The FIS competition season is underway. That means regimented contests run by skiers for snowboarders. This winter isn’t specifically about who goes to the Olympics, it’s about earning spots for team USA. I caught up with U.S. Snowboard Team Assistant Halfpipe Coach Ricky Bower to find out what, if anything, has changed going into snowboarding’s fourth Olympics.

What’s new heading into this winter Olympics?
The main change since the last Olympics is that FIS created a world ranking list. It starts January 18, 2009 and goes through January 18, 2010—it ends basically right before the Olympics start. For your country to have riders go to the Olympics, they need to place in the top 40 for the men and top 30 for the women. Then the number of people that you have in the top 30 or 40 determines the number of riders you’re allowed to have in the Olympics. You can have a maximum of four. Which is the same as the old maximum of four per discipline.

Is that going to cut out some countries?
They’re just going to have to get in the top ranking, which might be harder for other countries to do. The last time you just had to have 120 points, which is about the equivalent of a top 30 finish, but now we have the addition of the rankings.

So the FIS World Cup series this winter is just about securing spots for the U.S.?
Yes, that’s just for getting the nations quota spots. It determines how many starts your country gets. So, for the U.S., we’re trying to get 4 and 4 for the halfpipe. Then the actual qualifying for the riders to be selected for the Olympic team will be the same as it was for 2006, which is the Grand Prix series. And that’s next winter, not this coming winter, so it will be right before the Olympics.

What FIS events we should pay attention to this winter?
The first one that will count towards this ranking is the World Championships in Japan, which is conveniently scheduled right during the X Games, so we’ll miss that first one. But then after that riders are going to FIS World Cups in Bardonecchia, Cypress, Stoneham, and La Molina that we probably wouldn’t normally be going to.
Cypress is the test event for the Olympics for next year. It will be a good event and we’ll have the top contenders there: Shaun, all the top girls—Gretchen, Kelly, and Hannah.

Is the circuit the same for all three snowboard “disciplines”?
There’s some cross over. Cypress will have halfpipe, boardercross, and alpine. The World Cup at Stoneham will have boardercross and halfpipe and an alpine event. Then, there is a U.S. event for boardercross in Maine.

Thanks for getting us all caught up Ricky. Keep checking back at twsnow.com for Olympic updates. We also wanted to give you a quick heads up that the deadline for the initial ticket request phase for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games is this November 07, 2008, at midnight US EST. Go to cosport.com to request tickets for the individual events. Ticket requests will be entered into a lottery and successful requests are confirmed the first week of December.

2008-2009 FIS World Cup Schedule:
February 7, 2009: Bardonecchia, Italy. Halfpipe.
February 13–15, 2009: Cypress, CAN Olympic Test Event (Snowboardcross 2/13, Halfpipe 2/14, Parallel GS 2/15)
February 19–22, 2009: Stoneham, CAN (Snowboardcross 2/9, Halfpipe 2/20, Parallel GS 2/22)
February 26–28, 2009: Sunday River, Maine (Parallel GS 2/26, Snowboardcross 2/28)
March 13–15, 2009: La Molina, Spain (Snowboardcross 3/13, Halfpipe 3/14, Parallel GS 3/15)