Despite the weather conditions trying their best to throw a spanner in the works, the Mile High event in Perisher managed to get a results list done on their progressive slopestyle course – Darcy Sharp and Jess Rich took the honours. Further proof that snowboard slopestyle is moving in the right direction?
Snowboarding's still comparatively young, and snowboard slopestyle even younger still. When a bunch of event organisers back in the day had the brainwave of combining a series of rails and jibs with a succession of big air jumps to create a flowing canvas for riders to flash the card that says 'I'm Damn Good At Doing A Bunch Of Different Stuff On My Snowboard', shit was awesome.
Over the years, though, that impact was blunted. Inevitably courses would boil down to three – admittedly with varying options – rail features at the top, followed by three or four standard kickers in a row to finish off with. Partly this was due to terrain and physics – dropping a jib between two hits requiring lengthy airtime is impractical in many areas due to the need for speed – partly budgetary constraints (more options need more money to build) and partly this was due to internal politicking, with some riders privately bemoaning things like transitions in slopestyle courses as it gave pipe riders an advantage.
But the last couple of seasons have seen more and more people clamouring for more creative approach to course setups to be implemented. And slowly it seems to be working. In the last couple of seasons we've seen increasingly innovative jib features introduced, as well as growing number of side-hit options. Think to last winter's editions of the US Open, European Open, X Games or even the Snow Jam in Spindlruv Mlyn - all had hits that were far from your standard stairset or straight jump features. and, now, the Mile High has continued in this vein. Of course, paramount for such courses is flow, which is why you definitely don't want something like this ill-conceived quarter mid-way through an FIS event's course to happen ever again...
Will the riders who are really in the mix to win such events actually utilise them, or prefer to be more conservative to hit what they know? Fundamentally it breaks down to the judges criteria that they'll lay out at riders meetings, but so far, you'd have to say it's the former – Ståle's double Crippler out of the Mini Creative feature at last year's BEO is one example, as is Jamie Anderson alley-ooping out of the whippy US Open side hit another.
At the Mile High, park honcho Charles Beckinsale explains their thinking: "Everyone's talked about how they wanted to see slopestyle change and get more creative," he says in the event edit, "so we went ahead and mixed it up with some quarterpipe transitions, halfpipe-style jumps and a rail line that wasn't straight down the fall-line." And we're stoked they did.
Multiple options and lines offer riders more ways to demonstrate their mastery of snowboarding to a panel of judges in more interesting ways than simply tagging on another rotation or flip, and makes for a more interesting show for spectators, so let's hope this season's contests follow the path opened up in Perisher this past week.