Seppe Smits on his way to becoming World Champion... sort of. Photo: Oliver Kraus
In 2015, FIS took two of its showcase events – the Freestyle World Ski Championships and the World Snowboarding Championships, both held every two years – and combined them into one super-event. The FIS Freestyle Ski and Snowboarding World Championships was born, and the second edition is currently underway in Sierra Nevada, Spain.
With thirteen disciplines spread across twelve days, it’s one of the biggest snowsports events in the world. It’s also a bit of a joke.
"Making the World Championships a mini-Olympics isn’t doing snowboarding (or skiing, for that matter) any favours whatsoever"
A look at the list of disciplines leaves us scratching our heads. Slopestyle and halfpipe contests are run for both skiing and snowboarding, but Big Air is only for the latter. Perhaps it’s because the skiers have the Aerials and the Moguls – as if pencil-spinning off near-vertical takeoffs, or laying out the occasional backflip between punishing stretches of everyone's least favourite terrain, is quite enough.
Then there’s the fact that it includes ski and snowboard cross. Granted, this is often immensely watchable, but "freestyle"? Not unless you count the occasional showboating that usually ends in tears (see Lindsey Jacobellis at the 2006 Olympics). So why the need to lump it in with these other events? And that’s before you get to the fact that even snowboard slalom racing is included – another hangover of the merge.
The host resort changes every time, and bids can only come from places that are willing and able to cater for all of these disciplines. Is that why this year’s event is taking place in the Spanish resort of Sierra Nevada, where heroic shapers battle sky-high temperatures and the slopestyle course resembles a manky skidmark?
Making the World Championships a mini-Olympics isn’t doing snowboarding (or skiing, for that matter) any favours whatsoever. If FIS insist on holding a ‘Freestyle World Championships’ that’s never likely to feature the planet’s very best riders (most of this year’s slopestyle and Big Air favourites were at X Games Oslo) then there’s a better way to do it.
"This year’s event is taking place in Sierra Nevada, where heroic shapers battle sky-high temperatures and the slopestyle course resembles a manky skidmark"
Strip it back to slopestyle, Big Air and halfpipe events for both skiers and snowboarders – they use the same courses, after all, and it works well enough at the X Games – and run the other disciplines separately. As well as being easier to organise and promote, this simpler approach would also allow for more (not to mention better) host resort options.
Meanwhile snowboard racing could be held alongside the popular ski racing circuit, and Aerials/Moguls can be something else entirely. Why not roll them up with Ski Jumping?That’d make about as much sense as what’s currently happening.
This isn’t just a case of #FuckFIS – many mistakes were made in the past, mostly concerning control of the Olympics, but things have definitely improved since that first attempt to feature slopestyle at the World Championships back in 2011 (the footage of which still makes us wince).
Plus the organisation is not without its merits; its qualification process is transparent, and it took women’s Big Air seriously at a time when the X Games and Air+Style didn’t. Besides, given that some riders have been known to turn down an X Games invite in order to chase Olympic qualification points, calling for a FIS boycott based on past crimes isn't likely to succeed anyway.
The equivalent event from the competing World Snowboard Tour isn't without problems of its own. Its World Championships are held every four years - something that makes very little sense for anything below the scale of the Olympics or the FIFA World Cup - and at the 2016 edition in China, they couldn't even get a decent halfpipe built.
It's therefore not impossible to imagine that FIS could one day run a definitive slopestyle, halfpipe and Big Air gathering that both snowboarders and skiers would be happy to call their World Championships. After watching the recent struggles in the Spanish slush, however, it's clear that there's a lot of work to be done.