Building Nine Knights
Building Nine Knights
Nine Knights, the iconic European freeskiing event, takes place this week in the Italian Alps. Here's a glimpse at the behind-the-scenes work that goes into building one of skiing's most spectacular features. In this photo, the excavator breaks on through to complete the arch.
Tools of the Trade
This is how to cut perfectly vertical walls out of snow: 1) Span a line to cut along. 2) Double check your measurements. 3) Get to work with a specially-designed "vert shovel" or a chainsaw. 4) If you're at Nine Knights, repeat for 10 days.
An international team of top terrain park shapers representing six different countries came together under the leadership of master parkbuilder Dirk Scheumann to complete the project. Slowly but surely, the castle nears completion.
Most snow features are built "up," but at Nine Knights the shape crew works down, chiseling away at a 100,000 cubic-meter mountain of snow that the ski area prepares months in advance with countless hours of snowmaking. In order to produce the amount of snow needed for this year's gargantuan feature, the snow of last year's castle was pushed together and covered with tarps throughout the summer, and now forms the base of the new feature.
Nine Knights is hosted by Mottolino Fun Mountain above the Italian town of Livigno in a remote valley close to the Swiss border. Like many Alpine villages, Livigno has escaped from economic hardships due to a booming tourism industry. This valley has the added benefit of being a special tax-free zone, making it a shopping destination as well.
The finished take-offs stand 33 feet high. Invited athletes for this week's contest, which ends on Saturday, include A-list pipe skiers like Kevin Rolland, David Wise, Joffrey Pollet-Villard and Matt Margetts, as well as freeski legend Tanner Hall, this year's X Games Aspen Big Air champion Henrik Harlaut, and a slew of other top skiers from near and far.
Each year the Nine Knights feature begins to take shape months before the event in the mind of the event organizer, German freeskiing legend Nico Zacek. "The feature is in my eyes the craziest structure ever built in snowsports history," says Zacek. "It's very versatile: a great jump in the middle with two takeoffs, an A-frame halfpipe in the middle that you have to see to understand, and a lot of other transitions and jib options."
The invited athletes got their first look at the finished castle and started delving into the myriad possibilities. "I've never seen anything like it," said Canadian halfpipe specialist Matt Margetts. "It's an absolute sculpture, a piece of art."
All kinds of tools are required to complete a project like this, from a variety of handheld shape tools to snowblowers, excavators, snowcats and pipe cutters. At night, the castle becomes even more surreal.
On the first day of Nine Knights, riders like Nicky Keefer wasted no time getting down to business on the various features of Il Castello. "It's going to be a really fun week of finding out what's possible on this thing," said Jakob Wester.