This morning an open letter to snowboarding, signed by Terje Haakonsen and fellow Arctic Challenge organizer Henning Anderson, was sent out to across the snowboard media universe. It's about the Olympics, which might seem like an old song to you -- but it's actually more like a remix. The lyrics are basically the same, but it's got a booming new beat that makes it worth listening to again.
The next Winter Olympics are a long way off, but decisions are being made right now that will affect the way the entire world sees snowboarding when it comes around again. If you care about that, then you might be interested in an update on the controversy that's been brewing in our little world.
This is what's up: Slopestyle is going to be added to the snowboarding lineup of the next Olympics. No, they haven't announced it officially yet, but they will. (We will publish an interview with one of the executive board members of the IOC here shortly that will back this prediction up.) Why this is controversial is too complicated to fully explain in just one article, but here's a start.
In order for a new event to be considered for Olympic inclusion, it has to meet a long list of qualifying criteria -- one of which is, the event has to be a part of a World Championship. So right now the FIS -- an organization that has never showed interest in slopestyle, nor run a slopestyle event, ever, until it came up for possible Olympic inclusion consideration this summer -- is holding a WC in La Molina, Spain. It, of course, is including slopestyle for the very first time. The issue here is twofold.
First, the second stop of the Winter Dew Tour is also this weekend in Vermont.
Now, if you were one of the top slopestyle competitors in the world, and you had a choice between being in a nationally-televised, internationally webcast contest with high prize payouts and bragging rights for the winners, versus a contest that offers none of that, and is run by an organization that hasn't yet proved it knows how to build a progressive slopestyle course, nor properly judge the snowboarding of the people who ride through it -- which would you choose?
Exactly. Someone is going to be crowned the "World Champion" in Spain this weekend, and it will get sent across the AP news wires and make the morning edition of countless international newspapers, and only people who follow snowboarding will know it is an essentially meaningless title, because most of the world's best riders were in Killington.
And so what, you may be saying. And you may be right. The problem with this really is, FIS contests are scheduled to accomodate other FIS contests. What other events are happening that might be important in snowboarding are rarely taken into account -- as evidenced by the conflict going down this weekend. Right now, it doesn't matter much. But during an Olympic year, if a snowboarder has even the faintest shot at making it to the five-ring circus, he or she has to choose to compete FIS in order to qualify -- which brings us to issue number two.
This choice really comes down to deciding between contests that are run by what is still essentially a ski organization that employs a handful of snowboarders, and contests that were created by snowboarders, are run by snowboarders, built by snowboarders, and judged by snowboarders who not only understand that the progression of snowboarding is a quick-moving beast, but are empowered to adapt to changing circumstances.
Last week we saw our first cab 14 ever thrown in a major slope contest. Soon, we'll start seeing cork 14 variations. As snowboarding moves closer to gymnastics in technicality, the movement among riders to put a heavier emphasis on style during the judging process in order to counterbalance this will take on more weight. And this is an important point.
Inside of snowboarding, judging criteria and course designs are constantly reexamined to keep pace with snowboarding itself. It would be wonderful if the FIS could also keep up, but they've been running halfpipe contests since 1998, and (with some notable exceptions -- the USSA deserves credit for stepping up its game) are still barely getting them right.
One need only look as far as the results posting of the World Championship Big Air competition to see how ill-prepared the FIS is to deal with the needs of today's snowboarder. The title of the page is: "Race Results," and the scores are listed according to "total time." Peetu Piiroinen's little brother beat out big air heavies Seppe Smits and Marko Grilc. But, aside from speculations rooted in genetics (he's Finnish, and a Piiroinen, which makes him a double threat), it's pretty hard to figure out how or why he won.
It's somewhat frustrating -- more so because there is no chance that any organization besides the FIS will ever oversee Olympic snowboarding events. So it's a bit like crying in the rain. Still, better to do it now, while talking about the issues might have an effect on how the event is run in the future, than to whine uselessly about it when the Olympics come around again -- like we all did last year.