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Slopestyle could follow in footsteps of ski cross

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Anna Thompson | 22:43 UK time, Sunday, 28 February 2010

There is no doubt ski cross made a triumphant debut at the 2010 Winter Olympics. It was a firm favourite with the crowds at Cypress Mountain and millions more watched it around the world (the peak BBC television audience on that Sunday evening was four million.)

Ski cross came hot on the heels of its snowboarding counterpart, which burst on to the Games programme in Turin - and was an instant hit, thanks in no small part to Lindsey Jacobellis' infamous showboating which cost her Olympic gold.

Where once the International Olympic Committee and the freestyle movement eschewed one another - they are now very much the best of buddies with half-pipe and ski/snowboard cross firmly established.

In four years' time at Sochi in Russia another freestyle event - slopestyle - has a very good chance of being included .

If it is successful, Britain would have an excellent chance of a medal as Bristol's Jenny Jones is a double X Games gold medallist in the event.

Jenny Jones on her way to X-Games gloryJenny Jones has won back-to-back X-Games titles in slopestyle. Photo: Getty

Jones will be 33 when the Sochi Olympics come around but would dearly love to represent GB if she is injury-free and still at the top of her game.

A month ago, she became the first Brit to win back-to-back titles at the X Games - which is an invite-only event for the world's top freestyle skiers and snowboarders.

To put it into context, Shaun White (who has won the Olympic snowboard half-pipe at the last two Games) is the four-time slopestyle winner in the annual event held in Aspen, Colorado.

"From a purely selfish point of view I would like to see Jenny Jones competing on the biggest stage, the Winter Olympics," BBC snowboard commentator Ed Leigh told me.

"She is one of the best snowboarders Britain has produced and it would be fantastic to see her event included in a Winter Games."

Slopestyle sees competitors head down a course which has rails, boxes and jumps and they are judged on the their run and the difficulty level of the tricks they execute.

There is plenty of race footage if you search on the internet. If you want to see Jones, and Winter Olympian Ben Kilner (he finished 18th in the half-pipe in Vancouver) and competes in slopestyle, they will be at the Brits - the British freestyle ski and snowboard championships, in Laax, Switzerland from 21-28 March.

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Ed Leigh and Graham Bell discuss whether new sports such as ski-cross and snowboarding are the future of the Winter Olympics after their success in Vancouver. (UK users only)

Leigh added: "Slopestyle deserves to get into the Olympics because it is much more relevant to modern snowboarding than parallel giant slalom, which pretty much has the same guys racing who were there in Nagano in 1998 and Salt Lake City in 2002.

"PGS is a poor cousin of alpine skiing and it's not a progressive part of snowboarding like slopestyle is.

"Snowboard cross and ski cross have proved immensely popular since their inclusion and If the Olympic movement wants to remain contemporary, then their goal should be to get both ski and board slopestyle in the 2014 Games in Sochi.

"If they need any sports to make way, in my opinion the PGS should go in snowboarding and aerials in skiing."

It seems slopestyle's inclusion is not just a pipe dream - pardon the pun - as the sport has powerful allies who have seen its popularity rise and realise its importance in engaging the audience - especially the younger generation.

Marcel Looze, snowboard director at the International Ski Federation, told me: "I am definitely pushing slopestyle for Sochi."

And Christophe Dubi, the International Olympic Committee's sports director, said: "Slopestyle is an event we will consider adding. This is something we see in every resort across Europe, America and Asia and we could consider it in future."

While Jones heads the British pack at the moment, the country also boasts a number of potential slopestyle stars including Jamie Nicholls and Nate Kearn in snowboarding and Paddy Graham and Murray Buchan in skiing.

Brits organiser Stuart Brass said: "We've got the cream of the crop when it comes to up-and-coming talent in slopestyle, so if it was to become an Olympic event it would certainly be good news for Britain."

The wheels to make slopestyle eligible for the 2014 Games are already in motion as in February it was included at a World Cup event for the first time.

