The Death of Style in Contest Snowboarding? Ethan Morgan and Sage Kotsenburg Speak Out

Is contest riding going to shit? Ethan Morgan discusses some of the key problems from a riders perspective in this explosive and honest opinion piece.

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I started snowboarding because of the Olympics, I saw the SLC halfpipe event in 1998 and saw a bunch of insane riders; a big pot of riders that had individuality, different styles, different runs and different characters. I got super pumped on that vibe and knew I had to try it out.

Now I am here and tried to qualify for the Olympics myself, which didn’t work out. I kinda just tried it on the side next to filming for my videopart, thought I’d have a go at it…  I mean why not? But after seeing all this FIS stuff and what goes down, I couldn’t believe how lame competition snowboarding has gotten. And I am not blaiming it on FIS, it is mainly our own fault.

Everybody is exactly the same. Exactly the same tricks, same grabs, especially mutegrabs, same robotic riding style and mad serious faces when they go through the gates to go up for their next run.

I’m not talking about the triples and spin to win, I’m just thinking where the hell did the individuality go? Everybody is exactly the same. Exactly the same tricks, same grabs, especially mutegrabs, same robotic riding style and mad serious faces when they go through the gates to go up for their next run. No fun, just insane tricks that nobody can relate to. If I would see X Games big air as it is today at the age of 7 before I started, I wouldn’t really be sure about trying it out as much as when I was watching Heikki Sorsa drop in the pipe with a huge alley oop 540 with an enormous mohawk back then in SLC, not giving a fuck. It’s crazy, everybody in the contest scene got me so stoked on snowboarding back then. Now the only ones I see who keep it real and make the comps cool to watch, but still show skill are Halldor Helgason and Sage Kotsenburg. They show that they are having fun. And that is where everybody else lost it.

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Halldor Helgason: one of the few snowboarders in Ethan’s eyes who are keeping competition snowboarding real. Photo: Olav Stubberud

I have to say the tricks that go down these days are insane. I think that progression is cool, but that doesn’t mean give up on the other factors that started this sport. STYLE. How can judges give kids points when they do their beautiful backside 1080 mutegrabs when, (hence the mutegrabs) people look like meatballs spinning through the air? And for the landings, hands are high in the air like an areal ski-jumper, making sure the judges know you didn’t touch the ground. We used to all make fun of that sport, but now we can consider ourselves the same. Serious athletes doing three flips and four spins with a perfect execution position (mutegrab) and landing with their hands up high. Whats the difference?

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Sage Kotsenburg has been continually mixing up his grabs and keeping it interesting in contests. Like this sick double grab from the Air & Style in China.

Sage Kotsenburg feels the same way as I do and here is what he had to say:

Snowboarding nowadays has no diversity, when I show up first day of practice I can call almost everyone’s runs out already because it has become so routine oriented. There aren’t the most creative features but I have found out that if you look at a course in a different way, you find so many ways to actually RIDE the mountain within the course. You find trannies and cool ways to hit features that were never meant to be hit, and that’s the only thing that makes contests fun to me anymore.  

I have so much respect for people spinning and flipping more because it is really gnarly. But what is PROGRESSION of tricks when there is DEGRESSION of style? I am definitely not one to claim I have good style at all but I do enjoy doing weird, different and creative stuff.   

And not only are most of the riders succumbing to this huck til you hit mentality but the judges are rewarding it. A lot of the judges have told me to not stop what I am doing because they love seeing it, I mean why would I stop doing what I am doing? I am having a great time and I am trying to push snowboarding the way I want to see it go, and I know i’m not saying it is the right way, just the way I would like to see it.  

But what bothers me is when the judges say stuff like, “keep up with the creative grabs and tweaks… the weird stuff” and then they don’t reward it any more than a basic run with same grabs and routine as the last 3 years? Everyone has their opinion… This is mine. At the end of the day it’s just snowboarding and we all love it. I just want to help preserve it.  

This whole thing has gone so far that the speakers can’t even call out the tricks. More than 40% of the tricks the speakers call on TV at X Games are completely wrong. So the people behind the mic are not representing this sport to the audience in the way it is supposed to be.

But what really gets me going is the judging. Okay, so who are these people? Of course, there are some legit judges, like Ingemar Backman, Devun Walsh or Giom Morrisset that were/are pro’s and know what this sport is about. But those are three of many, many judges that are being flown in and out of contest series to judge comps.

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It was this shot from Ethan Morgan’s Instagram (and the associated caption) that prompted us to get in touch with him and find out what he thought of the recent direction that competitive snowboarding has taken.

Speaking of skiers, FIS is run by skiers too! A complete different sport running our sport and making a shit ton of money off of us. So pretty much every one of these contests was pretty bad, I was in almost all of them in 2013. They make you ride, no matter how windy/snowy/icy it is on the course. They don’t consider rider’s opinions, there is no such thing as a ‘riders meeting’, they now call it Team Captain meeting and the courses definitely have no heart in creativity whatsoever. It is all pretty much set up for us so we have to do what FIS wants to see; so it runs their way, not ours.

So then you have the coaches who tell the kids to do exactly the stuff the organizers/speakers/judges want to see and viola! You have your reason why this has all gotten so wack.

Snowboarding just needs a little push from the side that should have the most say in all of this. That is of course, us snowboarders.

Contest snowboarding runs through a bunch of people that shouldn’t be running this sport.  And that’s how it got to the point where it is now. But that doesn’t mean that snowboarding is going to shit, it just needs a little push from the side that should have the most say in all of this. That is of course, us snowboarders. If we don’t do anything about this, then it will stay like this, or get worse.

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Ethan Morgan at the Nike Chosen Sessions a couple of seasons back

Ingemar Backman perhaps said it best in his interview with ESPN: “I wish the riders talked more – with the judges and the event organizers. It has to be the riders who decide the direction snowboard contests go in.” … “I see more personality in cross-country skiing than in a big air event today. Something has to be changed so snowboarding goes in the right direction.”

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