Slopestyle Skiing and Boarding coming to Olympics

Freeskiers and boarders around the globe saw their one-time fringe sport hit the big time today as the International Olympic Committee announced that the disciplines of ski and snowboard slopestyle will be included on the program for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.

In April of this year, the IOC embraced a plethora of new events including ski halfpipe, slopestyle’s sister sport, for the Sochi Games; but deferred a decision on ski and snowboard slopestyle until it could conduct site visits in Russia to further examine the logistics around a potential inclusion.

Slopestyle athletes make their way down, through and over a course comprised of a variety of obstacles including rails, jumps and other terrain park features — scoring points for amplitude, originality and quality of tricks. The discipline has its roots in action sports like skateboarding and BMX biking and has very successfully crossed over into the snow sports worlds of skiing and snowboard.

Already an X Games and Dew Tour favorite, the Olympics will become the jewel in the crown of this burgeoning sport that has a huge fan following in the coveted youth demographic. As such, it is predicted to be a ratings leader for Olympic broadcasters. NBC recently shelled out a record $4.4 billion for the rights to the next four Olympic Games; certainly ski and snowboard slopestyle will help bolster the ratings in the important U.S. market and justify an investment of this magnitude.

Slopestyle athletes in Canada have been waiting on pins and needles since the IOC visits in May to hear if their Olympic hopes would be met and today they are thrilled.

Montreal’s Kaya Turski, who earned a silver medal at the ski version of the event’s inaugural FIS World Championships earlier this year, was ecstatic. “I’m stoked to be part of a sport that represents a younger generation and that’s going to be way cool to watch during the Olympics. I think it will be an eye opener for a lot of people. I feel good about reppin’ Canada! I can’t wait,” said Turski.

X-Games medalist TJ Schiller, from Vernon, B.C., said, “I think it’s very cool to see the Olympics pick up action sports. This is really the next generation of sport, and slopestyle is so young, it hasn’t even come close to hitting its peak. Every year the progression just multiplies. The Olympics are a massive opportunity to show the world what we can do on skis.”

Schiller also talked about the unique relationship freeski and snowboard competitors have with their judges, “We really work together and have meetings at every event to discuss the judging. The athletes and judges share similar views of the sport and we all want to keep the ‘free’ in freestyle.”

Canadian Freestyle Ski Association CEO Peter Judge confirmed that his association is ready and able to help lead Canada’s talent to success in Sochi. “This is the best outcome we could have hoped for. Canada is one of the leading nations in this sport based on the independent commitment of athletes who have been pushing their limits in terrain parks across the country and representing Canada at international events. We have been working with the community and have already identified talent and secured Own the Podium funding to help Canadian athletes be in the best position possible in Sochi.”

Likewise, Canada~Snowboard interim CEO Steven Hills, said, “I have tremendous respect for the Canadian snowboard slopestyle athletes who have been out on the world pro circuit representing Canada so successfully. Their accomplishments bode well for our medal potential in Sochi. But even more than that, this development means that kids from small resorts across the country can realistically work towards an Olympic snowboard dream.”

Aside from Turski and Schiller, Canada is home to a host of highly decorated slopestyle skiers and boarders. On the snowboard side, Montreal’s 18-year-old snowboard sensation Sebastien Toutant, ‘Seb Toots’, who won the 2011 Winter X Games slopestyle event, is a rising star and will certainly be a force to be reckoned with moving towards Sochi. Fellow Quebecers JF Houle (Drummondville) and Kim Lamarre (Lac Beauport) landed fifth on this year’s prestigious Association of Freeskiing Professionals (AFP) overall standings with Turski finishing atop the women’s rankings. Resort terrain parks across Canada will now be buzzing with Olympic fever, fueling a new generation of heroes and a host of new dreams.

As a surprise announcement, the IOC also added a parallel slalom snowboard event to the program for 2014. This was undoubtedly negotiated as part of a broader package of new event inclusions. The Russians are traditionally strong in the snowboard alpine events.