It will also need to feature in two FIS World Championships - and next year's snowboard gig in Spain is being touted for this.

It looks like the future is very definitely freestyle. Could it provide Britain with their first Winter Olympic medal on snow?

Comments

  • 1. At 07:33am on 01 Mar 2010, Ramilas1 wrote:

    Not another "lets see who can do the best tricks" display!!

    Lets get a group of experts to do the judging ..... really impartially!!

    While we're at it, lets have Strictly Come Dancing and a nice Song Contest in the summer games ........... RUBBISH IDEA!

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  • 2. At 09:10am on 01 Mar 2010, Danny Neal wrote:

    Wow Ramilas, and I though the olympics weere supposed to be watching the cream of the crop competeing, giving the crowd a breath-taking, exciting performance, evidently I'm mistaken, thank you for putting me straight...

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  • 3. At 10:52am on 01 Mar 2010, Chris wrote:

    I have seen a few Slopestyle events and they are very entertaining. I can fully understand the argument for their inclusion. However, what have you got against Aerials? Surely this is one of the most entertaining events on the freestyle skiing programme. Is there a danger that skiing events could be phased out in place of snowboarding events - or is there a skiing slopestyle as well?

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  • 4. At 11:03am on 01 Mar 2010, Tree wrote:

    Personally, I think it's about time Slopestyle got included in the program. It's one of the most commonly known types of snowboarding competition in the world (along with Boarder Cross and Half Pipe), and it's something that would also get even more people tuning in to the Winter Olympics. It's very much at the core of the sport, so it would be great to see it at Sochi if it gets the go-ahead.

    Ok, Ramilas, so if we were to take out all of the "let's see who can do the best tricks displays" you mentioned out of both sets of games, that would mean we'd have to take all forms of Figure Skating, Ski Aerials and Snowboard Half Pipe out of the Winter program, despite the fact that they are all exceedingly popular with enthusiasts, and then we'd have to take out Gymnastics, some Equestrian events and Diving out of the Summer program. Contrary to your own personal belief, I actually really enjoy the majority of these events, and I'd rather keep them in to the program. The games are meant to be all-embracing and all-encompassing, and that includes the choice of sports, so I think you're a little bit on your own here.

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  • 5. At 11:10am on 01 Mar 2010, uksweeney wrote:

    In the summer games they are lots of different forms of running events, so how about snow shoe events?

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  • 6. At 12:34pm on 01 Mar 2010, Mike wrote:

    Ed Leigh believes that Freestyle Aerials should make way for the slopestyle snowboard event. When it comes to spectacle and excitement, there is nothing to match either discipline, I hope they add dual moguls as an Olympic discipline too.

    Stand at the bottom of a snowboard half-pipe course in competition, where the actual spectators see the event from and you will be entirely underwhelmed. It's all about camera angles and half the competitors slide out of the course on their backsides. Stand at the bottom of an aerials hill for the competition and you will be blown away by the spectacle! The height the skiers achieve and the difficulty of the manoeuvres they perform is incredible and very few fall or land other than perfectly. In the moguls, the sheer speed of descent and rapidity of the turns, combined with stunning jumps is simply awesome and can be appreciated by any skier that has ever encountered a mogul.

    Unfortunately Ed Leigh's commentary was unable to convey any of this to the audience. His lamentable lack of insight into the technicalities of the sport was at best desultory and at worst laughable. How many times did he need to tell us that the Chinese team had poached the Australian coach to train them, yet he was unable to name the coach, who obviously was so important.

    Perhaps Ed Leigh hiimself is the one who should step aside from commentary duty for aerials and mogul skiing to make way for someone who understands the sport and is fit to pass comment.

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  • 7. At 12:48pm on 01 Mar 2010, Tree wrote:

    And by the way, redders, yes, there will also be a version of Slopestyle for skiing as well - don't worry!

