On the high pass to Akureyri, a crashed 18-wheel truck foreshadows the mayhem to come. Friday afternoon is full of promises and, after settling into the tiny apartment we’ve rented for the weekend, we’re off to inspect the downtown big jump.
After lending a helping hand for a while, my friend Bjarni and I decide to renew our acquaintance with the bottom of a beer bottle and take in the soothing, middle of the road tones of Cliff Clavin and their awesome drummer.
Up at the Hlíðarfjall ski area the next day, the chair lift rumour mill spills glorious gossip of Thursday night’s shenanigans at the Burn energy drink sponsored vodka event. Allegations abound of the Nikita top brass running amok in their underwear and upper tier teenage snowboard pros lying comatose on the floor after relieving themselves on the bar counter. But the top news is the epic encounter of last year’s X-Games big jump winner Halldór Helgason and diehard Bláfjöll local rider and makeshift mentor Daníel Magnússon over a never ending line of vodka filled shot glasses. To no one’s surprise Halldór emerged victorious, mostly, one can only assume, because of his daily drin… training regimen.
We bash our heads against the wall for not having been there a day earlier, although last night’s activities of people spitting beer in each other’s faces, a blond snowboard pro repeatedly grabbing the tits of the chair of the Icelandic Snowboard Association, and a dizzying proportion of those in attendance at Græni Hatturinn got forcibly ejected, were not too shabby either.
A SWELTERING DISAPPOINTMENT
It’s a whooping 17 degrees on the slopes on Saturday, and by noon most of what constitutes the core of Iceland’s snowboarding scene is laying tracks in the extremely sticky slush. Yet many are back in a downtown gully working in preparation for tonight’s big jump spectacle. An admirable work ethic given that the work is voluntary, and that most of them have been here all week despite the ski area being closed up until now due to the mischievous nature of Icelandic weather.
Under the welcome sunlight the rail park sees much sessioning, as the locals—knowing what fame and riches p-tex on metal has brought their small town heroes—aspire to ever more technical trick combinations. The headlining act on the slope is however a sizeable big jump with a punishing gap, which I am loathe to take my chances with, and which, by my opting out, leads to much jeering and ridicule later that night.
Feeling dejected I take some spiteful schadenfreude-filled comfort in the series of brutal slams performed off of the kicker by a pint-sized 16 year old school girl with cojones twice the size of mine. Any hopes of seeing some next level trickery laid down by the Akureyri professional threesome is quashed by what in one instance can only be a massive hangover, in another a broken clavicle and in the third perhaps a lack motivation to go riding without the other two.
AND THE SHIT GOES DOWN
It is a testament to the enduring force of the snowboarding community that although six winters of disappointing snowfall have passed since this event’s demise, the much awaited reincarnation of the competition sees many of the old guard down in the trenches making shit happen, along with a surprising glut of up-and-comers ready to both do battle and lend a hand to make this thing come into fruition.
The testing of the kicker side flamethrowers fires up excitement among the lurkers, and many, but mostly me, are shaking in their snowboard boots at the prospect of dropping down a twelve metre high, 60 degree incline covered with ice.
Before even getting to the top of the danger zone there is the nerve crippling ascent on the swaying platforms of construction cranes being operated by the riders themselves, and the precarious climb from the platform to the top container—as the cranes rise short by a full meter and there is nothing to hold onto.
Once topside the view ahead is magnificent, but looking down the in-run chute is terrifying. One should never pause to reflect on such undertakings as hurling down a monstrous maw of imminent wreckage. Just calmly strap in, watch one rider take the plunge and then, without a second of hesitation, fling your body to the whims of fate and fortune. And, in a minor feat of redeeming myself to myself, I proceed to do just that. In a split second of gut wrenching terror it is done, and relief washes over me.
Seeing Halldór launch into one of his trademark backflip cross rockets is amazing when one considers that a mere six years (and untold international success) ago this same skinny little kid had stood atop the same construct with terror in his 14 year old bones.
Much suicidal upside-down-ery takes place in the air above Akureyri central while daylight slowly dies and competition time draws ever nearer. But as style dominates among the seniors, reckless abandon within the younger ranks and technicality issues from the two pros present, the standout moment comes in a tweaked out daredevil display of defiance as Gulli Guðmundsson drops in switch and once again triggers the debate regarding what his natural stance is with a method so beautiful that Jamie Lynn would applaud it even if it were performed the natural way, and anyone who has ever gone off a jump facing the wrong way would profess the sheer implausibility of it having gone down.
As Árni Ingi Árnason rules the style department, Halldór is his right hand man. Many a double flip transpires as the competition, as per usual, descends into a bona fide huck-fest, where merely landing feet first gets you into the super finals. Some young guns cut notches in their pistol handles, while others go down in the flames of disappointment. In the end it comes down to single stomps by Halldór, Gulli and Danni. Gulli is the undisputed winner, while Danni snatches second place away from Halldór.
THE PERFECT STORM
Knackered, Bjarni and I retreat to our rented apartment across the road from the afterparty venue. And as high pitched cheering washes over us in waves of annoyance from the high street outside, issued by guests of the national high-school song contest that also took place in Akureyri tonight, we both drop into a light slumber.
Sunday turns out to be a wash out, as high winds reappear on the slopes. This later develops into a full-blown storm that follows us on the drive back south to Reykjavík. We power through the tempest in the nick of time, leaving later departing friends stranded for hours in podunk towns and desolate roadside rest stops.