Japan on top as Iwabuchi and Otsuka take Modena Skipass big air World Cup wins
Modena Skipass big air ladies' winner Reira Iwabuchi © FIS Snowboard/Kielpinski

Modena (ITA) - The first northern hemisphere competition of the 2018/19 FIS Snowboard season took to the skies above Italy on Saturday, as the inaugural Modena Skipass big air World Cup saw Japan’s Reira Iwabuchi and Takeru Otsuka claim impressive wins in front of a massive crowd at the Skipass festival’s 25th anniversary bash.

Despite Friday’s programme being washed out by heavy rain and warm temperatures, the riders showed up ready to put on a show on Saturday, with Miyabi Onitsuka (JPN) and Chris Corning (USA) topping the respective ladies’ and men’s fields in qualifying and setting the stage for what would turn out to be a heavy night-time final on the biggest competition jump ramp ever constructed in Italy.

The odds-on favourite heading into the Modena ladies’ event was Austria’s Anna Gasser, as the PyeongChang 2018 big air gold medallist came into competition looking to make it three-in-a-row on Italian soil. However, after qualifying in second behind Onitsuka it became clear early on that she would have her work cut out for her up against the strong Japanese team. 

Come time for finals, though, it would be Onitsuka’s teammate Iwabuchi stepping up when it counted most, putting down a clean frontside 720 mute on her first jump before blowing the roof off with a silky-smooth backside double corked 1080 mute in her final hit of the competition. Iwabuchi would earn a two-jump score of 166.50 to take her second victory in as many World Cup competitions so far in 2018/19.

“It was a super fun day,” said the 16-year-old, who now has wins in three of the four big air World Cups in her career, “I hurt my hip a little bit crashing on my second run, but no worries. I’m really happy with the win.”

Despite not being able to stomp her own attempt at the double corked 1080, Onitsuka was able to claim second place with a score of 165.00, highlighted by a cab 900 stalefish on her first hit of the evening. Iwabuchi and Onitsuka’s 1-2 finish matched their result from the season-opening Cardrona (NZL) big air World Cup. 

Gasser was forced to settle for third on the day with a score of 159.50, nailing her signature cab double underflip 900 on her first hit but unable catch her Japanese competitors with final two attempts.

“I’m pretty happy with third place,” said Gasser, “It was pretty bumpy on the in-run tonight and I wasn’t super comfortable, so I didn’t want to risk too much. But the season is long and I’m already excited to send it more in the next one.”

Otsuka wins round two in ongoing battle with Corning

Over in the men’s competition Takeru Otsuka continued a storming start to the 2018/19 season that already includes junior world championships gold in big air and slopestyle, and a second-place finish at the Cardrona big air World Cup competition in September. 

Sitting in third after his first-run cab triple cork 1440, Otsuka stepped it up a notch with his second hit, stomping a massive frontside 1440 that was essentially flawless, earning himself a two-jump score of 186.75 that would put him into a strong lead.

However, before Otsuka was able to enjoy his win, the man everyone was watching would be Corning, as the top qualifier would have the stage to himself with the last hit of the competition, where he would attempt to stomp the quad corked 1800 that had helped him earn a victory at the season’s first competition in Cardrona.

Few, if any, have attempted a quad corked rotation on a scaffold jump set-up, as the man-made structures are typically limited in size compared to what can be constructed on piste. While Corning wouldn’t stomp his attempt on Saturday, he came close enough to prove that it is indeed possible, and could be something we see as soon as this season. 

With Corning’s impressive, but unsuccessful attempt finishing off the competition, Otsuka would be credited with his first career World Cup victory in his third World Cup competition. 

“Today was amazing,” said the 17-year-old from the finish area, “Super fun competition and I’m really happy to have this win.”

“I think Takeru and I are going to battle it out all season,” said a smiling Corning, “It’s going to be fun season for both of us. He rode really good today and I couldn’t put it all together so he won fair and square, but I’ll be coming for him next time.”

Next for the FIS Snowboard World Cup is the Beijing Air + Style big air competition, coming up on November 24, 2018.