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  • 8. At 2:31pm on 01 Mar 2010, Ramilas1 wrote:

    4. At 11:03am on 01 Mar 2010, Tree wrote: "Ok, Ramilas, so if we were to take out all of the "let's see who can do the best tricks displays" you mentioned out of both sets of games, that would mean we'd have to take all forms of Figure Skating, Ski Aerials and Snowboard Half Pipe out of the Winter program, despite the fact that they are all exceedingly popular with enthusiasts, and then we'd have to take out Gymnastics, some Equestrian events and Diving out of the Summer program."

    Could not have put it better myself .... absolutely correct!!

    I'm happy to wait for a photo-finish to a "sports" event if the result defeats the human eye.

    I cannot accept that I have to wait for so-called experts to TELL me that competitor x's tricks, or interpretation of something by Liszt, was better than competitor Y's . . . in his/her opinion!!

    I do NOT decry in any way the prowess, stamina, technique, concentration or level of training put in by the half-pipers, gymnasts, synchro swimmers, dressage riders and their like; but when all is considered they are still only an extension of the old travelling circus with the trapeze acrobats and performing seals.

    It is a performance art, like music, poetry, film and dance .... not a sport.

    By all means let them have the equivalent of Brits or Oscars (even on a world-touring fortnightly basis) but they should have no part to play in an Olympic Games.

    I care little whether my view is in the minority or majority, nor whether the IOC, in collusion with host broadcasters, continues to include new events in the search for greater revenue and viewing figures

    I will simply limit my interest, and viewing, to the true sporting contests.

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  • 9. At 2:59pm on 01 Mar 2010, highthief wrote:

    Why would anyone want to take out aerials? A great event. Who is this "Ed Leigh" guy?

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  • 10. At 1:09pm on 02 Mar 2010, dazzleh wrote:

    Ed Leigh is the co-presenter of ski sunday and used to write for White Lines snowboard magazine. He generally commentates on freestyle sports and is seen to have done a lot for these within the UK.

    His opinion that aerials should be removed (if something has to be dropped) is common amongst the freestyle ski and snowboard community. No resorts really have aerials jumps, so it's not something the general public can try, and most competitors come from more gymnastic backgrounds than skiing. The perception is that most of the aerials athletes aren't great skiers (despite being classed as a skiing event), whereas the moguls, halfpipe, slopestyle etc athletes are.

    Combine this with the restrictions on the types of jumps allowed (for instance I don't think you can take off/ land switch) and I can see the case for aerials having to go if one of the skiing events needs to. Big Air is an equivalent to aerials, but seems more progressive as the athletes have more freedom in the tricks they can do.

    Personally, I like the aerials and think they should stay and slopestyle, big air and ski half-pipe should all be added. However, the IOC do like to keep the number of events down, and if there is a rejig it's normally done at the expense of similar events (see the summer Olympic track cycling changes). If it comes down to a choice I wouldn't mind the aerials going for what are more relevant events to the majority of the ski/ snowboard community.

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  • 11. At 2:31pm on 02 Mar 2010, Mike wrote:

    @ dazzieh. Good comments from you however I would note that Ed Leigh has done more for snowboarding in the UK than for freestyle skiing which was popular before BSSF cut all it's funding, regardless of world class results.
    Also there is nothing in the rules for aerials to say that you can't take off or land switch, but due to the speeds attained and height of the jumps, it is unlikely to be successful.

    Facilities such as aerial jumps are rarely found in resorts although training camps do exist. The opportunity for the general public to try aerials without training would be foolhardy and an insurance nightmare. Facilities DO actually exist here in the UK. Sheffield ski village has just invested in an airbag (safe landing) for year round use, and during the summer operates a water ramp facility which is the only way to learn safely.

