EDMONTON — The crowd was by no means large, but Nicolas Laframboise put on a show.
The Canadian rider won his heat and qualified directly for Saturday's final of the FIS Snowboard Big Air World Cup event. LaFramboise scored an 85 with his first jump of the Friday qualifying session, the highest score of his heat.
"I was super stoked to go straight to finals and put my runs down," said Laframboise. "I just stuck to the plan I had in mind, and I'm super happy it worked out."
Laframboise nailed a front triple 1440 and then a back triple 1440, and never gave up the top spot on the leaderboard.
A 15-storey ramp, held up by scaffolding, was erected inside of Commonwealth Stadium for the event.
Laframboise said he was nervous going into the Friday qualifying sessions because Thursday's practice on the new ramp had gone so poorly for many riders, including himself.
The reason? The ramp was slow, and it was hard to get the airtime required to complete their tricks.
"I was hesitating because practice wasn't super good for everybody," said Laframboise. "I was thinking that maybe I should step it down a bit and play it safe, but I stuck to the plan, and I'm glad I did."
Three-time Olympic medallist Mark McMorris, celebrating his 29th birthday, finished third in his heat and will also go to the final.
"I wouldn't say it's the future of the sport, but it is the future of getting more eyes on it, to come watch this," McMorris said of building a snowboard jump inside a stadium. "People can get inspired."
Canadian teammate Finn Finestone squeezed into Saturday's semifinals with an eighth-place finish in his heat. Riders who finish in positions 4-9 in the men's heats each have one last chance to survive in a "semifinal" that's really more of a wild-card round. He will be joined by fellow Canadians Jacob Legault and Cameron Spalding.
Eli Bouchard, the 14-year-old Canadian phenom who received a special exemption to compete in this World Cup as an underage snowboarder, fell on both of his first two jumps, and was eliminated.
With concerns about the slow track, there were discussions to potentially scrap the women's qualifying session. However, it went ahead 20 minutes behind schedule and with the number of qualifying runs cut from three to two.
Eight of the 21 riders, including Canada's Emeraude Maheux, did not start.
Two Canadians qualified for Saturday's final — Laurie Blouin and Jasmine Baird.
But Japanese rider Reira Iwabuchi was in a different class. Iwabuchi, who won the season-opening Big Air event in Switzerland, finished atop qualifying, and was the only rider to break the 80-point barrier with a jump. She goes into Saturday as the rider to beat.
The morning session began with the world's best snowboard jumpers performing in front of around 100 school kids at Commonwealth Stadium. No tickets were available for sale for Friday qualifying; attendance was limited to school field trips.
Riders had to climb up 221 steps to the top of Commonwealth Stadium, and then the run to the bottom.
Saturday is expected to be a much bigger spectacle, and to pay off a gamble to build a man-made slope in the Prairies, in Canada's largest stadium.
Organizers said the ticket count is around 11,000 for Saturday's men's and women's finals. A search of the Ticketmaster showed most of the available lower bowl's tickets have been sold. Having a snowboard ramp built right into the stands means that many of the 56,400 seats at the stadium can't be used.
"We'll be doing this for many, many years. It will not be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We will make sure we will keep doing this and partnering for years to come," said Dustin Heise, CEO of Canada Snowboard.
"We want to make a tangible difference … This incredible structure we've been able to build is so we can share the common voice in how we can make a difference in young people's lives, that they can have something to aspire to."
Takeru Otsuka, the Japanese rider who won the season-opening World Cup Big Air event in Switzerland, finished fifth in the first heat of the day, and will need a second chance to qualify in tomorrow’s semifinals.
Joining him in that wild-card semifinal is teammate Ruki Tobita, who finished second in the season opener in Switzerland.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 9, 2022.
Steven Sandor, The Canadian Press