Amid the blogs, the tweets and the general internet-based clamour that has unfolded since the debate about slopestyle’s potential future as an Olympic sport kicked off, a few voices have been notably silent.
We’ve heard from the TTR, in the form of Terje Haakonsen’s open letter to the IOC. That dispatch did much to bring the issue to the attention of the wider snowboarding world. But in the end, Terje’s letter was nothing more than an appeal for a dialogue to start between each of the involved parties: TTR, X Games, Dew Tour, FIS and, ultimately, IOC.
For any debate to be truly fair and open, however, it must take in as many opinions as possible – whether we like those opinions or not. So I decided to contact a couple of the other key players to get their views on the situation.
The backdrop to this was the weekend of January 20-23, 2011 which saw the Dew Tour stop off at Killington and the inaugural FIS slopestyle World Championship event take place in La Molina, Spain. Yes— finally some snowboarding. This double-header gave the industry an opportunity to see exactly how some of the potential issues will unfold in the future.
Too many competing events in the slopestyle contest calendar will force riders to make difficult decisions about what events to attend.
These issues are simple, but worth repeating. Firstly, too many competing events in the slopestyle contest calendar will force riders to make difficult decisions about what events to attend.
It’s a problem that Chris Prybylo, General Manager of the Winter Dew Tour, is acutely aware of. “Yeah, we’re concerned. Our top priority is always the athletes, and to provide great courses and a schedule that works. With that being the goal, we’re concerned about dates. The industry is still growing, and what we do supports that growth. And having events on the same weekend isn’t good for anybody – the industry as a whole, or the riders individually.”
FIS Snowboard Race Director Uwe Beier is also aware of the potential date clash problem, but has a different view of how it might impact the sport of competitive snowboarding. “We will always try to give riders as many chances as possible to attend as many events as possible. There are different tours worldwide, so if riders can compete in as many as possible, it’s the best way of promoting the sport. Do I see this as a potential problem? Not at all. At the end, the riders will decide where to compete and choose the most attractive events, no matter which tour”.
Still, a glance at the podium for each event illustrates the pitfalls, with Ville Pauloma, Niklas Mattsson and Seppe Smits taking top three in La Molina, and Mark McMorris, Eric Willer and Torstein Horgmo leading the field at the Dew event in KIllington. So was it a problem? As Uwe Beier rightly points out, “…the none appearance of US riders like Louie and Scotty at the Burton European Open didn’t take away the credibility of this event, right?”
Wouldn’t the best situation be a set of events that allowed every top rider in the world to be there, rather than a split field?
But the problem isn’t really credibility – it is dilution. Wouldn’t the best situation be a set of events that allowed every top rider in the world to be there, rather than a split field? An old quote usually attributed to Todd Richards regarding Haakonsen’s boycott of the 98 Nagano Games springs to mind: “Clearly, any victory without the world’s best snowboarder in attendance is going to be a hollow one”. Hard to believe that we still haven’t worked out a way of solving this problem 13 years later.
Chris Prybylo: “If you looked at the calendar last year, there was an event every weekend. It’s unfortunate if an athlete has to miss out on this, as we have a very strong prize purse, a great media platform, it’s good for their sponsors and their individual brands. How do you merge all of this together in a way that’s good for everybody? That’s the challenge I guess”.
The riders themselves are another notably absent voice from this debate so far (something we’ll address in a future blog) although in the aftermath of the FIS Worlds in La Molina, some criticism of the event did enter the public domain. The most notable was probably a blog written by Silvia Mittermuller a few days after the event in which she criticised the course and organisation of the event, saying “…it was supposed to be a slalom racing course first, but the racers said it was too steep to race on. So they turned it into a slopestyle. How is that?”
I asked Uwe Beier is he was aware of criticism such as this. If so how does he respond? “I didn’t get any criticisms from the riders, actually the feedback during and right after the event was quite good. I had the feeling that everybody was aware of the fact that we were facing difficult circumstances: no cold temperatures and no snow during the weeks before, as well as strong winds”.
It’s a particularly important point given the IOC’s current perception that the level of slopestyle riding isn’t currently high enough to justify Olympic inclusion. Riders being unhappy with the course they’re being asked to ride is certainly one element that contributes to this perception.
Hence, presumably, their decision to look at the level of existing slopestyle events this winter, something that seems to put tours such as the TTR, Dew Tour and X Games, with their years of hands-on slopestyle experience, at an advantage. The main criticism that has been levelled at FIS in this light is the fact that they have less experience of running a slopestyle event than these other organisations.
Again, Uwe Beier seems unconcerned. “I believe there is enough experience within FIS at organising high level events. We have people in our team – builders, shapers and organisers – who were involved in the development and growth of slopestyle from it’s beginning. I hope and am actually quite confident that everybody who still have concerns will quickly recognise that snowboarding within FIS is organised by snowboarders”.
The next step, if these differing opinions are to be reconciled, is for discussions between each of these events (and ideally the IOC) to try and find some common ground on which to move forward: something which Chris Prybylo sees as a positive move.
“We’re certainly open to discussion and understand that it is a problem. We think that there is room for both roles – the governing bodies that set the rules and select the criteria, but then there are also a lot of great events out there that should be looked at as a part of that. There certainly should be dialogue between those two camps” .
Uwe Beier is more equivocal, but still seems cautiously optimistic that some common ground can be found – even though FIS has more to potentially lose from such a development.
“I have read the (Terje Haakonsen’s) open letter and of course FIS is open for dialogues to achieve the best for the sport. However, our system, from the formats to judging to the whole set up of the competition is recognized as fair, reliable and constant. The criteria set by IOC and FIS are still good and pretty flexible giving each nation the chance to meet their own criteria according to their quotas. But saying this doesn’t mean that there is no way to improve things”
So there we have it – every party is prepared, theoretically, to meet and discuss the issues. Terje has extended an olive branch which has been accepted by Dew Tour and FIS. All that remains now is for some talking to actually take place in person, rather than through the medium of blogs such as this.
And what of the IOC, yet another key voice that has so far remained largely silent in this debate?
“We haven’t spoken to them directly”, says Prybylo. “We hope they check us out because we’ve had two great slopestyle events and two great courses so far. It would be a great case study for them, for sure. But no we haven’t had any direct contact with the IOC. But I think what they’re doing is right, if that is their intention. Putting slopestyle in 2014 is a major decision and I feel like they’re going through the process”.
What form that process will take remains to be seen.