10 Hours at Nine Knights
The Nine Knights Freeskiing Super Session just wrapped up in Livigno, Italy. We go behind the scenes to show what goes on during the entire day. Here, German pro freeskier and Nine Knights organizer Nico Zacek catches a ride on the back of a snowcat as pro mountain biker Andi Wittmann watches on. Since most of the skiing at Nine Knights takes place in the afternoon and evening to catch the best light for filming, most of the athletes are just waking up now. But Nico has been up since 7 a.m., first checking out the work of event film editors from yesterday, and now participating in a photo shoot with Wittmann.
Max Kaiser, of German snowpark design company Schneestern, begins cutting the halfpipe in the middle of the Nine Knights feature in preparation for the afternoon's ski session. Cutting any halfpipe requires experience, precision and patience, but the job at Nine Knights is made even more difficult by the presence of a 24-foot-high kicker placed squarely in the middle of the pipe, which gives skiers the chance to transfer to landings to both the right and the left.
Nico Zacek slides across the ax-shaped Nine Knights box feature and Andi Wittmann airs his bike next to him as photographer Klaus Polzer captures the action. The three are shooting photos to advertise the Nine Knights mountain bike event in Livigno this summer. After a few tries to get the timing right, Klaus nails the shot, and Nico can take off for his next task of the day: television interviews back at the hotel.
Professional park shaper Marc Brunner of Austria repairs the landing of a halfpipe redirect feature at the bottom of the Nine Knights castle, erasing the ski tracks from yesterday's session and preparing a smooth surface for the skiers to land on today. Only a few snowpark jobs require crampons and climbing equipment -- Nine Knights is one of them.
After completing his morning photo shoot, Nico Zacek is back at the Nine Knights hotel in Livigno, interviewing Swiss freeskiing star Elias Ambhl for a German television station. In addition to organizing most aspects of Nine Knights behind the scenes, Zacek is also the event's media frontman, and he's no stranger to being in front of the camera for numerous European media on scene.
There's no break in sight for Nico Zacek, who, after fulfilling his morning duties of video reviews, photo shoots and TV interviews, now squeezes in a quick hour's worth of office work before heading back up the mountain to oversee the afternoon helicopter shoot at the Nine Knights feature. For Zacek, Nine Knights involves a constant back-and-forth between computer time and skiing time.
Nico Zacek gives instructions for the day's afternoon video shoot during a riders meeting at an on-slope restaurant at Mottolino ski resort. Because the castle feature is so large and helicopter hours so expensive, extensive pre-planning is required to maximize efficiency during the shoot.
French skier Laurent "Lolo" Favre is well-known for his creative approach to features and tricks alike. Here, Favre grabs blunt while launching off the central kicker of the Nine Knights feature into an opposing wall. This maneuver is also known as a "redirect" because the skier lands on a transition facing in a different direction than his take-off. "It's massive, but it's not that scary because as soon as you jump, you're just looking straight to the wall," said Favre.
American skier Nicky Keefer, who was voted both Ruler of the Week and Best Style at last year's Nine Knights event, tosses a D-spin 720 blunt grab while warming up for the helicopter shoot later in the evening. "Along with the new level of the feature, there's a new level of difficulty and standard of tricks," said Keefer. "Maybe I can hang on to Best Style this year, but Ruler of the Week is probably out of my reach."
"Three, two, one, go!" Nico Zacek calls out. At the top of the in-run, Zacek is the communication link between the riders and the helicopter swooping above the jump. Helicopter footage can capture some of the most spectacular perspectives from a jump session, but it requires intensive planning and timing to catch the moment just right.
Oscar Wester, Kai Mahler, David Wise and Jesper Tjder hit the central jump feature in rapid-fire fashion, with the riders alternating their jumps to the left and right landings. A shot like this is what the Nine Knights event is all about, but the riders have to be perfectly coordinated beforehand to make it work.
Swedish skier Oscar Wester, who won this year's Nine Knights Big Air contest with a flawless triple cork 1620 safety grab and switch misty 1440 tail grab, launches a casual double cork 1080 safety grab during the helicopter shoot.
As the day's action draws to an end, Italian skier Rafael Cusini slides one of the Nine Knights castle's rail features as a mustached filmer watches on.