Dew Tour pros talk slopestyle’s Olympic debut
Often dubbed “park rats” because of their tendency to spend the majority of their on-mountain time hiking terrain parks and honing new tricks off jumps and rails, slopestyle athletes can’t wait to showcase their talent – and grow their sport – on the world stage this February.
“I’m so excited that they added slopestyle to the Sochi Games,” says 23-year-old Jamie Anderson, who won last weekend’s snowboard slopestyle contest at the Dew Tour – the first Olympic qualifier of the season – and has dominated women’s slopestyle for years, having landed three X Games gold medals, earning her first bronze at the age of 15. “I think it’s going to be a really fun, new, exciting energy coming into the Olympics.”
Anderson has dabbled in halfpipe but the park is where her heart has always been. As a kid, she was resigned to the fact that slopestyle wasn’t an Olympic event, but like most uber-talented young athletes, she naturally dared to dream big.
“Growing up in the mountains and following my passion, of course I wanted to go to the Olympics. But I was OK with not being a pipe rider – even though I tried. I was like, I just want to follow my passion and do what I love … ride park,” she says. “Just a few short seasons later it was talked about. When they finally made the announcement I was super stoked. I feel like it’s such an amazing opportunity to reach out to so many people across the whole world.”
While halfpipe made its Olympic debut in 1998, even though slopestyle has long-since been one of the hottest events at Dew Tours, X Games and Grand Prix, it’s been on the Winter Games discussion table for several years.
“I heard in the past that the Olympic committee didn’t want to add any more judged events,” she says. “But with how popular slopestyle has gotten in the last few years, I think they realize it’s time. It’s cool they’re open to letting our event be a part of it. The Olympics doesn’t compare to anything I’ve ever done. I’m thankful for the opportunity.”
Breck skier Bobby Brown, who also has a collection of slopestyle medals, agrees that it is high time it plants itself on the world stage.
“I think it’s been getting momentum. It was perfect timing to get it in now,” he says. “It was starting to blow up and now this blows it up to the next level.”
Whereas pipe allows skiers and riders to hit big tricks (switch double cork 1260s are sort of the baseline these days for men), the tricks are done in the confines of a pipe. While top-level pipe riding is unquestionably awe-inspiring, the spectacle of athletes launching down a series of rails and gathering speed over building-sized jumps is just as exciting … more so, according to some riders.
Northstar-At-Tahoe snowboarder Chas Guldemond has had a fair shake in halfpipe over the years but has always found his true calling in slopestyle, as evidenced by his multiple Grand Prix victories, slopestyle world championship win and his fifth-place slopestyle finish (the best of any American male rider) in last weekend’s Dew Tour. He considers himself and other long-time park riders to be pioneers of slopestyle and is convinced that it one-ups the level of talent seen in the pipe.
“I think the level of competition is higher for sure. There’s more guys putting together top-level runs than in the pipe,” he says. “It’s amazing that it’s finally on the big stage. It’s cool to be a part of it. I feel myself and a couple other people progressed the sport to be in the Olympics, so it’s a pretty proud moment.”
While halfpipe is also a judged event – top scores given to athletes who execute the most complex set of tricks with the most zeal, precision and flawlessness – the judging is simpler in the confines of a pipe. Slopestyle courses on the other hand, vary in length and quantity of features. The Breck course, for example, has four jumps and four rails while the Olympic course in Rosa Khutor, Russia, has three jumps and three rails. Breckenridge rider Celia Miller speculates that this reality may account for what stalled slopestyle’s introduction into the Games, pointing out that it may be more complicated for average viewers to understand how scores are determined.
“It’s a lot easier for a viewer to judge a halfpipe contest,” she says. “It’s always the same – very consistent – whereas slopestyle always changes. I think that’s why it was hard for an Olympic committee to make some kind of scoring system that’s going to be easy to repeat year after year, from one course to the next. I mean, we understand it, but I could see other people getting confused. But I’m glad it’s in this year. I’ve always been into slopestyle. I like riding the pipe, but I think it’s scary.”
When asked how she doesn’t find backflipping off monolithic jumps and hitting hard metal rails scary, Miller explains that it’s all about what you’re used to. In her case and in the case of every other pro slopestyle athlete, it’s years and years of practice in the terrain park.
“It’s just experience,” she says. “If I was to try this five or six years ago, I’d be scared too. It just gets in your system. You do a little bit at a time … add another 180, trust your speed, be more mature with it. It’s all just experience, just taking it one contest at a time.”
– Shauna Farnell