What Is The Future Of Snowboard Contests?

Shaun White helping put snowboarding on a stage as large as this method. Photo: Chris Wellhausen

History Lesson
It may be the youngest of the three main board sports, but snowboarding probably faces the biggest and most complicated challenges of all.

This is thanks entirely to the fact that the sport was fast-tracked into the Olympics back in the mid-1990s, thus leapfrogging skateboarding and surfing in the public consciousness. Suddenly snowboarding was on the biggest stage of all, and the recriminations from that badly handled process are still being felt to this day.

Up until that point, competitive snowboarding had grown organically, and had been run by the International Snowboarding Federation. Naturally, snowboarders thought control of that first Olympic halfpipe qualification process would be awarded to this body. Instead, the IOC handed control of the qualification process to FIS, the International Ski Federation, and a body that had had no involvement whatsoever in running competitive snowboarding. The two parties aren’t quite at the mortal enemy stage any more, but there’s still some rancor, as we’ll see.

The consequences were immediate and not just acronyms that would confuse the hell out of snowboarders for the next 15 years. The ISF—its very reason to exist suddenly removed—quickly folded. Terje Haakonsen—the expected winner of the halfpipe gold—boycotted the 1998 Nagano Games in protest. When those headlines faded, the event went full-steam ahead, with Swiss rider Gian Simmen winning the first halfpipe gold medal. Unsurprisingly, the lure of Olympic gold meant scruples were quickly forgotten, though Haakonsen’s gesture has grown ever more legendary in the intervening years.

After those first Olympics, the core snowboard scene moved to reclaim control of competitive snowboarding, establishing a new contest series called the Ticket to Ride (founded in part by Haakonsen) that sought to link existing, organic events into one series that it was felt reflected the reality of snowboarding for a competitive audience more accurately.

Since then, something of an uneasy truce has developed, with most of the world’s top riders following the TTR tour until Olympic qualifying years, when everybody rides the FIS tour in an attempt to gain Olympic qualification.