Silje Norendal battling the slings and arrows of Olympic fortune. Photo: Tristan Kennedy
I have a Shit List. It contains the names of people who have wronged me or been particularly unpleasant; for my friends it is an endless source of amusement, baiting me about age old grudges that I can’t let go of. But at the insistence of my wife, who believed it was going to give me cancer, I got in touch with nearly everyone on the list to make amends.
All of them were oblivious to their perceived slights, the weight of the hate I was carrying was lifted and forgiveness was like an epiphany that let me ditch the negativity and move on. When I reached the end of the list there were only two names left: one was a man who had his henchmen dangle me off the 40ft balcony of a club by my ankles. I don’t want to speak to him.
“I have spent my career watching the sport I love slowly being bent and twisted to fit into the FIS mould of what a winter sport should be, and I have held them directly responsible for the standardisation of the sport”
The second wasn’t a person, it was an organisation: The FIS.
Snowboarding found me in 1992. It was love at first sight and I am just as passionate today as I was in the early 90s. In the mid 90s snowboarding wrestled for control of its destiny with the International Federation of Skiing, or FIS. Snowboarding lost; skiing – a sport that had originally rejected and belittled snowboarding – had become its master.
I have spent my career watching the sport I love slowly being bent and twisted to fit into the FIS mould of what a winter sport should be, and I have held them directly responsible for the standardisation of the sport. Standardisation that has come at the expense of the creativity and spontaneity which made snowboarding so great in the first place.
At the beginning of September my kids started a new school in the Swiss alps. The school gates are a fascinating melting pot of people from all walks of life, from all over the world. One morning a man called Hanno approached me and introduced himself as the head of the P.T.A. He said he understood the rhythm of my working life because he had worked for the FIS. I asked him what he did and he told me he was originally a hotdog skier and had helped build the FIS rule book and world tour, eventually seeing it become an Olympic sport. Once he had achieved that he had volunteered to do the same for snowboarding.
And like that life presented me with the most prized name on my Shit List: Hanno Treindl – in my mind the architect of snowboarding’s demise. But forgiveness and understanding had been such a revelation to me, and Hanno is a genuinely interesting guy, so consigning him to the Shit List was not an option. Instead, I explained what he represented to me and asked if, knowing that, he would accept an invitation for a cup of tea to talk about the battle for control of snowboarding from his perspective.
So here it is, a conversation with a man who’s views I’m willing to bet my house have never been heard within snowboarding.
What is your background Hanno, how did you get involved in organised snow sports?
I started in the 70s with moguls, aerials and ski ballet, which was called hot dogging, and back then it was a new movement, like snowboarding in the 90s. Kind of outlawed.
And as snowboarder I can respect that. I have a picture of 70s hotdogging being held in the same low regard by alpine skiing traditionalists as snowboarding was in the 90s. Is that fair?
Hmmm, there was a little friction. There were T-shirts floating around in Alpine saying ‘Short skis suck’. It was funny but there was no lasting controversy or conflict.
So how did you get involved in organising things? How did hotdog skiing develop?
We formed our own federations – first national ones and then an international ones – and then in the late 70s a lot of people wanted to see it become a part of the Olympic Winter Games, so we started working with a few of the national ski associations and we also contacted the FIS.
So the relationship that hotdog skiing fostered with the FIS was a natural progression?
Yes. We had developed our own series of competitions and written a rule book, we had sponsors so the first contact we had with the FIS was friendly. We didn’t try to build our own federation because we were on skis, so we figured it made sense because we were all sliding around on snow to work with the FIS. We formalised the arrangement in the early 80s and so as our involvement with the FIS grew we were able to stay in control of what was happening.
“They wanted to include snowboarding because there were a lot of people in their countries participating and getting involved. We looked into it and then at the FIS congress in 1994 it was decided that they would involve snowboarding”
That last sentence is interesting, we’ll come back to that. But let’s keep going chronologically for now. How did the FIS first get involved in snowboarding?
Of course, we were aware of snowboarding and what was happening but we never really got involved with it. Then in the early 90s five of the biggest national associations – the US, Canada, France, Italy and Germany – came to the FIS, to my boss at the time, now the president of the FIS Gian-Franco Casper. He was secretary general then. They said they wanted to include snowboarding because there were a lot of people in their countries participating and getting involved. We looked into it and then at the FIS congress in 1994 it was decided that they would involve snowboarding.
Were you at that meeting? Was it heated? I imagine there were some people who were fiercely opposed to it.
I was at the congress. There was a motion from some five, six or seven of the biggest nations, which was accepted unanimously without any discussions. The FIS is very structured, the motion had already been discussed within the council and recommended for acceptance. All motions to the congress are first discussed by the FIS Council.