More than 14,000 snowboarding fans turned out for the LG FIS Snowboard World Cup Big Air competition on the Denver Big Air ramp in Civic Center Park, according to the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Association's estimate, about 4,000 more than for the previous night's ski competition. Take that, skiing!
Alas, the night did not go well for competitors from Colorado or for the Americans in general. The Fédération Internationale de Ski Snowboard World Cup events are traditionally the domain of Euro riders (particularly in a week when most of the sport's top riders are already in Aspen for Winter X Games 15) and the ten American riders who did show up got their asses handed to them.
The night's spoils went to Rocco "The Rocket" van Straten, a Dutch snowboarder and wakeboarder who is now in 2nd place overall as the World Cup Big Air series heads to Quebec next month for its final stop of the season. Cab 900? Check. Backside double cork 1080? Check. The crowd, plenty liquored up after five hours of competition and a set by Denver rockers One Republic, went wild on that last one.
Canadian Zach Stone took 2nd with a big backside 1080 spin, and Austrian rider Michael Macho took 3rd. Yes, that's his real name: Wisecracking announcer Brad Jay called him out as "the guy with the manliest name in snowboarding," but when push came to shove Macho turned out to be... well... European. Or, at least, downright un-American: After leading in the first two rounds of finals with his backside double cork 1080, Macho made a calculated and decidedly un-macho move, hucking a nice safe backside 720. Sure, not falling on his face helped put him on the podium and moved him into 5th place overall in the World Cup rankings but... seriously? Sorry bub: When your name is Macho, American fans want to see you put it all on the line.
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That's the American way, after all, "Go big or go down down in a blaze of glory," and last night it worked out about as well for the American riders as such a strategy tends to do about half the time for Americans the world over: Of the ten American riders competing, only two made the top-12 cut for finals. Easton Gilman (from Chicago City, MN) finished 7th, and Ian Thorley (from Marquette, MI) finished 11th. Perhaps those crafty, strategizing Europeans are on to something after all?
The massive Denver Big Air ramp was already in the process of being disassembled shortly after the event concluded last night, and it will be missed among the nearby construction cranes and scaffolding that had been its neighbors for the last week. All told, the Nature Valley Big Air Challenge and LG FIS Snowboard World Cup were a success and a ridiculous amount of good fun for what they were. And, with that, you may now turn your attention to Aspen, where Buttermilk is hosting Winter X Games 15, starting today.
For the the sake of comparison, the X Games' Snowboard Big Air finals -- free to spectators willing to drive to Buttermilk and pony up for lodging, sleep in their cars, or hook up with some locals -- are on Friday at 8 p.m. (Check out the full competition schedule on the ESPN site).