"We believe such a solution could be a common Olympic ranking, not sanctioned by FIS or TTR, but a joint ranking list based on results from the best events in the world. By embracing this, the IOC would take a credible position for the youth of the world and take charge in the ongoing action sports revolution. We are willing to talk to find a good solution for the sport. But we are also willing to keep fighting for snowboarding like we have done for over a decade. The Olympic system for snowboarding is wrong; preserving the status quo is not an option." - Legendary professional snowboarder Terje Haakonsen, on the selection process for the possible inclusion of snowboarding slopestyle in the 2014 Olympics.
Interview & photos by Jeff Schmuck
How's it going Steele?
Everything's been going really well. Winter is in full swing and it's already been a crazy one.
As many people may or may not be aware, you're now the General Manager of the Association of Freeskiing Professionals (AFP). Tell us how that all came to be.
The executive board of AFP came to me this summer and offered me the position, because the organization has been growing significantly, so they were looking for someone connected within the industry to work full-time on it. There's a lot of plans on deck for how it can grow more with expanding the rankings list and whatnot, so I'm now totally dedicated to that.
AFP General Manager Steele Spence at the 2010 AFP awards ceremony.
For those who aren't in the loop, give us the brief history of the last few years of the AFP.
The AFP was formed two years ago by Chris Schuster, Chris Jerard, Michael Spencer and Josh Loubek, and this will be its third winter in operation. The general idea came from Chris Schuster, who's in charge of invites for X Games, which is a big thing, because at the time it was tough to determine who should go to X Games and how it should all happen. So he saw the need for a legitimate overall rankings system for park, pipe and big air events. So it started with picking who would go to X Games in mind, and then it grew from there and has been implemented in a lot of different ways since then. Different nations have been using it to select their national park and pipe teams, and other events have used it to decide who gets invited to their competitions. So it's a really great product for our industry to have, because it's not specific to any tour or any division or anything like that. All events that should be taken into consideration are, and the result is the AFP rankings.
Take everyone through the ranking system, how it works precisely and where everyone can keep tabs on the standings.
At the beginning of each year we track down all of the events that are notable and should be taken into account for the rankings list, and we have a formula for each event with bronze, silver, gold and platinum events, which are worth a different amount of points. The criteria for deciding which event is which is based on the level of riding, the level of the competitors who are going to be there, prize money, and the quality of the course. We then post that list at the beginning of the season at http://www.afpworldtour.com in the event calendar, and then the rankings take into account your best five finishes in each discipline at the various events.
2010 AFP Men's Slopestyle 1st and 3rd place, Bobby Brown & Andreas Håtveit.
How quickly are you updating the rankings after each event?
This year we implemented a new ranking system, which was built for us by an amazing company, and it's on point. As a result, we're now at the point where I can enter the results the day after each contest and it will affect the rankings list immediately.
How has this sort of ranking system benefitted freeskiing events since AFP started two years ago, and what is the overall goal of the organization moving forward?
As I mentioned earlier, it's affected different events and organizations as far as various events using the AFP rankings to determine their invite list, and teams have been decided based on it. In addition to that, brands are now using it to determine the value of a competition-based skier and what level their riders are at when deciding on sponsorship specifics. Our goal moving forward is to continue to do what we're doing, along with adding more events to the calendar as they grow, like the Gatorade Free Flow Tour and USSA Revolution Tour, which we added this year. We've got twice as many events this year as a part of determining the rankings as we did last year, which was one of my first priorities when I came on board. I wanted to get every event that should be in there sanctioned by the AFP, whether they be big or small, because it gives the opportunity for all competitive freeskiers to get on the AFP standings from the ground up, and have their name on the list with the top guys so they can see what they need to do to work their way up it.
2010 AFP Men's World Champion Jossi Wells.
And speaking of the top guys, which athletes are involved in AFP and are backing the organization in a big, big way?
Right from the beginning Simon Dumont, Sarah Burke, Mike Douglas and Jon Olsson had a lot of influence, and Simon and Sarah are still very involved as far as athlete relations go and act as representatives from the athletes' side of things.
In addition to you being brought on board to run the show, I know AFP has some exciting things on the go, particularly with the World Skiing Invitational in Whistler this spring. Tell us about what's going to be going on up there.
Yeah, the huge news this year is that the World Skiing Invitational in Whistler this April will feature pipe, slopestyle and big air events, and it will be the AFP World Championships. Invites will come directly off of this year's rankings, and it'll be a gold level event and the last event of the season that affects the rankings. So at the end of the competition, the results will go in, and we'll crowd the World Champions for the year in each discipline right there in Whistler at a big blow out party.
You guys have also recently fired up a membership system, and are about to close the ranking system to members only. Give every athlete out there big or small the scoop on how they can sign up to be an AFP member, and why they should do it.
Go to http://www.afpworldtour.com to sign up, and the membership is annual and it's $35. If you've competed in an event this year then right now you'll be able to see your name in the rankings, but coming up at the end of the month we're going to be implementing required membership in order to take full advantage of the benefits of the ranking list. For example right now any athlete can go to the site, click on their name and view their full results, build their profile, etc, but beginning next month only members will have access to that, and there'll be blank place holders where non-members will be. So to continue to see your name in the rankings and to be able to track your results and have a profile that sponsors can view, you can sign up to be a member on the website for only $35.
Which athletes make up the current member list of AFP?
We did a cool program this year with all the brands throughout the ski industry, all of whom are hugely supportive of what we're doing, where we offered memberships for the full teams of the companies who are supporting us and making the rankings system financially possible this year, along with companies like Woodward and Target, who have helped us out a lot and who we owe a lot of thanks to. So all of the brands have their top team riders as members, so at this point we've got all of the top competitive park and pipe skiers on board.
Steele with 2010 Women's AFP World Champion Rosalind Groenewoud.
From your perspective, where do you hope AFP will be in five years, or more importantly, four?
The AFP is going to continue to grow and we're aiming to provide direction for the athletes as an organized body who has freeskiing's best interests in mind. The stance we've taken is to act as a unified voice for the athletes in the freeskiing world to help guide our sport through these next four years as someone who cares about freeskiing, so the competition side of things turns out the way we all want it to be.
For more information on the Association of Freeskiing Professionals, including the current rankings and how this year's events affect them, the list of AFP sanctioned events and to sign up to be a member, go to http://www.afpworldtour.com.