguls at 6pm (I’d only had a chance to eat a banana for lunch!). On the way down, I met a cool TV reporter from New Zealand who told me about his catastrophic first day on the mountain – from losing his crew to running out of phone battery and having to get the bus back to Adler. In all, it was just the coolest day. From start to finish, it was twelve-hours long but honestly, it could have been longer and I wouldn’t have noticed.

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47 thoughts on “Sochi Winter Olympics: Checking Out The Slopestyle Training Session

  1. Great photos. It’s cool seeing the calm before the slopestyle storm (not that things were really that calm with all the buzz over the course and athletes). Thanks for sharing your perspective!

  2. These are awesome photos!. Looking through it i thought i was there watching these dare devils do their thing..saying WOW and eking for NZ!. love!!. Thanks Nina

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