These are interesting times for competitive snowboarding. As everybody now knows, FIS's rejection of the TTR's Joint Qualification proposal means the ski federation will solely control the slopestyle and halfpipe qualification processes in the lead up to Sochi -- which begins next winter. Bold claims were made by long-standing snowboard event organizers during the scuffle that our grassroots events are unequivocally the ones that represent snowboarding in the most accurate light.
And so the challenge snowboarding now has to prove is that we really can hold the best snowboarding competitions in the world -- ones that the ski industry and FIS cannot match -- and that the International Olympic Committee decision to keep FIS as the overseer of Olympic snowboard events was wrong for snowboarding and wrong for the Olympics. Not an easy task, but it's one that the organizers of the World Snowboarding Championships, which are taking place this week in Norway, think they are up for.
I recently spoke to Christophe Dubi, the Sports Director of the IOC, about the whole FIS vs. Snowboarding debacle, in an attempt to understand how they see the whole mess. His answer was instructive.
"We have a different perspective," Dubi explained. "As the event owner, you look at the end result. And FIS events at the Games have always been very high. What we hear from athletes, as well, is that coming to the Games is a fantastic experience. When it comes to the last Olympics, the skiercross, boardercross and halfpipe were extraordinary events. Let's be clear on this -- that was thanks to FIS, who work with the organizing committee ... What happens outside the event is not something we can control."
From a neutral perspective, this is an understandable viewpoint: better to go with the Devil You Know. Say what you like about FIS, they have been delivering these events to the IOC forever. In comparison, even the most partisan snowboard observer would concede that competitive freestyle snowboarding is a bit of a mess, organizationally, with its competing tours, iconsistent levels of TV production, an dno clear "champion" at the end of the season. Like it or not (and yes, plenty of people hate it), this is the playing field snowboarding is on now.
There are other wider issues at stake as well: namely, how does snowboarding grab a share of this larger audience without turning into figure skating, or otherwise losing the essence of what makes the sport unique in the first place?
The issues are now being played out in different ways throughout snowboarding. Just a couple of weeks ago, Travis Rice unveiled his version of what the future of competitive riding should look like, the Red Bull Supernatural. It will be interesting to see what the mainstream makes of the event when it airs on NBC. And now, this week in Oslo, organizers of the World Snowboarding Championships have the opportunity to present their version of what snowboarding events should look like.
The WSC has been positioned as "the first championships run by snowboarders since 1999." But the big question that begs is obvious: What makes the World Snowboarding Championships different or more prestigious than the Burton Global Open Series (which is also run by snowboarders), the Dew Tour or the Winter X Games? They all crown a "champion" in one form or another.
Clearly, the success of this first event is pretty important if the WSC is to develop into the banner, prestigious event of our sport -- and if the titles it bestows are to carry internationally-recognized weight. It's also going to be fascinating seeing how the event deals with some of the issues. Like judging.
The TTR-developed Snowboarding Livescoring System is going to get its most high-profile run yet at the WSC. This SLS, which scores per hit, in addition to scoring overall impression, is an attempt to come up with a judging system that, for once and for all, enables riders to express themselves, rather than throw down rote runs, and still score high. At the 2010 Arctic Challenge, where the system was premiered, it seemed to go down well with the riders and make things more understandable for the watching crowd, which are two Holy Grails sought in any judging system.
Overall though, the support of the riders is also going to be key, and on this front the early signs look good. Every top competition rider in the world seems to be in Oslo for the WSC slopestyle, half pipe and quarterpipe events -- including Terje Haakonsen, who has put his considerable weight behind the entire concept.
"The World Champs is a good thing for snowboarding, for sure" reckonsdouble Winter X 2012 gold medal winner Mark McMorris. "I think it's going to be a success, because all the good riders are going to be there."
This weekend, it's going to be fascinating finding out.
We will be bringing you coverage of the event all weekend, starting with the Quarterpipe Finals on Friday. To watch the events live, check out the WSC live stream here.