Today, in Barcelona, the US Ski and Snowboard Association is bidding to get big air and team snowcross into the Pyeonchang Olympic Games. Athletes, directors and international ambassadors of the sport have held meetings with the FIS Congress since June 1 to make their formal proposal to the sport’s Olympic governing body in an effort to expand snowboarding’s presence on the international stage. Their hope is that FIS will take the proposal to the IOC.
“It’s a good move for snowboarding to have a third freestyle aspect added to the games,” says 2014 Olympic slopestyle bronze medalist Mark McMorris. “It’s another opportunity to win more medals and push the limits of what is possible on a snowboard.”
Outside of the opportunity for riders, groups like the USSA see the Olympics as a chance to expose more people to snowboarding as audiences have shown an interest in snowboarding that dwarfs many traditional Olympics sports. “As we have all seen with the addition of halfpipe into the Olympics, it became a viewer favorite,” says 2014 Olympic slopestyle champion Sage Kotsenburg. “When slopestyle was added, it was also one of the favorites with the third most streams of the entire games and one of the most watched sports.”
It’s not hard to see why the USSA likes the idea of adding new events.
“It’s vital that we keep our sports fresh and relevant to youth,” says USSA President and CEO Tiger Shaw. “We clearly saw the global benefits with the additional new events in Sochi. This is yet another step to keep the Olympics in sync with what excites kids in sport today and to build the brand of FIS.”
But while it’s easy to point to the massive media exposure enjoyed by riders who medaled at the Sochi Olympics, the other benefits actually aren’t totally clear. In terms of the spinoff to snowboarding as a whole, one of the key measures of success is an increase in participation. However, even though 30.1 million viewers tuned in to NBC to watch the halfpipe finals at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics—second in ratings only to hockey—SIA reports show that participation in North America has steadily declined since its peak in the 2010/11 season. Although it’s difficult to definitively connect snowboarding’s growth, or decline, to Olympic exposure, it will be interesting to see SIA’s participation reports post Sochi and to see if snowboarding grows in other areas outside of North America.
On the other hand, the Sochi Olympics created a new global star in Sage Kotsenburg, who is essentially the anti Shaun White, and well represents snowboarding’s laidback and creative aspects over fierce competitiveness.
Regardless, the USSA is leading the charge in the addition of new events.
“America has long been the epicenter of action sports,” says USSA Program Director Jeremy Forster. “We’ve continually taken a leadership in pushing new events in the past with snowcross, slopestyle and new freeskiing events. We have strong multi-national support for this initiative and are optimistic that FIS and IOC will work together to get these events onto the program for 2018.”
With snowboarding’s proven record so far it seems likely that in the gladiatorial arena of Olympic politics, big air and team snowcross will get the thumbs up.