Are Contests Killing Snowboarding?

With a little snowboard contest coming up in Russia this February, and the inclusion of a ‘new’ snowboard discipline in the form of slopestyle, competitive snowboarding has never had so many pairs of eyeballs upon it. But fundamentally, are contests in snowboarding a good thing or are they doing more harm than good? Danny Burrows investigates…

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The X-Games: one of the pinnacles in the world of competitive snowboarding. But is it a good thing for snowboarding as a whole?

Words: Danny Burrows

Competitions are snowboarding’s equivalent of school exams and lined up to take them, with varying degrees of willingness and absenteeism, is the spectrum of snowboarding’s laypeople.

These include swots, who cram for their event and excel through hard work; geniuses, for whom competing is inconsequential, but innate talent guides them to glory; rippers whose brilliance crumbles under pressure and who tend to avoid the struggle; and a handful of whiz kids whose ‘intelligence’ is inapplicable to conventional tests and choose never to appear before an examining board.

For the latter, it is just as well they don’t, as there are few contests, aside from the likes of Supernatural or Frontline Railjam, that reward their strain of wisdom. Judging panels, for the sake of accountability, trade in the currency of fact, as amplitude and degrees of rotation are quantifiable, while style and creativity are subjective. For this reason contests have little to do with invention and everything to do with planned and practiced runs. Or as Danny Larsen once put it: “they are really good at taking good ideas and making them impressive”

That said, there are individuals, like Haldor Helgason, who compete but care little for the end result. His particular strain of genius results in wins but they are more of hearts and crap tattoos than heavy metals.

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Halldor Helgason’s approach to either come first or last at contests is a refreshing one…

So what is the purpose of a snowboard competition beyond a rider’s need to dabble in one-upmanship and money of course? And how relevant are they to the scene or as an older generation might say, the lifestyle?

At Onboard there was always the dilemma whether to include contests in the magazine or not. Our readership suggested that they couldn’t give a damn who won what as what they wanted was inspirational snowboarding and whiz kids breaking new ground. That could be in contests or beyond but the overall feeling is that snowboarding doesn’t fixate on winner worshiping like other sports do. There are few non-participating watchers of snowboard events.

So who is snowboarding’s Sebastian Vettel for a democratic palette? Is it the gold medalists of the Olympics, Dew Tour or XGames? The overall winner of the Open series? The Champions, male and female, of The Snowboarding World Championships? Or the FIS’s annual World Champ? Alas, the unwillingness of the Olympics, the FIS and some independent series, until recently, to cooperate for the greater good of snowboarding and the health and happiness of the riders involved has rendered competitive snowboarding and its heroes near on inaccessible to an outside audience.

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Shaun White: the poster boy for competitive snowboarding

There is one man who through graft, talent and a supporting team has become the competitive poster boy of snowboarding to a broad audience and that is Shaun White. He is no Scott Stevens in inventiveness but he is indisputably a king of perfecting and polishing. That said he didn’t even have to put down his ‘next level’ run in Vancouver and rumours are rife of his new tricks for Sochi, in 2014.

Let me close with this again from Danny Larsen: “contest riders are pushed into a contest mould that doesn’t fit snowboarding, at least not the way it has been until now. It will be just like any other sport and the young cool edge will slowly wither away and we will be about as cool as slalom which also was a “cool guy” sport back in the days. This mould fits perfectly for the big brands that want to get a 360 customer that first buys their snowboard products and then ends up buying their golf equipment when they grow older. The ones that suffer are actual snowboard companies”.

What do you think? Are snowboard contests killing snowboarding’s image and perception or are they a vital aspect of the ‘sport’? Let us know in the comments section below!

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