The Red Bull Playstreets event is a unique contest on the international freeskiing competition calendar. Held on the 14th and 15th of February 2019 in Bad Gastein Austria for the eight time, it is arguably the only in-city slope-style event in the world. Although the town center is conveniently located on a down slope, building the event is far from easy: it´s a three-month effort from a team of 320 people.
The wooden structures upon which the course is built on require approximately 140 square meters of timber and around 20 000 screws up to 28 cm long to hold them together. The structures take 20 days to build and another 15 to dissemble. After the construction is ready you need to transport around 920 truckloads of premade snow to the site. It then takes a team of shapers another 2 days to build the jumps and kickers.
Words: Jaakko Järvensivu, Photos: Red Bull
Due to the structure of the town the course itself is narrow. The athletes are used to much more space and optimal conditions in the parks, but in the Red Bull Playstreets they have to adapt themselves to the conditions. It is therefore a real show event where often the winners are not world-renowned superstars.
One of the most time-consuming duties in organising the event is handling the paper work; making sure that the event has all the necessary permits, which thanks to the EU legislation can be a gruesome task. I asked the organizer of the event, Heli Putz, how he manages to put it all together in time and not lose his head.
You have a background as a professional climber and skier, after your career as an athlete you started organising Red Bull events around the turn of the millennium. I believe one of your first events was the Red Bull Snow Thrill in Chamonix?
Did you have experience in organising freestyle events before the Red Bull Playstreets in Bad Gastein – what made you want to cross-over to freestyle skiing?
I think I had enough experience, since I grew up with the (freeskiing) scene. I had already founded the Red Bull Shape The Nature competition and I ran it for 3 years. Later this developed into the Red Bull Line catcher event. I had also travelled the world with international ski films crews (being responsible for the safety in the mountains). I wanted to bring the young athletes creative events, where they would be able to find new ways of expressing themselves. I still organize and develop also other extreme sport events.
How did you come up with the idea of organising an event on the busy streets in the centre of Bad Gastein?
I came up with the idea together with Berni Steinacher, Red Bull was looking for something within the scene (freeskiing) and we handed in our idea. The location, the village centre in Bad Gastein is for sure not the ideal place for a freeski event. Bad Gastein was and still is, however, the only resort that gave us all the freedom we needed to build the event and to bear with all the effects of such a big undertaking. Even though, I´m sure that they didn´t know the magnitude the event would eventually grow into.
How did the city officials in Bad Gastein first react to your proposal and how did you manage to convince them that the event would benefit the town?
At first everybody was really happy that Red Bull wanted to organize an event in the village. At that time tourism in the region was in decline. They (the town officials) didn´t yet realize what we intended to do, because we hadn´t still showed them the plans. So they agreed without knowing what would come up on them. When the structures for the competition were ready, they were shocked, but also so overwhelmed that there were no complaints.
When do you start planning next year´s event and what authorities and instances do you have to consult?
The time period to organize the next event is always very short. The budget releases from Red Bull and the decision to organize a new edition of an event are dependable on many economic and marketing factors. I only need three months, no matter what event I am organizing. I find that with a longer preparation time you only make things more complicated.
What kind of permits do you need in order to be able to organize the event?
Whow, that´s massive: you have to contact the police, the fire department, the health care officials… We need security permits, permits to close the roads and we need to sign contracts with 38 private house owners. We have eight generators planted in trucks that need fuel supply.
In the first year I did everything by myself under my own name. Now that would be unthinkable, not because of the size of the event, but because of Europe (EU legislation). The authorities have become so crazy; they have set out laws that prevent any kind of progress.
It´s a miracle, that there are still organizers doing this kind of tedious work and companies sponsoring them. That is why it seems that most of the events are already organised indoors. The ski touring races are probably the only events that one can organize only outdoors, on real slopes.
Looking at the statistics, the event is a massive effort on both manpower and building material. How do you run such a big organization so that everybody knows what they should be doing?
For me everything is really simple, since as an organizer it all starts with me. I can create the (organization) structure like it was a company: technique, shapers, engineers, TV crew, live direction crew, internet crew, TV link, worst case scenario plan… Everything you need to run an event like this.
All and all, I have a total crew of more than 400 people working on the project. I can make all the decisions, which makes it easier than if there were, say 3 or 5 bosses. But still I have to pay up for everything on my own budget. I also handle all the paper work by myself: the contracts and permits.
Getting the snow (with trucks from a nearby site) and shaping the course are the easiest and most fun part of the project. Handling the technique, tv and spectators is the challenging part: it all happens in the center of a town with fully-booked hotels – we block everything.
80 days a year my job is to coach companies and managers. With the Playstreets I can put everything that I teach in to practical use – a self-study for me, so to speak.
Who designs the course and the jumps and what is the process like – do you have some pro freeskiers for rider input?
I come up with the route and profile myself. I tried (working) with different athletes, but unfortunately it was difficult for them to come up wit ideas that were also realizable in practice. Last time (2017) I had a very good shaper who built some additional terrain features, but only ones that are entirely built with snow.
The new course is longer, with three times as many features as before. The athletes can show more tricks and the audience has more to see. There are also places for additional 2800 spectators. We also encourage the athletes to be more creative – and that is what we all want (to see).
The event has around 12 000 spectators – how do you take them in consideration in the event planning?
We try to give the visitors a glimpse of the event no matter what their situation, also through video walls where there is not much natural visibility. The visitors can move up and down the course so that they will see all the different features.
To get an authorisation for a certain amount of spectators, we have to calculate every square meter of each slope and all the angles of the roads and streets. For the same reason we also have eight “floodgates”, which are controlled by the security staff. Depending on how full a sector is, the spectators can either come and go or only exit the sector.
What do you think are some of the biggest challenges to overcome in organizing such a big in-city event?
First to obtain a permit from the city officials, then to get acceptance from the land and house owners. During the building of the course we have to deal with drunken maniacs every day after the après ski is over, which can be a bit frustrating. Then finally during the actual event we have to be ready to deal with possible panic among the spectators.
Do you have some unique memories from the event during the past six years?
Sure, one year an athlete missed his start because he got locked in his hotel room and lost the key. Another year a drunken spectator unplugged a power-generator, resulting with half of the course being dark. There was also a fire in one of the hotels nearby – had nothing to do with the event, but it was difficult to continue the event anyway.
One year, just one night before the event, the mayor refused to sign the media permit that we needed in order to start the event. On another year, I cut down four big trees for the wooden structures, but the ok (for cutting down the trees) did not come from the real owner of the trees – it turned out to be pretty expensive for me.
This article was first published in the Edge Magazine: www.edgeski.fi