There’s Nothing Free About Excluding Freeskiers
Debuting in Nagano in 1998, halfpipe has been a Winter Olympic event for 12 years and it’s time the skiers are invited to the party.
Hosting both skiers and snowboarders in the halfpipe is something major events such as the Winter X Games, Winter Dew Tour, Whistler’s World Ski and Snowboard Festival, and many more implemented a long time ago. Even the long-standing U.S. Grand Prix halfpipe series is including skiers this year. Logically, it doesn’t make sense to exclude skiers from the Olympic halfpipe any more than it would to exclude skiers from the X Games pipe.
Still sporting your "F.I.S. Sucks" sticker? You’re free to feel that way, just like every other skier that’ll have the option to attend, ignore, or cheer on an Olympic event, based on his or her own free choice. Know what really sucks? Exclusion. Anyone who remembers the days of "Snowboarder Only" parks can hear me on that one.
So who supports the idea of ski halfpipe in the Olympics? Many do. But most importantly, the ski halfpipe athletes do. They support it strongly and unanimously. And it’s the athletes who should have the strongest voice in the direction of their sport.
Some are concerned that this could lead to F.I.S. control over halfpipe skiing, and point to the strictly regulated moguls and aerials disciplines as examples. Sorry, but it’s a poor argument. Remember this is halfpipe we are talking about, which is already an Olympic sport. So for a more realistic example, consider snowboarding.
Has snowboard halfpipe, or snowboarding as a whole, become "owned" by F.I.S. since ’98? Has Olympic inclusion taken any of the freedom away from those guys? No. They have more freedom. Look at Danny Kass; he’s been doing things his own way for years-filming, attending the events that he wants to attend, and doing the tricks that he wants to do. On top of all that, he was also given an opportunity to attend two Olympic games, represent his country, and win a couple of medals.
Athletes compete for many reasons, one of the most compelling being the competitive experience. Competition is not for everyone, but for some it’s a rush and a thrill in and of itself, putting everything on the line at a specific moment. For any athlete who is serious about competition, nothing compares to the Olympics. It is an absolutely unmatched, life-changing, competitive experience, and our halfpipe skiers deserve to feel it.
Ski halfpipe is a true international discipline now, as evidenced by the demographic of skiers who made finals at the European Winter X Games last March: one American, two Canadians, two New Zealanders, two Frenchmen, and a Finn. This fits well with the Olympics, and the spirit of global competition.
"Judging at the Olympics won’t be perfect…." Yeah, maybe it won’t be perfect at the next X Games either. Judged sports come with a degree of uncertainty but the athletes know what they are getting into. On the bright side, there is a strong push from the industry to get the best pipe judges certified into the F.I.S. system so the 2014 Olympics judging panel will include the current professional ski halfpipe judges.
Do all skiers need to be stoked on an Olympic ski halfpipe event? No, and nobody will be forced to participate, watch, or care, if it’s not something that they are into. But it is important that the active halfpipe ski competitors are offered the same opportunity that is offered to their snowboarding counterparts.
Maybe you’re arguing that "the sport should stay free." But there is nothing "free" about excluding halfpipe skiers from an existing halfpipe event they want to take part in. If it’s really supposed to be about freedom, then let’s support the idea of opening another door for our athletes. Olympic inclusion equals additional opportunities, which in turn increases athletes’ available choices. And that sounds pretty free to me.
Trennon Paynter is the founder and coach of the Canadian Halfpipe Ski Team. He skied moguls in the 2002 Winter Olympics, and has competed in almost every type of skiing competition there is.
Halfpipe Skiers Deserve The Olympics, But The Olympics Don’t Deserve Them
The buzz word in skiing over the past decade has been "progression," and no where has that been more evident than in the halfpipe. If you want to see that progression screech to a halt, put it in the Olympics.
Look at moguls and aerials. In the ’70s and early ’80s, they were exactly what park skiing is today-freeform, expressive, fun and evolving. Thirty years and Olympic acceptance later, both disciplines are stagnant. It’s no accident that aerials has not changed significantly in two decades. F.I.S. rules require prior approval before an athlete can attempt a new move, and limit the number of flips and spins.
Moguls underwent a revamp earlier this decade. After Jonny Moseley introduced his "Dinner Roll" leading up to Salt Lake 2002, F.I.S. ruled to finally allow inverted aerials in the bumps. But it’s still an uglier version of park skiing, because moguls aren’t scored on style, but rather-to keep things "objective"-on a mathematical formula based on a number of factors. So even though Moseley’s jump was innovative and game-changing, it scored lower in the air category than a quad-twister.
Olympic proponents say that won’t happen this time. Their argument: It hasn’t happened to snowboard halfpipe. My quick answer: Not yet.
Two things saved the men’s snowboard halfpipe at Vancouver 2010. First, Shaun White was untouchable, eliminating potential cries of bias and keeping prime ministers and heads of state from getting involved in snowboarding for at least another cycle. Once diplomats and politicians start crying foul, you can forget about judging based on "overall impression."
The second was Scotty Lago. Lago came out of nowhere to win bronze, then went to Tailgate Alaska and finished third in the King of the Hill big mountain contest. By doing so, Lago preserved the halfpipe’s
Of course, not many people know this, because the most famous Scotty Lago story was captured by TMZ. Lago was caught letting a young woman kiss his medal as it dangled around his belt line-a benign act by snowboarding standards, but a scandal to house moms across the country. The next day the United States Snowboard Association sent Lago home. So much for freedom of expression.
It was the women’s competition in 2010, however, that may have the clearest vision into the future. Torah Bright, like White, was dominating. But the real foreshadow is who Bright had to beat. The Chinese fielded a team of gymnastics cast-aways who learned their tricks on airbags and started snowboarding just for this event. In two more Olympics, these athletes, and not the Scotty Lagos, will dominate the podium. When that happens, Olympic snowboarding will cease to be relevant to snowboarders.
Of course, the true advantage of the Olympic ski halfpipe is the Benjamins. "It’ll bring so much money into our sport," proponents say. Not true. According to Snowsports Industries of America, there were roughly 1.3 million fewer snowboarders in 2008, than there were in 2000. (In fact, participation peaked in 2004, an off-Olympic year). Roughly 8,000 fewer snowboards were sold in specialty stores in 2008 compared to 2000, with snowboard shops making $5 million less.
Yes, the athletes will make money, but that’s where it ends. Totinos was all over Danny Kass following his silver medals in 2002 and 2006. But where are the Totinos Youth Snowboarding Camps, the Totinos Terrain Parks at resorts that can’t afford a Pipe Dragon, the Totinos program to get at-risk youth into the mountains? They don’t exist. Sure, Totinos paid Kass, but they used snowboarding. The Colorado Boarder Snowboard Shop never saw a cent of that money.
In 1996, Shane McConkey helped start the IFSA to keep freeskiing events out of the hands of the F.I.S. He didn’t want what happened to moguls and aerials to happen to big mountain, slopestyle and halfpipe.
The Olympics has been poor stewards of freestyle skiing. They don’t deserve the halfpipe, and halfpipe skiers don’t need the Olympics. Skiing could use more Shane McConkeys, and fewer outsiders looking to make money off it.
POWDER Editor Derek Taylor has been skiing since 1975, has never seriously competed in any discipline, and wouldn’t have it any other way.