The Progression of The Session
Forget the money, the dirt bikes, the photo-ops for Transworld Snowboarding and the groupies.
The Session is above all that.
At its core, this weekend’s Mens and Women’s Slopestyle and Rail Jam competitions in Vail represent snowboarding at its purest – no set starting order, no predetermined line – just a session in the park where street credibility goes to the rider who can pull out the sickest run.
“It’s just like what you would see at a skateboard park,” said Ryan Neptune of Planet Snow Design, one of the designers of The Session slopestyle and rails course. “Guys will just be snaking each other, getting in and out, finding different lines and using their styles differently, instead of everyone hitting the same rail, the same way. It’s just a complete jam format.”
Unlike other big money pro events, where riders are started in a set order and get two runs to tally the best score, The Session allows riders to go as many times as possible in the allotted amount of time.
The 30 male competitors will have 90 minutes on both courses, while the 20 women riders will get a 45-minute session on the rails and an hour and 15 minutes on the slopestyle course. The men’s rails begins Friday at 5:30 p.m., with the slopestyle slated for Saturday at 7 p.m. and the women will do double duty on Saturday with slopestyle at noon and the rail jam at 5:45.
“I love coming here because there’s always something that’s creative,” said Shaun White, Burton’s 16-year-old wonderboy of the pro circuit who won at last year’s Session rail contest. “You never get just the same old course. I just love coming to Vail.”
Under a session format, riders have the incentive to put all their chips in each time they drop in on course, instead of playing it safe after a solid run or pulling stock tricks.
The money goes to the contestants with the best single runs, fostering an unfiltered “go for broke” mentality which sometimes becomes muddled in other more regimented events.
The six-judge panel also features three pro riders, another aspect that should push riders to go big and bold.
As long as there is time on the clock, there’s still time to one-up somebody or impress one of the judges, something that Neptune believes makes The Session a pure snowriding contest.
“There’s a lot of riders who are looking for money, but the really, really good riders are more or less just looking for the fun of it, the sport of beating someone else on a rail and not looking at it from a money standpoint. ” said Neptune. “Last year, it was first place on each three rails, whereas this year [in the rail jam], it’s just going to just be $10,000, $10,000, $10,000 for the top three dudes.”
There is also a Honda dirt bike in the Men’s Rail Jam competition for the competitor who throws the best trick.
The Men’s Slopestyle competition offers up the biggest cheddar of the weekend, with $20,000 going to first place, $15,000 for second and $10,000 for third.
The top three women’s competitors will pick up $5,000, 3,000 and $2000 in the rail contest, and $10,000, $7,000 and $5,000 in the slopestyle event.
“The cool thing about this event, with the session concept, you can get four to seven runs,” said Greg Johnson, competition director of the event and one of the judges. “That’s the cool part because you can up the ante on other riders. If someone throws down a sick run, then you can add a 900 or something to your run to beat it. That is the element.”
To build a tongue-swallowing roller coaster, you’ve got to have someone who loves riding upside down at 70 mph.
The same goes for building a snowboard park – you’ve got to have someone who likes to ride rails and hurl themselves off of 50-foot booters.
Enter Neptune, 29, and his partner Pat Malendoski, 36, the Wachowski brothers of park construction, who run Planet Snow Design out of Oregon.
Neptune has been riding professionally for 11 years and knows what riders want, because he loves riding just as much as they do.
“We definitely are riders ourselves, so we know what’s up,” said Neptune. “We also call a lot of the good riders who are going to be here and ask them what they are looking for. For the most part, though, this is our complete invention that we’ve come up with on our own.”
To their credit, the two have put together some of the most renowned parks and pipes in the world, most notably for events such as the U.S. Open, and the 2002 Winter Olympics.
This year’s session course is just another one of their masterpieces, with a rail park which rides like a skatepark and a slopestyle course that looks like an Evil Kneivel stunt on snow.
Seen up close, The Session course is to snowboard competitions what the Galapagos Islands were to Darwin’s Theory of Evolution – proof that evolution exists.
“The whole venue has been tightened up, so instead of having two rails and one rail kind of separated, all the rails are put into a jammed little area, so the riders can feed off of each other a little more,” said Neptune, who dreamed up the idea of putting together a skatepark on snow, where riders can drop in and ride the rails either up or down. “We have a 50-foot quarterpipe – two 20-foot sections with a 10-foot gap that is eight feet tall approximately. Then we have a 50-foot rail that is 20-feet down, 10 flat, 20 down or vice versa. We have another rail that is 40-feet; 30 up, 10 flat or 10 flat, 30 down. There is also a staircase rail that is 46 feet.”
The slopestyle course also features rails as well as some fun box jumps at the top leading up to a frightening succession of four table top jumps at the bottom, towering masses of shaped snow.
The whole event is free to watch as well – so even if you can’t come ride the rollercoaster, at least you should come and watch.