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Best of the Rest: Snowboarding's forgotten standouts
Liu Jaiyu (CHN) © Laemmerhirt/LAAX OPEN

With the time we’ve got in the off-season here and a deep desire for shred-related distractions by us and snowboarders around the world, we’re going to look back at some of the “Best of the Rest” performances from the 2019/20 season and beyond to celebrate some impressive “non-winners” that we feel deserve a little extra hype.

Obviously, the winner of a FIS Snowboard World Cup competition gets a lot of love - the biggest paycheck, the most points, the most coverage, the most attention and a heightened expectation of what the rider will be capable of in their competitions down the road.

However, another thing the top rider of any particular day has to deal with is the most scrutiny of anyone else on the scene - especially when it comes to Park & Pipe competitions where everyone watching has their favourite riders and their favourite tricks and their own idea of what combination of tricks, style, amplitude, landings and intangibles really deserve the most accolades in any given competition.

While our World Cup judges are the best of the best and continued refinements to our judging system has made World Cup events the most consistent and fairly-judged snowboard competitions in the world, that doesn’t mean that all the fans will agree on the outcome of any particular event, or that one rider’s incredible performance wasn’t pushed aside simply because an even more insane showing by another rider overshadowed them.

Of course, within our speed events the metric that determines the winner is much simpler - you get across the line first, you win. But even in competitions where we’ve got such a clear-cut definition of “winner” you’ll find that there are standout performances in every race that go unnoticed or uncelebrated simply because they didn’t result in the rider taking the W.

The caliber of riding we’re seeing on the World Cup is at a truly mind-blowing level from week to week at this point, and runs that just barely squeak a rider into finals today would have been winners at many contests even just a couple of years ago, so let's celebrate that progression by looking back at some incredible runs that still, somehow just weren't quite good enough for victory.

We’ll be updating this article every time we post a new clip to our social media channels, so stay make sure to follow and stay tuned to those channels and enjoy the show as we revisit some of the most impressive non-winners of the past couple of seasons.

First up, is Sweden's Sven Thorgren...

Sven Thorgren (SWE) takes second place at the Air + Style Beijing big air World Cup 

The 2019/20 Air + Style Beijing big air World Cup was one that everybody had highlighted on their calendar as soon as last season's schedule was announced. Set to take place on the world's first permanent big air-specific jump structure (a structure also set to be the venue for competition at the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games), the Beijing competition was also an Air + Style event, and therefor part of one of the longest-running and most prestigious series in snowboard competition history.

Of course, all of the above becomes doesn't matter much if you don't have the best riders in the world given the opportunity to perform at the top of their game, and there in Beijing we had all of that and more. While Max Parrott would take the win with a showing that included a frontside triple cork 1620 - a trick that no other rider in the world is doing - Sweden's Sven Thorgren and his second-place performance was one that many were still talking about for days afterwards.

Thorgren's first-hit flat-spinning backside 1620 stalefish was a thing of beauty that words can't quite do justice, so maybe we'll just include this photo to give you another reference for just how much style was oozing off what was the highest-scoring trick of run 1:

Drool.

With a 93.25 on his first hit, Thorgren followed his flat 16 up with a fronstside triple 1440 that was smoother than greased teflon, throwing a little extra sauce on his tweak in the middle of the second cork and floating the final, blind rotation through to a fully bolted landing as if he was simply stepping off of a bus (or out of his Audi).

While Parrot's second hit front triple 16 from a few riders earlier would keep Thorgren out of top spot by just one point, this mindblowingly smooth and mouthwateringly stylish second place performance from the 25-year-old Swede was one we've always had in the back of our minds as needing a little more recognition than it got the first time around. Today we're happy to do just that. 

Japan’s Kokomo Murase and Ryoma Kimata earn first World Cup podiums in Atlanta

Next up is a 2-for-1, as today we look back at the Atlanta big air World Cup where Japanese young guns Kokomo Murase and Ryoma Kimata walked into the biggest big air stage of the 2019/20 season, and walked out with their first World Cup podiums. With heavy finals starting lists on both the men’s and women’s sides and the imposing backdrop of SunTrust Park - home of Major League Baseball’s Atlanta Braves - the two young Japanese riders were able to put down hugely impressive performances.

Kokomo Murase announced herself to the snowboard world back in 2018, where she dropped the first-ever backside double cork 1260 done by a female rider to take gold at that year’s X Games Norway, while - at just 13 years old - becoming the youngest-ever women’s winter X Games gold medallist in the process.

Finally old enough to be eligible for World Cup action at the start of the 2019/20 season, it was perhaps then no surprise that it only took Murase two competitions to score her first World Cup podium. Dropping a frontside double cork 900 and a backside double 1080 and finishing second only behind her Japanese teammate Reira Iwabuchi, Murase made it clear in Atlanta that the powerhouse Japanese team is only getting stronger.

A fact which then had an exclamation point stamped on it in the men’s competition by the then 17-year-old Ryoma Kimata with his first World Cup podium-scoring performance. Also in his first World Cup season and competing in just his fourth competition, Kimata showed no signs of nervousness in the stacked men’s final, dropping frontside triple cork 1440s both regular and switch to finish the night in third place behind heavyweights Chris Corning (USA) and Nic Laframboise (CAN).

Taylor Gold makes it back-to-back podiums with Mammoth second place result

Only two riders not named either Scotty James, Yuto Totsuka, or Ruka Hirano made it on to a World Cup halfpipe podium in 2019/20, and only one of those riders was able to do it twice. That rider's name? Taylor Gold.

Gold's first podium of the season came at the legendary Laax Open in early January, and that run (which included a never-been-done-in-competition double Michalchuk 1080 that has been dubbed the "Chuck Taylor") marked the culmination of a four-year battle to return to form after Gold suffered a string of injuries that began with a devastating shattered kneecap back in January of 2016. 

