Alex Schlopy wins first slopestyle event

PARK CITY, Utah -- After winning the Big Air competition at the Winter X Games last weekend, Alex Schlopy hopped in a car and drove straight home to Park City.

He didn't get a chance to relax, though. Not by any stretch.

Schlopy won gold in the inaugural men's slopestyle skiing finals at the 2011 Freestyle World Ski Championship on Thursday, joining other athletes from around the world in putting on a show they hope will land their event in the 2014 Winter Olympics.

"It's one of the fastest-growing, most progressive sports out there right now," Schlopy said of an event in which athletes go down a ski run filled with a variety of rails and jumps and, of course, acrobatic spins with big air. "People love it."

While at least one International Olympic Committee member was impressed Thursday, a decision on whether to include the event at the Sochi Games won't be made until April.

"What I have seen from slopestyle, it is very good," said Canadian IOC representative Walter Sieber. "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."

The IOC is weighing whether to include several new events at the 2014 Winter Games: men's and women's slopestyle skiing, men's and women's slopestyle snowboarding, men's and women's halfpipe skiing, women's ski jumping, a luge team relay, biathlon mixed relay and team events for figure skating and Alpine skiing.

Olympic gold medalist Shaun White, an icon in snowboard halfpipe, has already indicated he would consider crossing over to slopestyle if it's added to the Sochi Games.

"Halfpipe has been there," said Jeremy Forster, director of freestyle skiing for the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association. "It's been proven with snowboarding, so obviously there's a standard they can look at and evaluate."

Slopestyle has also been proven at some of the biggest events around the world, including the Winter X Games, where crowds swelled to more than 40,000 last weekend in Aspen, Colo.

"Just getting into X Games was a huge accomplishment for me," said Schlopy, who still had enough energy after his quick drive home to score 41.80 on Thursday and edge Winter X Games gold medalist Sam Carlson (41.50) for the slopestyle world title.

"I was so excited for this big event," Schlopy said. "Being able to do well in my home town was the best thing I could ever ask for."

Australia's Anna Segal won the women's slopestyle competition with 43.40 points, a crowning achievement after a major knee injury forced her to switch from moguls five years ago. Segal had to work three jobs in Aspen to help fund her early endeavors.

"I wanted to do something more fun and crazy," she said of slopestyle. "If it gets included in the Olympics, I can look back and say I won the first world championship. It's awesome."

Canada's Kaya Turski (41.70) earned silver and American Keri Herman (41.0) took bronze.

Segal is confident about the future of her new event, especially after seeing three different countries represented on the podium and flags from others like Norway and Great Britain flying in the Park City crowd -- despite temperatures that hovered just above zero.

"It shows a lot of countries are participating in the event," Segal said. "That's very important to the IOC. I don't see any obstacles to getting into the Olympics."

Sarah Lewis, secretary general to the International Ski Federation, said the IOC's biggest concerns might be that slopestyle events are judged rather than timed.

"You don't have to look very far down the road from Park City with what happened in Salt Lake City and figure skating," Lewis said of the scoring scandal at the 2002 Winter Games. "It's important we demonstrate the judging system is solid."

Lewis also said there is no issue with having to build new facilities to handle slopestyle events. A terrain park is already planned in Russia, and features can be built based upon how creative athletes get by the 2014 Winter Games.

"Who knows where we'll be in 12 months or in three years and the tricks they'll ... come up with? It's a sport that can easily be adapted," she said.

Joe Fitzgerald, freestyle director for the International Ski Federation, said the popularity is already there. About 50 nations have youths doing the same jumps and tricks that Schlopy and Segal performed Thursday, with an estimated 1,500 terrain parks worldwide.

The jumps can range anywhere from 60 to 70 feet with skiers often traveling even farther through the air, completing three and four flips with various grabs and rotations.

"It's this huge, phenomenal growth of what kids are actually doing these days," Fitzgerald said, noting the IOC likes youth appeal when weighing new events. "The equipment is in place, the snow's in place, the courses are in place. And the original spirit of freestyle has always been there. They're just expressing it again."