What's in it for slopestyle skiers?
A reaction to the IOC's decision to include ski slopestyle in the 2014 Olympics
About 10 years ago, the U.S. Freeskiing Open slopestyle was the biggest, most prestigious slopestyle event in skiing. If you won the U.S. Open, you were the best slopestyle skier in the world. That's why everybody who could ski slopestyle came to the U.S. Open. And they all wore "FIS Sucks" stickers on their helmets. It was nearly a universal sentiment in a sport that had been invented by skiers down on the FIS-itization of moguls and aerials.
Now, for better or for worse, slopestyle is a FIS and an Olympic sport. Just like that.
It gives me a funny feeling. Like it's good, but it's not good at the same time. It's like that action movie where they're looking down at a sea of dead bodies and the guy takes a drag off his cigarette and gives this sneer that says he's relieved that the fight is over and his enemies are dead but he's nagged by guilt at the brutality. Or like when your friends are talking about how lame Hootie and The Blowfish is and you're thinking to yourself, "I mean, they're not my favorite band, but I think they've got some pretty decent songs."
I was very excited about the news that halfpipe was going to the Olympics. Bigger audience, bigger lights, bigger playing field, bigger international participant base. Superpipe was going to get supersized. But then I started hearing that some freestyle greats were baffled that superpipe opted for the rings. Because for over a decade of existence, the freestyle offshoots of halfpipe and slopestyle grew into something big. Big enough to be a major asset to skiing's governing bodies, but not necessarily the other way around. Why share the good thing that you made on your own?
And what's in it for the skiers? After pipe got in, it seemed to me a silly question to ask. But, see, when pipe got in, it was after a steady, dedicated effort that lasted about a decade. Bad side: The fight to put pipe in the Olympics outlasted an Olympic-sized career or two. Good side: After all the waiting and talking and deliberating, the ultimate decision seemed organic. It seemed like everybody had really thought this one over.
And then after all that courting, after all that work that halfpipe put in, the Olympics goes and gives it up to slopestyle on the first date?
Through most of the 10-year fight to put pipe in the Olympics, the word was that slope would never get there. There were simply too many variables to ever lend itself to be official.
In halfpipe, everyone skis the same pipe regardless of letterhead. While weather and snow conditions may vary, the standard competition halfpipe is 22-feet in curvature. But in slope, different rails and jumps at each competition make it an excellent sport for strategy and creativity, but, frankly, a tough sport to judge, much less standardize to an Olympic level.
And as slope follows pipe to join Nordic skiing and ski racing at the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014, I can't help but wonder: Didn't these guys choose freeride to lose the rules?