Slush World Quarterpipe Championships

  |   Norm Schoff
Valentino Guseli | Photo: Mary Walsh

This seems like a fitting end. Really, it’s the only thing that makes sense. No matter how much I try and distance myself, try to go back to my true love of steel, I find myself writing about transition. There was the halfpipe at Dew Tour, The Round Up at Woodward, and now this. Now, the World Quarterpipe Championships at Mammoth. It’s fitting that this would be the culmination, one final wall to put the others to shame. There was no back and forth, no to and fro between frontside and backside. There was simply…wall. A vertical face standing high above the snow like some titillating mountain waiting for a first ascent. It stood there, practically taunting us, its voice blowing over the crowd with the wind. 

Climb me, it said. 

The riders came and responded with a single word. 


Morris Gifford climbing the mountain | Photo: Mary Walsh

Transition surpassed the literal. It was more than just a flat surface gradually rising to a vertical one. Transition here was all-encompassing, seasonal. Early May. Winter turning to spring. The clouds parted and the air was warm and fresh. The snow softened and all reservations fell away. Winter turning to spring. There were no more clips to film, nothing left to save. The season was ending and if any rider had anything left—any part of them that they hadn’t fully given away on whatever project they were involved in—it was time to use it.

The prelude to the quarterpipe was a hill, obviously. An insidiously long and meticulously salted runway that served as a catalyst. Whether that was for success or failure depended on the rider.

It took around thirty seconds to travel from the drop-in to the quarterpipe. All there was to do was think. Riding down the hill, the quarterpipe getting closer and closer, taller and taller. You thought about slowing down. You thought about speed-checking, it was all you could think about. Some people broke. Some checked and scrubbed and by the time they reached the quarterpipe, flying was just some long-forgotten dream. 

But then there were the heroes. These were people who pushed past the fear, who used it. There were no speed checks with these people. They rode down the mountain like soldiers riding into battle. They were stoic, brave.  

A catalyst | Photo: Andrew Miller

The World Quarterpipe Championship is unique in its, well, uniqueness. Halfpipes on their own are a rare breed. But quarterpipes are nearly impossible to find. 

“There’s no home court advantage,” Willis Kimble said to me as we sat watching the riders. “Nobody rides it until the day of.” 

And so it was a process. The riders didn’t jump straight in like they would’ve if it was some down rail or hip. They toyed with the quarterpipe at first, studying it like a hunter studying prey. They took things slow at the start. After a few drops, things began to pick up. Riders were finding their lines. 

Zoi Sadowski-Synnott planting up in the clouds | Photo: Mary Walsh

Qualifiers may not be the right word. Think of it more as character development. Seeds were being planted and lore was being developed. We saw the early stages of the Valentino vs. Raibu rivalry. We saw crowd favorites start to emerge. People were picking who they wanted. And of course, the crowd kept growing. How could they not? The spring sun shined bright over the mountain. DJ Matty Mo wasn’t there to supply the vibe, but rather amplify it. He read the room, somehow always queuing the perfect song to fit each rider. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the draw of the quarterpipe itself. What was once an innocuous pile of snow stood tall as a sculpted behemoth. It was impossible to miss and it called out to spectators the way no other snowboard feature could. There’s a mystique around the quarterpipe, especially one that towers twenty-eight feet above the ground. A layperson might look at it and say to themselveswell, I just have to see what this is all about. 

Goop 66 up on the extension | Photo: Mary Walsh

Character arcs continued to progress. Hands were being planted, tricks were being thrown. Goop came up to a small group I was sitting with and explained how Ted offered him a twelve-rack of beer if he aired above fifteen feet. I didn’t want to tell him Valentino already went that high switch. 

Here lies the joy of it all. The World Quarterpipe Championship is only as competitive as you make it. You can make side bets for beer or spend the whole time doing handplants or shoot yourself into the stratosphere. 

“It’s all about who wants it the most,” Willis said. 

He was right. For those brave souls who want to find the moon, go for it. For everyone else, find your niche. Find what you need to do. For Judd Henkes that was an air to fakie, for Summer Fenton, a back five. There were no rules. Well, no tailblocks. 

Judd putting the air in air to fakie | Photo: Mary Walsh

Finals were not some display of exclusivity like it is in so many other events. It was simpler than that. Riders didn’t find out if they were in. They only found out if they weren’t. Pat Bridges walked around, tapping people out of finals in a nostalgic little nod to the way things used to be. 

The qualifying round ended, and more salt was being thrown before finals. The crowd was talking about who did this and who did that. 

No question Brook D’Hondt went the biggest. She was going nuts.

Did you see little Terje boosting?

Wait wait wait, but what about Teddy Rauh though?

I looked through the notes I had taken. In all caps, I had written FUCKING KEEGAN. Besides that, it just looked like somebody had replaced the pellets from a shotgun shell with the words huge and massive before blasting it across my page. I hadn’t realized the level of greatness until that moment. The words revealed a story that I was trying to process in real-time. The adjectives were present and unavoidable, like bugs on a hot summer night. 

Pat came up to me, credit card in hand. 

