Smiles for days

Words by Joe Cavanagh

In early June, the World Snowboard Tour announced a shape shifting new format for competitive snowboarding. The new format united the riders together under one banner, brought events TV distribution deals with worldwide partners and it seemed there was hope on the horizon for the future of competitive snowboarding.

Those hopes were somewhat dashed this week with the release of the WST 2014/15 calendar. The talks of a six-stop elite tour culled to three and a viable tour for riders shattered for yet another season.

“It’s like taking one step forward and two steps back’– were the words uttered by one of the longest standing members of the Onboard team on the announcement.

To avoid the usual shit slinging, smack talking and hot air blowing that usually follows anything to do with competitive snowboarding, we spoke to WST President Reto Lamm and Executive Board Member for Strategy and Communications Dirk Loesch.

So what happened to 2.0? Was it just too big of a task to implement in once season, or were there other factors that led to this years ‘1.5’ system?

Reto - So we have basically implemented the new structure with the four level system, but without making the riders sign up for a tour because we don’t have the money behind the concept.

1.5 is basically right…what you said.

So with 1.5 what you're basically saying is that we couldn’t get to 2.0 because the commercial interests didn’t line up?

Reto - Yeah, the expectations of the events were bigger than originally discussed and you know there was a little bit of disconnection between the expectations and what could be delivered. In the end it delayed the process so much we had to cut the talks and reassess next year.

Brage Richenberg / Sami Tuoriniemi

With the X-Games not signing on to be part of the tour and the Air & Style undecided even though the Beijing practice is going down right now, is it frustrating to be dropped like that?

Reto – It’s interesting that they will now do Beijing without being part of the tour and I wonder what happens now with the riders - whether they ask Shaun why he’s not doing this.

Dirk - We’ve seen the X-Games try to do a world tour and now they’re back to one event. We’ve seen the Dew Tour try to do a world tour and now they’re back to one event. Now it’s Shaun again trying to do it and in the end nobody ever really succeeded trying to do it on their own.

The WST has no other purpose than to serve the sport. Everything we do has a clear benefit to the events; it brings transparency to a highly fragmented sport.

Reto – If we’d managed to pull off the financial concept then we would have had more negotiation power, but now it’s reliant on the snowboarding community.

That’s sometimes hard for us because people understand that if you have money, you get in line, because they’d be like ‘this is a successful concept’ and we want to be a part of it. People need schooling in that…

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Because it seems that the riders have made a lot of progress in aligning their interests, but the industry still seems very fragmented. Would bringing the industry together in a similar alliance make a big difference for you?

Reto – For sure it would be great - at the time when we had Swatch as a sponsor, we could, but now at this point we have the money to run a points system and we have volunteer people on the board.

I mean all of us earn zero at this point, so we don’t have extra resources to do work for the industry. The industry is so far away from the reality of our sport and it’s weird to see that the industry doesn’t pay attention to competitive snowboarding at all.

Not all of them, but some of the industry players they focus on powder turns.

Dirk – Have you seen Matt Barr’s article on the impact on the Olympics in the UK? It’s clear that competitive snowboard has an impact for the sport and for the industry. We don’t want to say that competitive snowboarding is the heart and soul of snowboarding, but it is an important factor.

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There’s always critisim that competitive snowboarding has become stale and that’s why brand and riders have come away from it. Does the format and course design need to change to ‘save snowboarding’?

Reto - The thing is, I’m telling you my personal opinion, and that’s that snowboarding is getting smaller.

By telling a different story every time, we don’t create awareness. Normal people out there don’t even realise snowboarding exists anymore because we don’t have any presence on TV and basically we’re dissolving by diversifying our own product.

We really think that in the situation that the whole sport is in, we need all the aspects to come together as one.

Dirk - If there are new formats that would be great. But where’s the money? We’re not talking about two or three hundred thousand here or there, we’re talking about a couple of million to get into the sport and making sure that that gets to the people that drive and create the sport.

That’s the athletes, the riders themselves. Look at their financial situation; has it improved?

Today there’s just not enough money in the sport. By diversifying and making it smaller and smaller, you’re not going to solve that problem. So how can we bring more money into the sport?

That’s really one of our biggest tasks.

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So what you’re saying is that the biggest issue facing competitive snowboarding is just plain and simply money? If everyone in the industry has some money, we’re all hunkey dory?

Reto – (laughs) Hunkey dorey…I like that! For riders this is a little complicated…snowboarding is super expensive. Slopestyle and halfpipe are probably the most expensive winter sport that there are. We’re not talking hundreds of thousands, we’re talking millions.

When snowboarding was seen as a trend sport - brands threw money at us randomly like ‘Oh, was it successful? Ah we don’t care, it’s snowboarding, it’s hip’

Those days are over.

When we talk about a sponsor we need to fix the sport, like Coco-Cola, who could come in and pay us like 15 million bucks, but that wouldn’t even pay for the whole elite level. That would maybe pay for 30% of the elite level.

We think that snowboarding really has to get its act together and I think all of the people involved in snowboarding should work together more and come to a productive solution

So we need a sponsor that’s not part of the Olympics because of contracts, but that sponsor will only partner with us if we guarantee them TV time. But big TV stations have contracts with the Olympics, so we go to the smaller TV channels. Then there’s not enough exposure for the big sponsor anymore, so we lose them. Then we lose the TV channel.

So we have to have a straight solution with the IOC, but the IOC have a policy to not interfere with anything that the FIS is doing and FIS are never going to give us any money or connect us with any IOC sponsors.

We are one of the very first action sports that have come into this situation. You will see freeskiing, skateboarding and all these other action sports come into the same situation as we are now, and the IOC must find a solution for that.

Russia Winter Olympics February 5 ,Snowboarder Billy Morgan performs a rodeo on the canon rail during the snowboard slopestyle practice session filmed by head freestyle snowboard coach Hamish Mcnight

And so have you ever managed to have any dialogue with the IOC about this?

Reto - One of my ideas to them is that we make an action sports federation that actually holds all these youth culture sports centrally; surfing, skateboarding, snowboarding and whatever.

And what did they say about that?

Reto – I spoke to one IOC member who is very influential (I don’t want to name them), but they thought it was a great idea and they’re going to bring it up for discussion at their meeting in a week with some of their fellows.

Dirk – What Reto just described is the very, very big picture. We think that snowboarding really has to get its act together and I think all of the people involved in snowboarding should work together more and come to a productive solution, and right now TTR is the only platform for that.

Basically, the industry isn’t organised. The riders are now only just starting to get organised. The events are kind of organised through the TTR.

We really think that in the situation that the whole sport is in, we need all the aspects to come together as one.

Only when all of these different parties come together can snowboarding be the number one again.