From the outside, I think that most people saw The Nines last year in the same light as years past. A futuristic design, an all-star cast and an insane level of riding. Switzerland has had some of the easiest Covid policies and Crans Montana is one of the few resorts fully invested in freestyle, so bringing the event here seemed like an obvious choice.
But behind the scenes it was pure chaos. The crew worked tirelessly to find a resort partner and CM only stepped up at the last minute. It went so well that the Nines crew are already back in town. We checked in with Marcel Brunisholz to find out more about his experience building the most insane snowpark that Switzerland has ever seen.
Can you introduce yourself for anyone that doesn’t know you?
My name is Marcel, I’m 32 years old and I come from Lenk. For the last twelve years I have built snow parks in summer and in winter. I learned the trade in Laax before accepting a year-round position as the park manager in Zermatt. After many years in Zermatt, I took over the summer park in Saas Fee and the Gran Masta Park in Adelboden – Lenk.
In 2019 I was also involved in a public snowpark project for the Olympic Games in China, where I met Romain Espejo and Yann Bouduban. After that first year in China, we quickly realized that we complemented each other quite well. After a few beers, the idea of founding the company Helvepark came up. After the project was approved, everything went very quickly, from shootings, to events, to that special day when the request from The Nines came.
What was your opinion of The Nines in the past, before you got involved?
The Nines has always been the event where park shaping is perfected and boundaries are broken. I find the concept behind it very exciting because the focus is on the setup. Personally, I think it’s a shame that it was always very athletic and riders like Phil Casabon or Isaac Simhon weren’t that involved and also that there’s been a lot of focus on big kickers, QPs and hips, because I’m convinced that there’s a lot of room for creativity and new things that no one has tried to build before.
For sure! So what was your reaction when they hit you up to help with the build this year?
At first I just plain laughed at Romain. I didn’t believe a word he said, “There’s a chance we’re gonna do The Nines”. When I then realized that he was serious, I burst out laughing again, but this time it was more like, “HOLY SHIT, LET’S GO!”.
I guess the whole thing came together super fast. How was that experience for you? Stressful, or just another day at the office?
Haha yes, it was definitely crazy. We had almost three weeks. Usually the event is planned over a whole year or even more. It was anything but normal, but looking back I have to say that the planning phase was the best part of the project. It was just awesome to work with a project manager like Nico Zacek. Just the challenge of getting something so big up and running in just three weeks was super motivating for me. Those who know me know that I like to take on these sorts of challenges… even if means a few sleepless nights. When I’m motivated, it can quickly escalate to make the impossible possible.
Did Covid and all of the regulations present any particular challenges for you?
Yes, Corona certainly caused some challenges. Romain was particularly affected here, with the entire organization with the cable cars, hotels, test centers and so on. It was a disaster.
On the technical side it was still bearable. We just had to do a test every other day. It got difficult when one of our main shapers was suddenly positive and we had to go without him for ten days.
Otherwise, it was annoying for me personally that the athletes and shapers had their own bubbles. That meant that we weren’t allowed to talk to the riders or even meet with them at lunch or during the set-up. That was pretty annoying for me because it’s actually still the same community and everyone just wants to have a good time. That was strange for me, but the bottom line was OK, because we were lucky that the event took place at all.
Were you guys involved with the final design, or were you following strict plans from The Nines designer?
We were very involved in the design process. I can’t remember how many hours it took but for the three weeks before we started shoveling snow, I had two to six hour design sessions with Nico Zacek each day. The sessions were super nice! Nico and I can be very emotional and creative people, so there were moments where we almost freaked out with joy because we had another idea that eclipsed everything else. Of course, we got lost on crazy tangents sometimes and then met again somewhere in another galaxy to be a little bit more realistic.
The challenges were quite clear: to get everything done in time, to find the right location, to adapt everything to the terrain and to take the amount of snow into account. In a second phase, Dirk from Schneestern came along to place the setup correctly and to use the terrain as well as possible, but also to give his input regarding dimensions.
At the very end, The Nines designer added his touch with the cut-outs so that the setup had that unique Nines look.
How did the build compare to some of the other big projects that you’ve worked on over the years?
The biggest difference to other projects was certainly the collaboration with Schneestern. The on-site build split was about 50/50. The shapers from both crews were all mixed up and scheduled in whatever way made the most sense. In the beginning everyone was a bit skeptical, but it quickly turned out that it didn’t matter who was there, since we all had the same goal in mind and were all very motivated.
What was the biggest challenge for you guys?
The snow and the time! It was the first time for everyone involved that such a construction was created with 100 percent natural snow. That’s why everything went longer, from the base prep, to the cutting, to the shape. Natural snow is much less compact, and it was practically impossible for us to create a realistic schedule because neither crew had ever built a park like this using only natural snow. The difference in realizing a project of this size using only natural snow was huge.
