Words: Pat McGroin
Illustration: Travis Millard
When we were unchained from our desks and allowed to go watch a big air contest a few hours from the office last February, at first, we were thrilled. Then, as we watched Mark McMorris snap his leg because of a routine fall on a bumpy big air landing in downtown LA, it was a total "WTF are we all doing here?" moment. We should be in the mountains, where there is real snow, a natural slope, and the ability to properly groom a run-in and landing.
There are too damn many of these city scaffolding big air contests, and nobody seems to care. As an intern at a snowboard magazine, you end up covering a lot of events, and the scene we're seeing is a sketchy one for the riders. These manmade jumps in the city have become the new normal, and competitors end up riding fake snow-covered setups, with narrow, bumpy run-ins, and jumps that are often too small for many of the tricks being done. These landings quickly deteriorate, so practice is often limited. The result: questionable conditions, jumps that can't be changed, and riding which in turn becomes repetitively boring to watch—a la aerial skiing. No offense to the riders. We wouldn't want to try new tricks on these jumps either.
The root of the problem is simple: scaffolding big air contests draw big crowds, big crowds draw sponsor money, and money makes the world go round. Trust us, we know… we don't have any. Event organizers, and in turn the riders, are all making compromises that are sending big air contests down a self-destructive path.
The justification we hear for all these scaffolding contests is that it's easier to bring snowboarding to the crowds, than crowds to the mountains. But shouldn't that be the goal? To get people into the mountains, where they can actually try snowboarding?
We talked to some of the old guys here in the office, and it sounds like when Air + Style invented the concept of the stadium scaffolding big air contest way back in the '90s—when webcasts were presumably in black and white—they were really cool. The events occurred once a season and placed riders in a unique rockstar role. Sure, conditions were sketchy back then too, but the riders overlooked this because it was a one-time departure from the way they spent the rest of their winters. The problem now is that these are happening almost every weekend, and the top riders end up a part of a city-to-city traveling scaffolding circus throughout the middle of the season.
Last winter there were something like five of these events on consecutive weekends, and it's only going to get worse with the inclusion of big air in the next winter Olympics. We've been told that the plan is to make the official Olympic venue a scaffolding jump, essentially copying the Air + Style set-ups, and that means qualifying events will probably end up being more scaffolding set ups. It's fucking insane to watch everyone settle for this.
Snowboarding needs to get behind its riders and demand jumps on the mountain, so we can see bigger, safer, properly groomed setups that allow for progressive, creative snowboarding. The X Games is already doing it, and the level of riding there is noticeably better than anything happening on in a stadium. Plus, if we have to cover another snowboard contest where we can't be on a mountain taking laps all week, we're going to lose our shit.