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This past weekend saw the return of the media fuelled Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado. British snowboarder Jenny Jones was looking for her 4th X Games gold while Shaun White was tracking a record 4th consecutive superpipe gold.
The Winter X Games is the biggest winter sports event of the year. Yes the Winter Olympics are huge, the TTR is massive and the F.I.S. is well the F.I.S. but there is something about the X Games. Is it the huge media circus that ESPN brings, the ridiculous amount of money from sponsors, the prize money or the crowds? There is skiing, snowboarding and nutcases who spend their time inverted on snowmobiles. There is ski/board/sno(mobile)cross, big air, superpipe and slopestyle on offer. The biggest names in the snowsports world are in town from Shaun White to Jamie Anderson.
Over the past few years freestyle skiing has rivalled the crowds, rivalry and excitement of snowboarding and the American loved snowmobile craziness. We have seen Jon Olsen, Tanner Hall and Candide Thovex wooing the crowds, sponsors and TV cameras, but Winter X Games was the year of the snowboard.
The weekend took off with a bang on Saturday when Kelly Clark became the first female snowboarder to land a 1080 (three full rotations) in the superpipe. She had tried the trick earlier in the month at the Burton European open but her endeavor paid off with a massive 1080 in her last run in the final. Combining great style, huge amplitude and a competition first. With Olympic Champion Torah Bright taking part in the slopestyle this year her impressive riding offered the crowds a convincing win.
The women's slopestyle also threw in a few surprises and some incredible riding. Britain's Jenny Jones, winner of the last two Winter X Games and the European Winter X Games golds, was up against an in-form Jamie Anderson and the up and coming Enni Rukajarvi. After laying down a solid run with some clean 540s into a big 720 finish it looked as if she had wrapped up her third gold in a row in Aspen, only to miss out to the 20 year old Finn. The scores were marginal but the luck was on Enni's side as her final run didn't look like it would surpass Jones until the judges scores hit the board. Though Jenny Jones does get to add an X Games Silver medal to her previous haul of three golds in two years.
For the men the Big Air was the first of the three competitions that really showcased how much men's snowboarding has progressed. Big crowds turned up looking to see is Seb Toutant could add to his Beijing Air & Style win and to see if Torstein Horgmo would throw down the triple cork (three inverted rotations while spinning four full rotations). Seb Toutant stepped up with a huge switch backside 12 leaving Torstein only one choice, after slamming in his first run he threw down the first ever competition triple cork 1440 (see below) to take the gold.
The men's superpipe was pretty much a formality, but still offered great entertainment with Shaun White taking a record fourth consecutive Superpipe gold at the Winter X Games in Aspen. Coming into the final Shaun White was sitting in second place to fellow Olympian Scotty Lago, but after an earlier disappointment he had something to prove. The 'flying tomato' came back with vengeance and a frankly astonishing score of 97.33 in his final run, proving his dominance in the half pipe.
The big surprise came in the slopestyle, the aforementioned White was hoping to wrap up another gold before the halfpipe final, yet failed to qualify leaving the likes of Seb Toutant, Mark McMorris and Torstein Horgmo fighting for the gold. The world's most famous snowboarder later admitted he could no longer compete with the best slopestyle riders. After the disappointment of coming second on the big air Seb Toutant was determined to beat Horgmo to the gold. The young Canadian had qualified with the highest score ever in slopestyle smashing his run with a 97, leaving him in a great form for the final and his super-styled final run including two double corks and two 1260s took the gold comfortably.
With two months until the European X Games in Tignes we don't have to wait long for more of the same. Hopefully we'll see Jenny Jones, Aimee Fuller and Jamie Nicholls flying the flag for us and picking us more medals.
As you may be aware from a news piece posted in the summer the International Olympic Committee (IOC) are considering adding Slopestyle to the 2014 Winter Olympic in Sochi. This has been partly fuelled by the success of the Halfpipe over the past three events but also by the desire of the snowsports community to see snowboard and freestyle skiing's ever popular discipline included.
With this in mind it appears that one of the most influential figures in world snowboarding and co-founder of the TTR World Snowboard Tour, Terje Haakonsen, has written to the IOC to discuss the state of slopestyle and the effective implementation of the spectacle within the next Winter Olympics. One of the reasons this open letter is so newsworthy is due to Terje's past, as he famously boycotted the first ever Winter Olympic Halfpipe event back in 1998 after the IOC handed control of the event from the snowboarder-run ISF to the skier-run FIS.
It now appears the hugely influential character wishes to work with Jacques Rogge, the President of the IOC, to bring Slopestyle to the world famous event as successfully as possible.
Letter to the editor:
As the Olympic slopestyle/snowboarding discussion is peaking, it is time to cast some light on this defining topic for the future of competitive snowboarding. This upcoming weekend, the ski federation FIS introduces slopestyle to their program, on the same weekend as the best slopestyle riders are competing in the Dew Tour. And the IOC is about to decide if they will include slopestyle in the next Olympic program or not. Some remarkable events have taken place in the last year. Let us recap:
After the extraordinary TV rating success of the Vancouver halfpipe contest, top cats from the IOC and NBC saw the potential in expanding the snowboarding program at the next Olympics. Seeing the golden boy Shaun White go double at the next winter Olympics (Sochi 2014) would be a ratings wet dream. In the fall of 2009, USA, Canada and New Zealand had prepared a proposition for the ski federation FIS’s annual congress in Turkey, June 2010. The idea was to prepare slopestyle for the 2018 Olympics by introducing it at the FIS Snowboarding World Championships, as the IOC requires two successful World Championships before considering new sports for future games.