    Sir Steven Redgraves ideas for a Winter Sports excellence centre are exemplary and aerials is one of the sports where GBR could transfer the skills of gymnasts and trampolinists in much the same way that the Chinese team have done since their entry to the sport at the Nagano games of 1998. Believe it or not, GBR has a rich and successful heritage in freestyle, particularly aerials and have top calibre coaches available.

    I agree that aerials is not terribly relevant to the majority of skiers, but then again neither is slalom or downhill. Personally I would like to see aerials remain an Olympic sport and for slopestyle to be added to the games.

    A survey of the Vancouver games shows that the freestyle skiing events attracted the largest TV audiences in the United States. See: http://tinyurl.com/y99clp8.
    In previous games, for example Salt Lake City in 2002, the men's freestyle aerials was the first ticketed event to sell out, I imagine that in Vancouver, ice hockey will have taken that crown.

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  • 12. At 5:20pm on 02 Mar 2010, dazzleh wrote:

    Mike, I enjoy watching the aerials too, and also wouldn't like it to be removed. As you say, freestyle events seem to be amongst the most popular, and I think the IOC should be looking to expand on these without needing to remove aerials. I think freestyle events are the only way of attracting a larger audience.

    I also agree that it is one of a few events that GB could excel in, if Steve Redgrave's plans come together - I actually mentioned this on the blog covering his idea. Unfortunately, I very much doubt anything will come of it...

    However, I do think the fact that aerials is classed as a skiing event even though you don't necessarily have to be able to ski goes against it. And although the general public would never really be able to try, I was more alluding to freestyle teams in resorts. For example, I've seen some massive kickers in resort terrain parks that are comparable to Big Air or Slopestyle jumps, and seen some very good skiers/ riders jump them even though I as a decent intermediate wouldn't go anywhere near! I've never seen an aerials jump though, even though those same skiers could probably cope with the technique required to try them.

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  • 13. At 9:03pm on 02 Mar 2010, EforC - No Sense No Opinion wrote:

    While Jones heads the British pack at the moment, the country also boasts a number of potential slopestyle stars including Jamie Nicholls and Nate Kearn in snowboarding and Paddy Graham and Murray Buchan in skiing.

    Dont forget to mention Mike Wakefield in that list of young and talented Half Pipe and Slopestyle skiers. Only some nasty injury's have stopped Mike progressing to the top.

    It is a credit to the guys who have learnt on plastic pipes and indoor rails. More funding is needed if they are to reach to top.

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  • 14. At 01:12am on 03 Mar 2010, Welsh84 wrote:

    There is an interesting point in this and all the 'freestyle' events. This is that these events are hyped by the media and clothes manufacturers for sales and whilst the first few runs are different it soon becomes samey and if you were neutral you would switch off.

    The other problem is the judging is random as events are run by different people and there are loose rules so there is little consistency.

    The fuss about the skier-cross was great but as Graham Bell said it has nothing to do with freestlye. Half the racers are ex national team Alpine racers e.g. Darron Rahlves (ex-Downhill WC). The whole thing about it being more relaxed is only a temporary thing as the sport becomes more competitive the 'fun' aspect will disappear. Expect them to be in speedsuits in the future.

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  • 15. At 10:49am on 03 Mar 2010, dazzleh wrote:

    It's true that freestyle is hyped, but it's being hyped due to its popularity amongst the younger audience, which is always good for sales. I normally ski, but learnt to snowboard last year and due to instructor shortage we had a kid in our group. He was off to the beginner park to ride his first box before he'd even learnt to turn properly!

    If you're not interested in events you'll always tend to find them 'samey', but you could argue that the alpine events (skiers following the repeated same path down the mountain against nothing more than the clock) are more samey than events like the half-pipe, where at least the athletes perform different tricks. I'd say the neutral is more likely to watch modern freestyle events than the more traditional alpine events - although I agree judged events do put some off.

    Ski cross has been going for a while now, and its ties to the X-games and the freestyle community mean its unlikely to go down the alpine route. I think the reaction of the casual viewer to it means that it is likely to grow in popularity if anything, and we'll see more ski-cross specialists participate.

