Lockout!

Pros and contest judges had an off-season as busy as the NBA players-unionizing, in effect, to see their interests represented in the workplace.

With snowboarding’s first Olympics one for the history books, those involved in contests are preoccupied with trying to answer the looming question, what next? Undeniably snowboarding’s biggest contest to date, the Olympics has served as the linchpin for what contests could someday strive for, or perhaps all they never wanted to be.

No matter your opinion, contest debate always devolves into a FIS International Ski Federation versus ISF International Snowboarding Federation partisan struggle. But recently some progress has been made in taking event power out of the hands of organizers and placing it where it has tried to be for years, with participants.

“We had the Olympics, thinking it would be the best event ever,” begins Olympic Halfpipe Head Judge Greg Johnson, who resigned from FIS in May, then created the non-profit International Judging Commission IJC with Olympic Score Verifier Tom Wagener of ISF Europe. “I can’t speak for racing because their event seemed to run well. But for freestyle the venue was weird, the format was no good-I told FIS Coordinator Hanno Treindl the year before we should have a two-out-of-three final-that was the rider feedback we got. They FIS held it in a rainstorm-they knew downhill skiing would shut down so they wanted it halfpipe to be the premier event that day.”

Bad judging is the knee-jerk disgruntled rider complaint. Johnson, who has judged contests of every type for every sanctioning organization (including Canada’s Olympic Team qualifiers) since 1985 and was the hands-down favorite Olympic Head Judge, argues that contest judges have struggled with bounced checks and no-guarantee contracts from organizers for years.

So after quitting, Johnson focused on forming the IJC to train and certify qualified judges who could then be contracted out to any contest organizer-for a fee of 300-dollars a day, plus expenses.

He was surprised to find his plan not only had the support of some of the world’s most respected judges, but they would attend the IJC’s first conference, held in August in Hood River, Oregon. The 27 attendees spent three days in classes and meetings and one day on the hill observing riders. When it was over, the IJC had 30 people certified as judges for levels one through three, many of them sworn in at the conference.

“They took a pretty long exam to prove they have the knowledge as well as the technical ability to do the job right,” says IJC member Mike Chantry, who has spent as much time at the scorer’s table as Johnson. “Judges who are IJC-qualified means they can judge contests from halfpipe to big air, to quarterpipe, and slopestyle.” There is also a move to certify technical delegates, which would include race and boardercross officials. The IJC will service the increasing demand for pro events, but hopes to also coordinate efforts regionally for the USASA United States Amateur Snowboard Association as well.

Judges had to pay their own way to attend the conference but their stay was subsidized by practically everyone with claims on organizing contests, with the exception of two certain groups. “Now that we know how the FIS and the USSA United States Ski and Snowboard Association have treated our sport, we decided to make a move to retake snowboarding back from them,” comments Chantry. “We have just started to move in a direction that will keep the sport fresh and always evolving. If the FIS and USSA want qualified judges and officials then they will have to come to us. They have nobody left to do the job right who has the respect of the riders.”

Johnson points out that the purpose of the group is ultimately to help contests be the best they can be, with the riders deciding how that should come about. “I’m really not that much of a political animal,” he says. “But the riders just show up to coontests and deal with the hand they’re dealt. The IJC wants to affect change with the promoters and organizations to do things the right way. Us coupled with the PSA might make a turn for the better. We’re training judges for all events-for the best events for the good of snowboarding.”

So now the question is, can the PSA help? Since its inception over ten years ago, the Professional Snowboarder’s Association (in its various incarnations) has tried to serve as the guild or union of professional athletes, and struggled because of rider and industry indifference. To say that’s changing has turned out to be wrong many times before. As of this typing, PSA is looking to re-incorporate, maybe even under a different name, but mostly awaiting help to unify a Pro Tour from a planned revamping of ISF North America.

The snowboarding world is often divided into regions of North America, Europe, Asia, and the Southern Hemisphere, with each region having its own PSA (as well as ISF or FIS) and varying degrees of effectiveness. Often contest organizers worldwide look to North America where snowboarding was invented and is home to the greatest concentration of high-profile contests and professionals. Unfortunately, PSA North America has struggled with its identity for many years-what did pros need from them? The problem was compounded by the fact that with few exceptions, industry support and freestyle competitors have been as difficult to corral as wind.

“To be successful in North America, we need to be the rider’s group,” said Tom Cozens (who after donating a year of his time organizing the PSA was forced to resign due to lack of funding) at a general meeting at the US Open, attended by some 50 riders, including more than a few freestylers.

“The best showing since these things PSA meetings were mandatory,” summed up top pro Alpine racer Mark Fawcett, who has been involved for eight years and served as PSA President for the last two. Together with former Overall Champion and PSA Europe activist Bertrand Denervaud, they pitched the benefits of “basically unionizing” contest riders everywhere to the gathered crowd.

“There are a lot of cooperate sponsors looking to make you rich,” Denervaud said. “But this will only happen if you stick together with the PSA, otherwise they’ll tell you where to start and where the course will be.” The three proposed that an organized PSA (on the level it is in Europe) would check out all contests, telling riders which ones to attend and how to do so through an updated phone line or FAX-on-demand. They also fielded suggestions and discussed future goals like medical insurance, contract and legal help, certifying contest officials, a yearbook sold in shops for guaranteed coverage, and how to always work toward safe, fair events.

The gathered, by a show of hands, elected board members-Fawcett and Canadian Jasey-Jay Anderson representing Alpine, U.S. Team Members Sabrina Sedeghi and Rob Kingwill for freestyle; two boardercross seats to be decided on, and Scott Palmer advising the board on behalf of coaches and officials.

That was then, however. This is now. Unless the PSA finds the industry and rider support it needs, and can implement a program on the organizational level of the IJC-any pro-rider union may find itself in the familiar position of lame duck, fielding queries like that of one rider in Stratton, “Can we get all this in writing? In English?”

For inquiries to the IJC: Greg Johnson can be reached at mistyflip@aol.com.