Snowboarders react to FIS decision

Seb Toutant is one of the many potential future Olympic snowboarders affected by the recent FIS decision. Colin Wiseman

Friday's news that the International Ski Federation (FIS) has rejected TTR's compromise proposal for a joint Olympic qualification system doesn't come as much of a surprise, but one word sums up the response from the world's top slopestyle competitors: disappointment.

"There are already so many events," explains Sebastian Toutant, Winter X slopestyle gold medalist, and winner of multiple events on both the TTR and FIS tours. "Between the Dew Tour, the X Games, the FIS, and the TTR -- it's impossible to compete in them all. If you have to choose, you choose TTR. No one wants to compete FIS."

But with the FIS Olympic qualification system in effect now, elite-level riders will be forced to make different choices. "It will just be such a bummer to have to change your whole season," says Toutant, "just to qualify for one event."

"If the Olympics are supposed to be the pinnacle event, then why aren't the pinnacle events leading up to it going to be recognized as the qualifying events, instead of some bunk-a-- FIS events that nobody cares about? It's ridiculous," says Chas Guldemond, another multiple Winter X/FIS/TTR-event winner and founder of the We Are Snowboarding (WAS) group that was formed to help bring the riders' voices into the Olympic discussion.

"It really makes you think: What's behind all this? Why wouldn't the FIS listen to the riders and the people who want what's best for the sport? It's not legitimate at all, and it's doubly sad because snowboarders built slopestyle into an Olympics-worthy sport on our own."

Could the world's top snowboarders go on strike, following Terje Haakonsen's 1998 example by boycotting the Olympic slopestyle debut in 2014? (Read Haakonsen's opinion on the matter here.) Guldemond issued a non-committal "no comment" in response to the question, but Toutant was less reticent.

"If all the riders stand and say, 'No, we're not happy about this. We're not dogs on a leash you can just tell what to do,' I'll stand with them," Toutant said. "But I don't want to be like Terje -- be the only one saying 'no' while everyone else goes. And what if only a few of us stand, and the people who aren't the best riders go to the Olympics? The Olympics are so important. People outside of snowboarding -- this might be the only time they watch snowboarding. We want our sport to look good. People should see the highest level of competition. I want to be a part of that. I want to stand for my country. It's important for all of us. It's just hard to know what to do now. We're going to have to talk about it."

While the joint TTR/FIS Olympic qualification system proposal was a long shot from the outset, TTR Executive Board member Maria McNulty says there had been some cause for hope. The FIS Freestyle Task Force was operating inside the FIS system, comprised of FIS members fighting for the side of negotiation. During the FIS Fall meetings in October, members of the FIS Snowboard Committee even submitted supporting statements to be committed to official FIS record. FIS Snowboard Committee conference member Ross Palmer, stated:

"It's extremely disappointing," says McNulty, of the FIS top-down decision to disregard the work being done in FIS committee meetings. "The nations and the riders were all backing this idea of working together to achieve a common good, and that just seems to have been totally disregarded."

Guldemond and Toutant say they're looking forward to opportunities to bring riders together to determine next steps as the 2011/2012 competition season resumes in Colorado next month.

"It's hard during the off season, when all the riders are not together, to figure out what we should do, but we're going to have to have a meeting at the Dew Tour and talk about this," says Toutant. "The IOC should listen to us, because without the riders there is no contest."