Below freezing temperatures didn't keep folks from the ballpark Thursday night. In a way, the frigid weather was part of the draw. Instead of watching home runs sail through the night skies over Fenway, thousands watched snowboarders zip down a 140-foot ramp and take flight. A layperson like me might say they twisted and turned through the air, but 14-year-old Colin Allain set me straight on some of the more technical terms: front side 720, double cork 1260 and triple cork 1440.
Families and the millennial set made up the bulk of the crowd, but not all of it. Take 65-year-old Karen Cloutier, who came out with her husband.
"It’s phenomenal," she said. "I’ve been a dancer my whole life and to see these guys go off the ramp and do all the aerials and everything, it’s gonna be awesome."
Most of the people I spoke with were snowboarders or skiers themselves. Some even follow the professional snowboarding tour. But almost no one had been to a Big Air event in person before. For one fan named Reed, the venerable stadium definitely proved a draw.
"It’s Big Air at Fenway. I’m from Boston and you have to go to it cause I love skiing and I love snowboarding and Big Air is where it’s at. It’s just awesome," he said.
Befitting the location, the night got underway with the National Anthem and a ceremonial first pitch—of a snowball, of course—caught by none other than Wally the Green Monster. And then things got underway. All told, six men and six women each got three runs down the steep, man-made slope. There were some hard-hitting spills and plenty of impressive mid-air acrobatics landed cleanly, all to the delight of the crowd, including Ted Malagoti.
"I think this is absolutely insane, this is the first time I’ve ever been to an event like this," he told me. "Coming out of that tunnel and just seeing a giant landing in your face and then looking a little bit further and seeing guys up in the sky over there is just insane."
If the spectators here were experiencing something wholly new, so were the competitors.
"A big jump in a stadium. It’s definitely like the craziest, coolest venue I’ve been to a contest for sure," said 18-year-old pro Julia Merino, a Connecticut native. She said if it was a spectacle for the folks below, they should’ve seen the view from the top of the ramp.
"It’s insane," she said. "Like you can see like the whole city for miles. It’s windier but its cooler. You’re above all the building and its cool to just see the entire landscape of the city."
The crowd did thin steadily through the night, with a number of fans, like Paul Bradley, taking shelter in one of the handful of nearby taverns.
"The cold was driving us indoors," he explained. "But [it was] well worth the price of admission, even if we only stayed for the first round of competition."
But plenty were still on hand for a rousing rendition of "Sweet Caroline" before the final runs of the evening. And for those who did stay to the bitter end, like Rhode Island’s Brad Pinkover, it was worth every bone-chilling minute.
"It was great. Everybody was going all out at the end, so that’s all you can ask for," he said. "I mean that’s when everything gets sick you know what I mean?"
Of course, there’s a reason for that. These are professional athletes after all. With Big Air slated to make its Olympic debut in 2018, there is plenty on the line at competitions like this. Not to mention the winners—Max Parrot for the men and Merino for the women—each nabbed $75,000 in prize money for their victory. Not bad for one very frigid night’s work.