FIS crowned a new men's ski halfpipe World Champion on January 22. Kyle Smaine of South Lake Tahoe captured the title held previously by David Wise, the Olympic and three-time defending X Games gold medalist from the north side of said lake. It sounds like your typical, heart-warming changing-of-the-guard story but for one major hitch: Wise wasn't in Kreischberg, Austria, to defend his title. Nor were any of the medalists from Sochi, or really anyone you would legitimately call a contender for the title of "best halfpipe skier in the world."
While Smaine was crowned world champ, the best halfpipe skiers in the world were in Aspen preparing for the X Games. Wise, being the quintessential nice guy he is, would probably be the first to congratulate Smaine, but he didn't have such kind words for FIS, the international governing body that holds the keys for Olympic qualification for skiing and snowboarding.
In a blog post prior to the start of the World Championships, Wise took FIS to task for their "arrogance" and a "true lack of respect and knowledge of our sport." Wise's point of contention is FIS's decision to hold the Freestyle World Championships at the same time as the X Games. "I honestly believe that FIS thought we would skip the X Games to attend World Champs," Wise writes.
That FIS would intentionally try to undercut the X Games is more than mere speculation. The European-based organization has a history of bullying rival tours. In the 1990s, FIS wrested control of competitive snowboarding from the ISF (International Snowboarding Federation), an organization founded by snowboarders to be the sport's governing body. The ISF folded a few years later. In the lead-up to slopestyle's inclusion in the Olympics in 2014, FIS employed similar tactics on Ticket To Ride (TTR), flatly refusing to work with the core snowboarder-run tour on a joint qualification system.
Snowboarding legend Terje Haakonson, one of the founders of TTR, was among many to offer a tip of the hat to Wise and his rant via Twitter:
Took another skier to show how has balls. Snowboarder competitors, media & their industri are so..small http://t.co/OJJWXIX1mX about time D
— Terje Haakonsen (@terje_haakonsen) January 22, 2015
That halfpipe skiers would suddenly find themselves at odds with FIS was predictable. While skiers and riders talk about "progressing the sport," FIS is indisputably about promoting FIS. They exhibited little regard or understanding for the culture of freestyle skiing when they adopted moguls and aerials, and even less when they took over snowboarding. It's not surprising that they would now attempt to expand and protect their stake in halfpipe skiing, even if it means taking on the sport's biggest contest.
Unfortunately by going after the X Games, FIS is hurting themselves and the sport of pipe skiing. Holding a "World Championships" with a largely B-team roster dilutes the title and makes the sport even more confusing for the passive spectator. It's selfish, and unheard of in more popular individual sports—akin to the promoting a tennis world championship during Wimbledon, or a golf world championship going head-to-head against The Masters.
The X Games were always going to win this battle. As Wise points out, the X Games have the history. "X Games was a major force in getting our sport in front of the masses, and it was X Games that enabled many skiers to even be professionals during the early years," Wise writes. "While FIS was reluctant to include us in anything that might tarnish their polished image, the X Games embraced us and gave us a chance." X Games also bring a level of prestige and exposure second only to the Olympics, though on a more consistent basis.
Despite FIS's efforts, the best halfpipe skiers in the world will once again be at X Games, as they have pretty much since the discipline was founded. It will continue to be that way for as long as the World Championships try to go up against X Games—or at least until FIS finds a way to tie in Olympic qualifying.
Tune in to the X Games on Sunday, January 25 to watch the men’s superpipe finals. For a complete schedule of events at the X Games, visit XGames.com.