PARK CITY, Utah – “Slopestyle” is the new buzzword among mainstream winter-sports fans. Last week at Winter X Games, superpipe superstar Shaun White announced he wanted to go for Olympic gold in two different disciplines: halfpipe and slopestyle, where athletes are judged by their performance on a course filled with features like rail slides, flat boxes and massive jumps.
When White, a five-time X Games gold medalist in slopestyle, failed to even qualify for the finals in Aspen, the news drew even more attention than his eventual superpipe victory.
Thursday in Park City, the same discipline that stopped the snowboard wunderkind in his tracks seemed to be fueling a surprisingly large and energetic crowd at the FIS Freestyle World Ski Championships’ debut of slopestyle skiing.
Most notable among those in the crowd were FIS and International Olympic Committee officials on hand to gather information in the process of determining if the discipline should be included in 2014 in Sochi, Russia. They watched USA’s Alex Schlopy and Anna Segal of Australia win the men’s and women’s competitions respectively.
“From what I have seen from slopestyle, it is very good,” said Walter Sieber, an IOC representative sent to observe the championships. “I cannot give you any hints, but what I can say is that the IOC sending an observer here is very serious in recognizing eventually that slopestyle and halfpipe skiing could potentially be accepted.”
Eleven events are under consideration for Sochi, and other candidates include slopestyle snowboarding, an alpine team event and ladies ski jumping, which has been a hot button in the Olympics ring since the women failed in their bid for inclusion in Vancouver. The decision will be made this April when the IOC board convenes for its spring meeting. If going to head to head with slopestyle or halfpipe skiing, women’s ski jumping might come up short again. The possibility remains that the IOC could add all the candidate events, but the likelihood is unclear.
“Freeskiing is the future of skiing, really,” said Segal, who skied moguls for about four years from age 15-19, chasing her Olympic dream, before giving it up for freeskiing – because she loved it. “You go to any resort and there’s kids jibbing and skiing park and skiing halfpipe, and for them to ignore it is just going to keep the Olympics stale. To attract the youth and to keep the youth interested in the Olympics, I think freeskiing does need to be included.”
Schlopy agrees. The 18-year-old from Park City talked about how his parents (his mother is former Alpine racer Holly Flanders, is a two-time U.S. Olympian and three-time World Cup downhill champion) enrolled him in an alpine racing program when he was younger, but he was more interested in throwing a 360. He lasted one Alpine race.
Schlopy said hitting the park is, ” … my favorite thing to do. Everyday pretty much, I’ll be up at whatever mountain I’m at skiing, having fun.” And it’s with his buddies, in those boundary-free, coachless moments that he gets inspired to try new tricks and to push himself further.
FIS Secretary General Sarah Lewis, also on hand at the event and an integral part in the IOC’s decision process, made a point of noting slopestyle’s growing fan base and media interest, which is translating not only into the expansion of events like world championships, but also into the accessibility as terrain parks continue to pop up at winter resorts around the world.
And that’s why women’s ski jumping continues to face an uphill battle. For all of the valid arguments for its inclusion in the Games, ski jumping isn’t open to the public. One doesn’t buy a lift ticket and go jumping for the day. And ski resorts aren’t building Olympic-caliber ski-jump hills, either. What they are building are terrain parks that fit their size and clientele. What’s more, they are selling cheaper, park-access-only tickets that’s generating revenue while preserving the atmosphere for the resorts’ skiers and riders.
Whether are not it’s first in the Olympics line, whether or not I’ll ever try it, slopestyle charmed me today. I was smitten with the 28-year-old American Keri Herman, who captured bronze and whose description of her run included this excerpt: ” … I disastered that, then transferred from the bonk thing to the landing of the butter-box deal …”
I assumed that when she said “disastered,” she meant that she nearly bit it and somehow pulled it off or covered it up – and I was duly impressed. Two interviews later, men’s silver medalist and U.S. teammate Sammy Carlson noted it had nothing to do with a near-miss and was all about a downhill rail with a big gap in the middle. Obviously, if you miss the landing after the gap, it can be a disaster. I also heard terms like “water box,” “cheese wedge” and something about a barrel.
I’m not exactly sure what it all is, but I know I want to learn more – and I bet so will a lot of other people. — Lisa Antonucci
OFFICIAL RESULTS FIS World Freestyle Ski Championships Park City Mountain Resort, Park City, UT – Feb. 3, 2011 Slopestyle
Rank Name Year Nation Result Points
1 SCHLOPY Alex 1992 USA 41.8 1000.00
2 CARLSON Sam 1989 USA 41.5 800.00
3 HENSHAW Russell 1990 AUS 41.2 600.00
1 SEGAL Anna 1986 AUS 43.4 1000.00
2 TURSKI Kaya 1988 CAN 41.7 800.00
3 HERMAN Keri 1982 USA 41.0 600.00