Olympic slopestyle: the FIS perspective

When slopestyle makes its event debut at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, in February, the snowboard and freeski competitions will take place on the highest-profile slopestyle course that has ever been built. 

Olympic skiing and snowboarding is overseen by the International Ski Federation (FIS), an organizing body that did not start to put on slopestyle events at the World Cup level until 2010, and has a history of being at odds with the competitive snowboard community. As such, snowboarders started lobbying to be part of the Olympic process before the IOC made the decision to add slopestyle to the Olympic roster in 2011.

Competitors formed a riders union while TTR, the organizing body of snowboarding's main World Tour, made overtures to FIS to collaborate, and for a moment it seemed like compromise was in view. But then talks broke down, resulting in a wave of negative athlete reactions.

Stepping into this controversy is Roberto Moresi. A longtime snowboarder, Moresi works as assistant race director for FIS and will oversee the Olympic slopestyle course construction along with Swedish park builder Anders Forsell.

Last February, slopestyle was supposed to be held among the test events in Sochi. Moresi and FIS had intended to unveil the slopestyle course to the athletes and media at the time, which would have allowed for speculation over its quality to be based on an actual runs. Unfortunately, high temperatures and torrential rain turned it into a grotty bog, and the competition had to be canceled.

That week, Moresi sat through a lengthy interview with XGames.com in Sochi and candidly answered questions on myriad issues, from the quality of FIS courses and the process of gathering rider feedback for improvement to the challenges of the climate in Sochi and what can be expected when the cameras turn on for the main event next February. What follows is an excerpt from that conversation.

XGames.com: What's your background in snowboarding?
Roberto Moresi:
I've been snowboarding for more than 25 years. I used to ride for Santa Cruz and Billabong -- nothing super pro, but it took me to where I am. Then I got into building snowparks and halfpipes. I coached the Italian team for several years.

I got the offer from FIS to work with them and have tried to make the freestyle side bigger and more consistent. This is my third season as the assistant race director. This is a pretty new position.

Do you feel like the people inside FIS listen to you?
They do. Some things get accomplished and some things don't, but that's the nature of a working relationship -- it takes time. We are a nation-based organization, so it's not just me and you talking and deciding what to do.

The course is the course. ... In one way or the other they're going to have to deal with it and perform the best they can on it. That's what competitions are.
Moresi

You just have to fix your goals ... and of course you have to be intelligent enough to understand the procedures and work within them to make your goals happen. Because if you just go bash your head everywhere you might not get things accomplished. What you want is the best for the sport and the riders.

Let's talk about the Olympic slopestyle course. There are so many questions.
Slopestyle has so many questions and maybe so little answers.

[It's] difficult. Slopestyle itself has been around for a long time. It's just that it's evolved. The requests of the riders have increased. They want to perform at a certain level, and in order to do so you have to provide a certain infrastructure that allows them to, but it's not that easy.

Over the years, there have been complaints about the FIS courses. The World Championships in Stoneham, for example -- the riders weren't happy with it.
Stoneham is a situation where an organizing committee did the best they could according to the weather they had. [Competitors] didn't do triples, but the level, if you looked at the field, it was pretty high.

OK, they didn't manage to do the triple, but you have to prove on that course, on that day, that you're the best. These are competitions and competitions can be the best sometimes, and they can be not the best other times.

The X Games in Aspen has a 17-something-year history case. So [with the X Games slopestyle course], you have had all the time to adjust try, change and readjust, which is natural in building up an event to the high standards. But we don't always have the chance to [hold one event] so many years at the same resort. Sometimes we have to start from zero.

We are not a multimillion-dollar company. We have to deal with local organizers who are stretching out their arms to host events but maybe don't have all the possibilities of shutting down a resort just for one event. Maybe [a course is] going onto one of their major runs and they [can only] kill the access at the last moment.

We try to find solutions. Some choices may be right ones, sometimes maybe not. I don't want to be diplomatically correct. I know that there are lots of things to be kept in mind. But it's not easy to make it happen.

And the FIS didn't pick this place -- either Sochi or the actual location where the slope course is being built...
Let's put it this way: The place has been delivered. ... You have to try to get the best out of [that].