“Do me a favor,” he said. “Can you get me eight grilled cheeses from The Mill?”

I told him I could do that. I was about to turn away but he kept talking. 

“And unfortunately, I have to let you know, you’re tapped for finals,” he said, a smile breaking across his face. 

I laughed. 

Yeah, I thought. That tracks. 

Fucking Keegan | Photo: Mary Walsh

Walking back from The Mill I heard Stan’s steady announcer cadence coming through the mic. Finals were starting. Stan was trying to get the crowd ready. He said Valentino was dropping. I couldn’t see the run-in. From where I was standing, all that existed was the quarterpipe itself. And then Valentino was there, flying high above the deck. I thought back to what Willis had said to me earlier. It’s all about who wants it the most. Valentino put down his first backside air, there was an energy, a real, tangible energy that radiated off him. 

This kid wants it, I thought. 

So, Raibu responded. He came out of the gate with a backside rodeo over Shuhei who slashed under him. 

A backside rodeo on transition, I have to add, is perhaps the classiest trick a person can do aside from a method. There is something about that trick. Maybe it’s physics but going up and flipping the way you do, it’s a beautiful rotation. Thankfully, there were plenty of backside rodeos to go around. 

If backside rodeos are the classiest trick, mctwists are the bravest. There is something about that rotation, the blindness of it. Mctwists, to me, scream death and those who can do them are in a special category. Ellie Weiler not only put down a series of mctwists high out above the coping, she even tossed in a Japan for good measure.

Ellie Weiler with a Japan for good measure | Photo: Andrew Miller

There was a natural process of weeding out. For the women, it came down to a two-person battle between Brooke D’Hondt and Ellie Weiler. Amplitude versus technicality. Brooke was going bigger than any of the other women in the field. However, Ellie’s variety of tricks was not something to be ignored. Besides the aforementioned mctwist, she also put down a few textbook handplants and backside airs. In the end, that did it for her. Ellie Weiler walked away with the top spot, cementing her place as World Quarterpipe Champion. A storybook end to a dominant contest year. 

Brooke D'Hondt boosting | Photo: Andrew Miller

For the men, it was a clear fight between Valentino and Raibu. About three-quarters of the way through finals, Raibu set a new high air for the day. The crowd screamed. Someone yelled out, now it’s a contest. They were right. It seemed as though Raibu was trying to call Valentino’s bluff. Or perhaps a more apt analogy is Jenga. Valentino and Raibu were playing Jenga, taking blocks from the bottom and moving them a little higher each time. And with each inch the game moves up into the sky, the nerves increase. Everyone was thinking it, how would Val respond? 

[Pause for dramatic effect] 

Double crippler. 

For the uninitiated, a double crippler is not a quarterpipe trick. It is a halfpipe trick, made less scary by the downward momentum you carry. On a quarterpipe, that trick is terrifying. 

This kid wants it. 

That’s how it went. Tit for tat. Air for air. Trick for trick. Valentino and Raibu were in a war together, soldiers alone on a battlefield. 

The weeding continued. The field of competitors drifted slowly to the sidelines. There was a clear consensus among almost everyone. Valentino and Raibu were in a field of their own. Might as well hang back and watch. No need to huck in vain. 

If you can backside rodeo like this, you're never hucking in vain. Jack McDougal | Photo: Andrew Miller

So began the super final. One hit before it was all over. They were hiking up. We sat patiently, looking at them. They hiked and hiked and when they hit the spot where everyone else had been dropping in from all day, they kept hiking. That was the unspoken rule of super finals. If you’re going to do it, better go to the fucking moon. 

The crowd had moved in. We were all packed close together, as close to the quarterpipe as we could get. Anxiety was in the air. Pat looked around for a second. 

“We need a different song,” he said and ran over to Matty Mo. 

Ace of Spades began to play as Raibu dropped. We were silent as he bee-lined down the mountain. I admired him for that. There must have been some sort of disconnect in his brain, something that eliminated all fear. Or maybe the prospect of glory was too high. Maybe he had no choice. 

He followed the one rule of super finals. He went to the fucking moon. 

Cheers from the crowd. Raibu through his hands up, clearly in awe of…everything. Of the day, of his ability to transcend what was possible on a snowboard, and of his final hit. Unfortunately for him though, it wasn’t the final hit of the day. 

To the moon Raibu. To the moon | Photo: Andrew Miller

Valentino dropped and held the same formation Raibu did. Straight line. No turns. Again, we were quiet. The world went still for a moment, everyone too afraid to move or speak or breathe. This was history. Valentino had just set a world record for highest air on a hip and now he was tucking into another piece of transition. Again, like Raibu, the prospect of glory seemed enticing for him. 

And it was glory. When the dust settled it was Valentino who took it home. It was Valentino who walked away World Quarterpipe Champion.  

Valentino wanted it | Photo: Andrew Miller

Looking at it all again, looking back at Ellie and Valentino, seeing how they both rode, it just makes sense. Truly, it was a fitting end.  

Thank you to Mammoth Mountain, Skullcandy, Ikon Pass, Sunbum, and Nixon for making this event possible.