By then, the FIS delegates were euphoric at the hysteria that followed the snowboarding events in Vancouver. They decided to speed up the process, bypassing the existing requirements, by submitting an application to the IOC immediately – before slopestyle had been tried out at a single FIS world championships. It is reasonable to imagine they felt confident that the IOC would react positively to this application.
The only problem was that IOC had a lot on their plate at their next meeting, in Acapulco in October. The most disturbing topic was women ski jumping; a nightmare for the Olympic movement. Women ski jumpers have been fighting for years to enter the Olympics, but have faced serious opposition both within FIS and the IOC. Many believe women ski jumping (including members of the sports media) does not have enough participants, is low on quality and does not have the necessary international reach as a sport to be a credible Olympic event. Women ski jumpers had sued the IOC before the Vancouver Olympics for discrimination, but were ruled against by the Canadian legal system.
Allowing snowboard slopestyle (as well as twintip ski halfpipe and slopestyle) before solving the women ski jumping issue probably made the choice impossible for IOC. Rather than accepting some applications from some sports and denying others, they made one statement for all: We will wait and see the quality of the sports at the upcoming world championships. FIS has several world championships coming up this season, among them the Nordic Ski World Championships in Oslo, the Snowboard World Championships in La Molina, Spain and the Freestyle World Championships in Deer Valley and Park City.
The only problem about this from a snowboarding perspective is that neither Molina nor Deer Valley/Park City had planned for a slopestyle! Even worse, Deer Valley actively bans snowboarding on a general basis and they do not have a terrain park. In Norway, where the snowboard federation is independent of FIS, and are part owners of the TTR/WSF World Snowboarding Championships in 2012, this whole situation culminated in a public debate. IOC executive board member Gerhard Heiberg admitted that IOC wanted to check out more than just FIS events when deciding upon the quality of slopestyle. As FIS did not have slopestyle on their Olympic program, this opened up for a new scenario in the debate: if the IOC could look at non-FIS events, could they also approve these events as qualifiers for the Olympics?
Everyone working with top level snowboarding contest knows how much the date conflicts in Olympic qualifying years is hurting the sport. This has been bad before, but in 2013, when riders are qualifying for both halfpipe and slopestyle, it has the potential to be a nightmare. And this is the fundamental problem of competitive snowboarding: it will never reap its full potential before the Olympic issue is solved. Snowboarding is not a 4 year cycle event. It is a daily operation where progress is happening in all corners of the world – summer, winter, spring and fall. At the moment, the Olympic halfpipe finals is only good for the podium winners, the IOC and the broadcasters. It does not help the sport as a whole.
The potential for date conflict is the most apparent problem. This was cruelly exposed when FIS all of a sudden decided to include slopestyle on the program at the La Molina Snowboarding World Championships – a mere two months before the event! This was obviously a move to impress the IOC before the slopestyle decision was made, but it was not a good move for the sport: the slopestyle contest in Molina happens on exactly the same dates as the Dew Tour stop in Killington. All Dew Tour riders, being the best slopestyle riders in the world, have been already committed to these events, meaning the FIS World Champion in slopestyle (and in halfpipe for that matter) will be crowned without the best riders attending.
Competitive snowboarding has fantastic potential. Right now, judging formats, slope design, prize money, TV production/distribution and rider services are progressing fast in TTR, X Games and Dew Tour events. These are the best events in the world. But they are outside the Olympic family. As the organizers as the biggest winter sports event in the world, we believe that the IOC holds a corporate responsibility for ensuring a workable solution for the sport. This will not only realise the potential of the sport, but also fast-track the quality of snowboarding contests at the Olympics. All of us, including event organizers, FIS, IOC and federations, should find a solution for the better good of the sport. Otherwise, the riders will be the main losers. They will be forced into making impossible choices between conflicting events in 2013 – on any given weekend throughout the season.
We believe a good solution could be a common Olympic ranking, not sanctioned by FIS or TTR, but a joint ranking list based on results from the best events in the world. By embracing this, the IOC would take a credible position for the youth of the world and take charge in the ongoing action sports revolution. We are willing to talk to find a good solution for the sport. But we are also willing to keep fighting for snowboarding like we have done for over a decade. The Olympic system for snowboarding is wrong; preserving the status quo is not an option.
Terje Haakonsen Henning Andersen Owner and organiser of The Arctic Challenge
Now we've all heard of the Green Cross Code and most of us grew up walking to school with lolly pop ladies keeping us safe from speeding cars, but did you know there is a code of conduct for the mountains?
There have been more and more cases of piste-rage hitting the press over the last few seasons, including a story on PlanetSki where an adult had to be restrained for hitting a 15 year old girl! With this in mind I thought I would share the F.I.S. Code of Conduct with you, so you can go on holiday with the peace of mind that you are skiing responsibly.
F.I.S. Code of Conduct
The code of conduct is really common sense and has been devised so we can all enjoy the mountain and ensure that accidents, which do happen, are dealt with safely and swiftly. Hopefully the only concerns will be skiing safely and respecting others, which includes not skiing over their equipment in lift queues. The mountains are there to be enjoyed.
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