So it was actually already clear after the first day that we would have to work more or less day and night to finish the construction. It wasn’t exactly the best start…
Most days we got up at 6am and went to bed at midnight, although this wasn’t the case for everyone. Me and three guys from Helvepark made our base camp right next to the setup, so there were days when we kept working until about 2 a.m. You have to be a bit crazy to take part in a project like this. But that was exactly why everything worked so well. The vibes and mindset were on point most of the time!
In the end, what was the feature that you were the most proud of?
The snow globe was definitely my highlight. It was just a pity that a cold front passed on the first day and the conditions were brutal as a result. It was freezing cold and the landing became pure ice. Not exactly the best conditions to try a new trick on a new element. But I’m convinced that if the snow had remained slushy, we would have seen tricks on this element like never before. The element had so much potential and I think it needs to be built again one day. It was simply too hard for the athletes to try anything on. Of course some guys did crazy tricks on it, but I think that the sphere was a work of art in its own right that wasn’t fully exploited.
Were there any features that you weren’t quite happy with?
As some may know, I love playing with rails and trying new creative things. And so I wanted to give The Nines my signature. Unfortunately, the rail section was the most affected by the perpetual changes in plans. My original plan was to build a giant knuckle with two Kimbo rails (an up rail for butter tricks or hand drags) alongside a monster shooter rail, like the ones Jesper built in his Unrailistic Park. I was convinced that the riders would push each other pretty hard on the two rails and that it would attract a great deal of media interest. My goal was to make the event more attractive for the core scene and to attract jibbers and street kids in particular. Unfortunately, this plan didn’t quite work out. But I’m not giving up just yet and will try to catch up on this in the next edition, and as Henrik so nicely put it, bring in a little more “Marcel flavor” to the event.
Did you get any other interesting feedback from the riders during the event?
Yes, feedback is very important to me. Among other things, I received feedback that I expected, be it regarding the rails or the snow conditions. On the other hand, it was rather unexpected when the riders arrived on the first day. They were all so hyped it was crazy. I think if you spend day and night with the setup like I do, three weeks of design and planning, two weeks of base prep and two weeks of shaping, then you are so close to the setup emotionally that it is difficult to realize what was actually built there. So the first day and the first feedback was very impressive and kind of like a payday for us. People freaked out!
I bet they did! So what was the craziest shit that you saw go down?
The Wallride-to-Whackflip on the ball by Kim Gubser Airlines. He asked me on the lift: “Hey, do you think that’s possible?”. How do you answer this question when you know that everything is rock hard? But yes, anyone who knows Kim knows that he sent the first try trick massively. I was just going crazy on the table!
But the train (rapidfire) was also a goosebumps moment for me. It was the moment when the whole crew and everyone involved realized that every second was worth it. The whole mountain had a kind of slow motion feeling and you could feel all the pressure off your shoulders. Simply indescribable!
Overall, which skier impressed you the most?
That’s pretty easy to answer: Kim Gubser of course! He was just on a different level during The Nines!
Did you test the course yourself?
Yes, sure, but only to a limited extent, because it was really extremely icy. I’m more of a slush rider.
In addition, every obstacle was just oversized and you have to be sure of what you are doing. A single mistake and you fall 14 meters onto an ice surface. I was happy to be a shaper and not an athlete.
Which crew would win in a game of SLVSH, Helvepark or Schneestern?
Good question! I think the result would be SLVS to SLVSH. Since the employees at Helvepark have to test all elements during working hours every day, we would already be ahead of the game here. So if Schneestern is ready for a team battle, get in touch!
Let’s do some call outs – who was the hardest worker and who was the biggest slacker?
Hard to say. I think I was pretty much at the limit of what was possible in terms of the number of hours. But when it comes to the hardest worker, I think Leo from Helvepark / GMP is definitely up there as he also spent the whole time on the mountain and was part of the parting team.
But I think there was one person who eclipsed everyone, maybe not in terms of hours per day but in terms of the whole process: Romain Espejo. He clearly deserved the hardest worker title as he took care of all of the organization so that we could focus on the build up on the mountain. Logistics, finances, management, sponsoring, support, catering, Covid measures, and and and (the list is endless). Big up Romain!
The biggest chiller? It wouldn’t be fair to name someone here. But there was one scene that I will not forget, and I think the person involved can handle it. There was someone who left a trail right through the whole setup at the very end. That guy wasn’t exactly the most popular person in the crew at the time…
What else have you been up to these days?
We’re hyped for a really great spring session in Crans Montana in spring.
Otherwise, I was fully concentrated on the Gran Masta Park in Adelboden-Lenk. We had some new partnerships, for example with FTECH, who digitized our jumps, which greatly enhanced our setup.
There’s lots going on so the best is to follow us on social media to stay up to date: GMP, Alaïa Park and Helvepark.
Sounds like a plan… Any last words?
Thank you for the interview! Let’s go!