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The road to 2014.

Hands up who understands what on earth is going on with competitive snowboarding right now? No, not the tricks. The organization. Or should that be ‘organizations’?

Because you may not have really noticed, but suddenly snowboarding is awash with initials and acronyms like never before—TTR, FIS, IOC. And let’s not forget the late, lamented ISF. It’s confusing stuff, but in this blog we’re going to try and get to the bottom of the issues and work out a couple of key questions. What is going on? And why does it matter?

Anybody that has noticed will probably have some dim awareness that there’s a distant controversy brewing involving snowboarding and the Olympics, specifically the potential inclusion of slopestyle at future Winter Olympic events.

Anybody that has noticed will probably have some dim awareness that there’s
a distant controversy brewing involving snowboarding and the Olympics…

The idea that slopestyle could become an Olympic sport has been discussed for years. But things began to move quickly back in June 2010 when, buoyed by the success of halfpipe at the Vancouver Games (and Shaun White’s subsequent public call for slopestyle to become an Olympic sport), the FIS Annual Congress in Turkey decided to apply directly to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for the event to be fast-tracked into the 2014 Games in Sochi. This was an important development as FIS, the International Ski Federation, is the body that currently runs the Olympic qualification process for halfpipe snowboarding (and more about the controversy surrounding this later).

Most seasoned observers expected the IOC Executive Committee to green light this application at their October 2010 meeting in Acapulco, clearing the way for a FIS-organized slopestyle event to be part of the 2014 Games. But in a somewhat surprising development, the IOC hedged their bets. “They sent out a message that they’re not sure about the quality, and to check this winter’s World Championships first,” says Henning Anderson, CEO of The Arctic Challenge, the event founded by Terje Haakonsen back in 2000 to provide a ‘for snowboarders, by snowboarders’ alternative to FIS-run events.

On the face of it, this was hardly surprising. After all, FIS has never actually organized any slopestyle event, let alone a World Championships. When this was pointed out to IOC executive board member Gerhard Heiberg by elements of the Norwegian press, he responded even more positively by saying that the IOC intended to look at world class events such as the TTR, Dew Tour, and X Games (which, in contrast to FIS, have spent much of the last decade developing the most credible series of slopestyle events in the world) before making a decision.

Essentially this is the same old issue that snowboarders had to deal with back when pipe was included at Nagano in 1998.

Essentially this is the same old issue that snowboarders had to deal with back when pipe was included at Nagano in 1998: who will control the qualification process, the series of events that will decide which snowboarders get to ride at future Olympic Games? Prior to the Nagano Games back in 1998, the IOC chose FIS, an organization that had previously actively campaigned against snowboarding, consigning the International Snowboard Federation (ISF) to the dustbin of history in the process. That was one of the main reasons for Terje Haakonsen’s much publicized decision to boycott that inaugural snowboarding Olympics.

Today, a carbon copy situation could be at hand, albeit with the TTR, X Games, and Dew Tour, and now a potential new FIS slopestyle series competing for the attention of the IOC. Indeed, the recent FIS announcement that it’ll hold its own Slopestyle World Championships in La Molina, Spain has instantly highlighted a problem. That event falls on the same dates as the Dew Tour in Killington (the weekend of January 22-23), to which most top names have already committed. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to predict that, during an Olympic qualifying year, this might lead to an already congested contest calendar resembling the scramble for the last lifeboats aboard the Titanic

For Henning Anderson, the potential pitfalls are obvious: “The fact that the IOC will now look at events other than those to be organized by FIS is obviously a really positive step. But for me the key thing is that we do not need yet another slopestyle tour when we already have the TTR, X Games, and Dew Tour. With another tour, we’ll have conflicting dates on every given weekend, which will put the riders in impossible situations. Competitive snowboarding will never reap its full potential, simply because those great sporting moments, the essence of any competitive sport, when the best riders in the world battle for the most prestigious titles, will almost never happen if everybody is off doing different tours.”

“The key thing is that we do not need yet another slopestyle tour when we already have the TTR, X Games, and Dew Tour.”—Henning Anderson

For Henning, now is the time to learn from the mistakes of the past, and open a constructive dialogue between all concerned parties. “World class competitive snowboarding needs to evolve by adapting athlete friendly systems, like in tennis, golf or surfing. If we stick to the current confusing situation, with one world class event every fourth year, we will only favor whoever wins that gold medal rather than the whole of snowboarding.”

The saving grace of this situation is that there is still time to recognize these potential problems and do something about it. Gerhard Heiberg’s statement is, of course, very positive. But as Anderson says, “This is a good first step, but of course not enough. There needs to be a joint effort between the best events in the world to make a qualifying system for the Olympics. If not, conflicting dates in 2013 will make it a nightmare for everyone involved in competitive snowboarding.” And, lest we forget, for snowboarding as a wider spectacle, which is surely what the Olympics and Olympic inclusion should primarily be about.

Why is this important? “Because the last time that this happened, when snowboarding was first included in the Olympics, Terje’s gesture in boycotting the 1998 Olympics almost overshadowed the debate itself. It was a big media event around the world, for sure, but they didn’t actually get the main message, which was that snowboarding events should be run by snowboarders.”

“Their decision has suddenly put us in a strong position as organizers of quality contests. But from our perspective, we want to reach out to all relevant parties to start a dialogue about a solution for the better good of snowboarding,” says Henning.

One thing is for sure, things will change again, and quickly. Watch this space for more on an issue that is set to dominate competitive snowboarding for the foreseeable future.