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  • 16. At 1:40pm on 03 Mar 2010, Welsh84 wrote:

    The difference is that the traditional events are meant to be samey and the winner is obvious as its on the time. This is very visual with the clock being there.

    Freestyle is only hyped in certain countries and by the people who benefit most e.g. retailers. They sell the lifestyle and the image. The kids want to buy into this but yet it is still a much smaller participation sport than any of the skiing events, even in the UK. The difference between hanging about in a snow park all day and competing in organised events is massive and the majority of people don't compete in events. This shows that there is no interest in the competition side and hence why it is more of an exhibition sport, which is why its pointless to include it.

    Your comment about skier-cross' routes are true but that doesn't mean anything. There is a World Cup organised by FIS and this is where the majority compete and where the structural roots are growing. It is a race and the fact that the athletes who competed mostly came from years of race training shows that they are going to want to do anything to win and this will mean speedsuits eventually.

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  • 17. At 3:37pm on 03 Mar 2010, dazzleh wrote:

    I don't think there's anymore difference between hanging in snow parks and competition than there is between recreational skiing and downhill. Just because most people don't compete, it doesn't mean that there isn't interest in competiton; most skiers don't join a race club either.

    A lot of resorts have freestyle teams/ clubs now, and in the UK there are various competitions across the snowdomes and dry slopes, as well as the 'Brits' national championship that's held annually.



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  • 18. At 4:46pm on 03 Mar 2010, Welsh84 wrote:

    dazzleh,

    Thats not the same thing at all and thats the point. If you think that just skiing around the mountain counts as practice for Downhill then you're wrong I'm afraid. My point is exactly the opposite, which is that people train at clubs and gates to race and do so in the UK and abroad. Whilst there is some degree of freestylers who compete, most don't. Thats the issue.

    Those competitions have been around for years and rarely have any depth to them or many participants. Most people are there for the party atmosphere that they try to produce.

    I'll put it this way, I've met Zoe Gillings in a snowdome in the UK a few times and even though she British No.1 and top 15 in the world and yet even the 'park team' didn't know who she was or was interested in her. She was covered head to toe in sponsorship and yet they didn't even go and speak to her. This is my point, freestyle is not taken as a competition and therefore why should it be added to the list if its own supporters don't really see it as a competitive sport?

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  • 19. At 11:00am on 04 Mar 2010, dazzleh wrote:

    My point was that probably a similar proportion of people hanging in snow parks take part in freestyle clubs and competitions to the proportion of recreational skiers taking part in race clubs - i.e. not a very high percentage.

    I just don't think you can use the fact that the majority of freestylers don't compete as a reason to not include it, as the majority of more alpine oriented skiers don't compete either. I also read an article the other day on the Brits national championships and I think it said they had 96 competitors in snowboard cross. That sounds quite healthy to me for a national championship in a country with no snow.

    Of course alpine events have higher participation rates, as they are more established higher profile competitions, but that's not a reason to exclude newer or less particpated sports (otherwise 50% of Winter Olympic events could be removed). The very fact that so many younger skiers/ boarders are going down the freestyle route should be reason alone for it being seriously considered, as it seems to be the future direction of the sport.

    I suspect more people would have recognised Jenny Jones, as slopestyle is more in line with the park vibe than cross. Jenny has over 2,000 fans following her progress on facebook, which may not be much of an indicator but it does show that there is an interest in her competition results.

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  • 20. At 07:58am on 22 Apr 2010, Spacey wrote:

    a campaign has been launched on FaceBook aimed at thrying to get Jenny Jones into the list of nominees for the BBC Sports Personality of the year award 2010.
    [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]
    Join the campaign, and spread the word. She is the best snow sports athlete we have presently and deserves recognition in this country. On top of that, raising awareness of snow sports in turn may help with future funding for the likes of Ben Kilner, Jamie Nichols etc

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