Statistics on this area are difficult because it's a new resort, so it's pretty unpredictable and hard to understand the weather patterns. [In 2011-12 the winter] was very good, [now] it is very bad. In this area, nobody has recalled a weather situation like this.

What's the plan if, come February, the snow and weather conditions are awful as they were at the test event?
Worst-case scenario: They say if it doesn't snow until February ... we'll build big pipes and pipe down the snow from up high in the mountains. I wouldn't know. Maybe move it up higher on the mountain? But that's an option that hasn't been considered so far because all of the infrastructure that goes around the event...

Larsen

Slopestyle will share its last jump with the boardercross course. The overlap is illustrated in the map to the left. Two views of the shared final jump are on the right.

Word is the Russians are saving snow?
They want to save one million cubic meters of snow somewhere.

Why didn't they implement their snow saving/producing back up plans for the test events, so all of the competitions could run?
No one knew it was going to be this bad. The Olympics are also a different dimension than a test event. A test event you try to get as much as possible done, but it's not the same budget or the same situation. The Olympics just stretches out a lot more possibilities.

We were hoping there would be a chance to pull the [slopestyle contest] off, but then the weather pattern changed so radically that snow production got interrupted. It rained for a week and it just consumed everything.

We would have liked to deliver a course to get the riders to ride it and get feedback from them. [But] I've talked to people who have ridden down the slopestyle course, which at the moment is just a big terrain work, and they're pretty stoked about what they see already. They say there's a lot of potential here.

What are the course dimensions?
We're aiming for jumps from 20 meters up, with long landings so if they go long they can be safe. At the same time we want to bring up the knuckles of the jumps, roll them in a lot, so even if you come up short you can, like, survive.

Of course doing this you might lose height impression, but it just makes it safer. At the end we want it to be safe, fun, and built for performance. These are the things we keep in mind when we try to build a course.

Will you have the riders go through the course to tell you if jumps are working, or how to fix them before the Olympics start if they're not?
If we have to do so, yes. It could be part of our process -- why not?

How could it -- officially, not theoretically -- become a working part of your process?
I could think about it, and see how it could work. I just have to find [the competitors] who would be dedicated to do so.

Any one of them would do it.
Bring them on.

Yeah? Can they hold you to it? We have you on record now.
Why not? I just have to see if it's a situation that's realistic.

It's certainly our goal to provide the best course possible. With the boardercross events, we have the top 16 riders from the World Cup test the courses prior to the events in order to ensure that the courses are built properly. This could totally be something to implement into slopestyle. Definitely.

I just can't guarantee it now because the structure is not just me. If there's a chance to do so I think it's a very intelligent thing to do. At the end the riders are the guys who are going to have to ride it. If we get their feedback then it's the most reliable.

[We understand that] people are really nervous because ... they're going to see the course for the first time at the event. That's the exciting part as well -- [having the riders] getting up there for the first time and saying, 'That's cool.'

But if they get up there and it's the worst thing ever?
I just think the vibe around the Olympics maybe conflicts...

It's a very cool event, but it has expectations that are actually different than what are going to be delivered. You go, "Oh the Olympics! We're going to be in the best places, the best resorts, the best snow conditions," the best whatever.

And then you just come here and it's raining. And you say, "How does that happen, it's the Olympic Games?" But that's life. Weather conditions can change and it's maybe not going to be the best thing.

[So] if you're going to go there don't build your expectations higher than they're supposed to be. If you start from that point maybe you're going to get an advantage. Because if it's cool, you're hyped up, and if it's not the best for whatever reason, then you're prepared for that.

But this is the one contest everyone's grandmother watches, so all the competitors want to do well. They don't want to be limited by the course.
For sure, but the course is going to limit them in any case, no matter what we do. The course is the course. ... In one way or the other they're going to have to deal with it and perform the best they can on it. That's what competitions are.

We really are keen on giving the riders what they want, making them feel comfortable. Because what makes a good event is the show they deliver. If they do a good show it's because they're comfortable with their riding and are doing the best they can and everybody is going to be stoked. ... People are there to have fun. We want to deliver that.

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