Ski halfpipe approved for 2014 Olympics

Men's and women's ski halfpipe has been added to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, the International Olympic Committee announced Wednesday in London.

Men's and women's snowboard slopestyle and men's and women's ski slopestyle were not added to the program at this time.

"This is a great day," Christophe Dubi, the IOC's sports director, said. "A decision will be made in the coming month [regarding slopestyle] after further feasibility study. We need our experts to review the situation with the organizing committee, FIS [skiing's governing body] as well, prior to making a final decision." Dubi confirmed that a decision on slopestyle is expected in a "matter of weeks."

For the upcoming slopestyle decision, the IOC is sending a team to Sochi to conduct a feasability report. "We need extra information about the capacity for the athletes and the spectators in the region," said IOC President Jacques Rogge at a later press conference at the London meetings. "If you add more events, you need more slopes and more access for spectators and technicians."

Ski halfpipe athletes are excited about the news. "I've always wanted to go to the Olympics, so this is a dream come true," Canadian pipe skier Mike Riddle said. "I've been pushing for ski halfpipe inclusion for years now, so this makes my goal very clear for the next three years. This is basically a life-changing decision for me."

For slopestyle athletes, the decision is bittersweet. "I'm happy they're accepting a little bit of freeskiing in there. But I'm also super disappointed," 2010 Winter X ski slopestyle champion Sammy Carlson said. "They've been working at pipe longer than slope and there's been a lot of hype of ski pipe getting in, so I understand. But to me, it makes more sense to accept slopestyle: Kids everywhere who ski their local hill can get into jumps and rails, but not every ski area has a halfpipe. Kids can relate more to slopestyle."

Ski halfpipe will make its first Olympic-level appearance in January 2012 at the first Winter Youth Olympic Games in Innsbruck.

The IOC's debate on ski halfpipe and ski and snowboard slopestyle has been more than 10 months in the making.

In June 2010, FIS voted to support ski halfpipe in its bid to become a medal event for men and women. This met essential IOC criteria that sports be affiliated with a recognized international federation before gaining Olympic status.

Another step forward occurred in September 2010, when the IOC program commission met in Lausanne, Switzerland, and recommended ski halfpipe for inclusion to the IOC executive board.

The freeskiing community expected a decision at the IOC executive board meeting in October in Acapulco, Mexico, but instead, the governing body said it would wait and see what happened at the world championships of sports up for consideration.

The good news? At that meeting, the IOC confirmed that ski and snowboard slopestyle were up for review as well.

Because the IOC requires Olympic sports to participate in established competition series with standardized judging formats, the freeskiing competition landscape shifted during the 2010-11 season. The U.S. Grand Prix, an established qualifier for the U.S. Olympic snowboarding team, added ski halfpipe for the first time. The FIS freestyle world championships added a slopestyle event for the first time, and IOC official Walter Bieber attended as a spectator.

Throwing snowboard slopestyle into the mix has had a ripple effect through the snowboarding community. Athletes chafed at the idea that FIS, a ski organization, would continue to govern their sport and that the addition of Olympic qualifying events to an already crowded competition schedule would push athletes too far. Terje Haakonsen encouraged snowboarders to have a voice, asking them to sign his 180 Olympic Charter. Chas Guldemond and other top slopestyle riders founded We Are Snowboarding in solidarity.

Olympic status for ski halfpipe is expected to have a direct impact on the training, funding, and resources available to athletes. In fact, it already has: In January, the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association launched U.S. Freeskiing in partnership with The North Face, which would presumably supply Olympic uniforms.

The unofficial Canadian halfpipe team will be legitimatized and American skiers will be able to follow ski pipe's Jen Hudak's lead in training at the U.S. Ski team facility in Park City, Utah.

The IOC also wins, bringing in a sport that appeals to a young demographic and giving the Olympic Games more universal appeal. At the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, the live coverage of Shaun White's gold medal in snowboarding halfpipe helped NBC capture 30.1 million viewers in the U.S.

"Involving freeskiing in the Olympics will bring a younger, fresher, edgier feel to the Olympics, similar to how snowboarding halfpipe did," pipe and slopestyle skier Gus Kenworthy said. "I'm eagerly awaiting the 2014 Games and can't wait to see what the incorporation of freeskiing will do both for the Olympics and for our sport."

Women's ski jumping, biathlon mixed relay, figure skating team event and luge team relay also were added to the Olympic program.