Boasting some of the smoothest style and biggest amplitude of any rider in the world, in 2019/20 Gold proved that he also had the tricks to stand with the biggest names in halfpipe riding, as he followed up his Laax third-place finish by going one better two weeks later at Mammoth Mountain, finishing runner-up to Totsuka on home soil.

While he didn't bust out the Chuck Taylor there in Mammoth, Gold's silky-smooth first run had all the elements that the real heads love, with boosting airs, a diverse range of tricks (including a massive, classic air to fakie), and stomped landings, giving the 26-year-old his second straight World Cup podium and his first on home soil since just before the knee injury that nearly derailed his career back in 2016.

Daniela Ulbling and Sabine Schoeffman all Austrian small final matchup in Blue Mountain

The first day of racing at the final PGS World Cup event of the 2019/20 season was full of remarkable highlights. In the women’s competition we saw Germany’s Ramona Theresa Hofmeister stormed to her seventh victory of the season to seal the deal and clinch the PGS crystal globe with one more race still left in the campaign. 

Then on the men’s side of things, Austria's Benjamin Karl and Italy’s Mirko Felicetti delivered one of the most incredible PGS big final matchups on ever seen on the World Cup, matching each other turn-for-turn through the entire length of the course before crossing the line with the exact same time. And, even once the photo finish images were reviewed, it was clear that the competition would see not just one winner, but two. See HERE for yourself. 

Which then brings us to this epic women's small final matchup between Daniella Ulbling and Sabine Schoeffman, two Austrian teammates who both put down near-flawless in the battle for third place at Blue Mountain, with Ulbing emerging victorious by just .05s. Not only a prime showcase of what head-to-head and toe-to-toe racing means, but also a well-deserved World Cup podium for Ulbling, the women’s small final in day one of last season’s Blue Mountain competition definitely deserves to be on our “Best of the Rest” roll-call. We’re already looking for more battles like this one next season! 

Vaultier (FRA) notches 22nd win with final straight heroics in Feldberg

With 22 career World Cup victories, France's Pierre Vaultier has seven more wins than the next rider on the all-time list and sits fully 13 ahead of the next active rider on the FIS Snowboard World Cup, Alessandro Haemmerle (AUT), as well as two Olympic gold medals, world championships gold, and a record six crystal globes. Which is to say that the legendary Frenchman knows what it takes to win perhaps more than anybody in the history of snowboard cross, as we're about to see in this clip from that 22nd win, in Feldberg back in 2017/18...

Out of the gate things are looking good for Vaultier, as he takes a small lead over Germany's own Paul Berg, with both athletes clean through each feature of the start section on their way into the first corner. There, however, regular-footer Berg has the inside line, and slices through it on his heelside edge to jump ahead of goofy-footed Vaultier and into the lead.

Remember that detail about the regular Berg and goofy Vaultier though, because it gets important later.

Vaultier falls back into the pack to battle with Berg's German teammate Martin Noerl and Italy's Michele Godino, keeping things safe and tidy through the middle section of the course while pulling the other two riders along with himself as he works to reel Berg back into striking distance. As all of this is happening the four riders bunch up just in time to hit the final corner, which is once again a left turn that has Berg on the inside line arcing heelside and Vaultier on the outside carving on his toes.

And here is the moment when the genius of Pierre Vaultier once again reveals itself, as while he is pushed further to the outside by Berg skidding his turn, Vaultier uses that momentum to load up his board and then propel himself forward off his edge and over the step-down jump out of the turn, launching ahead of Berg and into a lead he would not relinquish through the Feldberg course's final roller section.

While the other riders stretched vainly for the finish line it would be Vaultier crossing in first to follow up his PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games triumph from the week prior with another World Cup win in typically dominant fashion.

Unfortunately, this is also the last victory we've seen from Vaultier, as an injury suffered at the Utah 2019 world championships ended his 2018/19 season earlier and kept him out of all races in 2019/20. Here's to hoping Pierre Vaultier's health and the state of the world are back to normal as soon as possible so we can see some more of this in the winter of 2020/21.

Katie Ormerod (GBR) cruises to second place in Seiser Alm (ITA)

2019/20 was a comeback season that dreams are made of for Great Britain's Katie Ormerod, as the recently-turned 23-year-old returned to competition after nearly two years away from the sport and immediately made a huge impact. Scoring five podiums on the season and winning the slopestyle World Cup crystal globe - the first snowboard crystal globe ever for a British athlete - Ormerod was a force to be reckoned with from start to finish of the season.

While Ormerod's first podium of 2019/20 came at the weather-shortened Cardrona (NZL) big air World Cup at the Winter Games NZ, it was in the season's four slopestyle World Cup competitions that she really made her presence felt.

Ormerod came out of the gate hard by earning a third-place finish on the ultra-challenging course set-up at the Laax Open - her first top-level slopestyle competition in almost two and a half years. However, it was one week later in Seiser Alm (ITA) that she put down arguably her best performance of the season. 

Flowing stylishly through the rails, throwing a little sad air tweak on the grab of her backside 720, and stomping her run-ending double backflip with authority, you could tell that Ormerod was dialed in, confident, and fully ready to occupy her place as one of the best in the world once again - and the second-place honours she earned on the day are testament to that fact. 

Finishing off the season with back-to-back third place results in Mammoth Mountain (USA) and Calgary (CAN), Ormerod would finish the season with her history-making slopestyle globe, as well as a silver medal for finishing second on the Park & Pipe overall leaderboard for 2019/20. Not a bad reward for two long years of rehab, trials and tribulations...

 
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