I know it is the news article on the homepage but what are your opinions on it?
Athletes gather at the top of the slopestyle course for the riders meeting. The event staff explains the course details from jump size to rail designs. After all is said and done the man with the clipboard asks the athletes “any comments or concerns”. One competitor speaks up about rail combinations being sketchy; another competitor is concerned about the speed from one jump to another. A few shy athletes remain silent, worried they will look weak if they complain about the jumps being too big. All the comments and concerns felt by the athletes hold minimal value, since the course cannot be changed hours before the contest.
There are so many different factors that go into building a slopestyle course. Some of these include rail setups, jump options, speed, flow, snow, distance and weather. It is a lot to process when taking all into consideration. However, what if course designers and event planners knew exactly what the athletes wanted to see before the event? Pro skier, Kristi Leskinen, created a survey to help athletes express the do’s and don’ts of course design. The survey also shows specific areas that need to be acknowledged between the different genders and sports. The elite group of athletes who participated in the survey did it with one goal in mind, making competition ideal for all. We believe the course designers do a incredible job as is, but imagine how they could benefit from having the information of this survey before they have to build their parks.
The AFP believes that its core values are deeply embedded in this athlete driven survey. Our Mission Statement explains our hopes, “to serve as a unified voice for athletes and our sport. Made up of top athletes and key influencers within the sport of freeskiing, the AFP is proactive in the future direction of events, judging, growth and evolution of the sport as well as fostering opportunities for emerging riders to climb a clear ladder to higher levels of competition.” Based on these beliefs, we plan on distributing this information to event planners, course designers, athletes and family members in order to make competitions more beneficial to everyone. We see this information as valuable in shaping future events and taking a positive direction in the sport. As athletes have shown great interest in answering Kristi’s questions, it is important to take the results into consideration.
The Association of Freeskiing Professionals would not be anywhere without its trusted members. As an organization we want the sport of freeskiing to be as safe, fun and rewarding as possible. The more comfortable the athletes feel on a course, the better they perform, the better they perform the more they progress, the more the sport progresses the more attention is brought to freeskiing. It is a continual cycle that starts at the roots of the course. When we work together with the athletes we can build safer courses and improve the sport exponentially.
The survey was completed by 87 of the top competitors in both skiing and snowboarding. Out of those 87, 45 were skiers and 42 were snowboarders, 45 were males and 45 were females. There is nearly equal representation in both gender and in sport. The survey easily pinpoints areas where all groups agree on course elements and where the groups have a difference in opinion. Often the groups agreed on larger themes, but would disagree when broken down into subcategories. For example, 97% of the surveyed believed rail options were an important part of slopestyle. However, 41% of males preferred single barrel rails and 32% of females wanted to see flat rails. When broken up by sport, 34% of skiers wanted flat metal while 46% of snowboarders wanted single barrel. The best way to build an ideal course for everybody is to read through the facts and create a compromise.
The athletes who participated in the survey are all veterans in competition who at the very minimum, compete 3 times per year. The majority of the women said that they compete 7-8 times per season and the majority of males compete 11 or more times. This shows their credibility in critiquing professional courses. The survey is speaking from their expertise. However, it also shows that men have a greater opportunity to attend competitions throughout the season. 42% of males were in the range of 11 or more contests a year, while only 15% of females matched that number. In some cases women may choose not to compete in certain contest, but more often girls are not included in the same competitions as guys. The Winter Dew Tour only has a female category in two of the three stops. Most of the major big air contests lack a women’s category. In order for ladies to get the same amount of competitions in as men they must travel to greater lengths and compete at different levels.
The large majority of the slopestyle athletes believe that courses should be unique. This is important to take into consideration, especially leading into the Olympics. People do not want to ride the same course every time. The sports would lose their excitement if courses were standardized. 49% of those who answered the survey did not care if there were more rails or jumps, just as long as the course had a good flow to it. This again shows the importance of mixing it up.
When heading into a competition there is always a list of concerns. The biggest concern amongst those surveyed was not being able to clear the jumps. 39% said that was the biggest worry. However, when broken down into male and female the numbers were different. 32% of males checked the “Others” category and listed their own concerns, 30% said not clearing the jumps. For the females, 50% answered, “Not enough speed/ can’t clear the jumps”. Speed is an extremely important factor in competition. If one does not have enough speed than he/she will either not be able to perform their trick, or will come up short of the landing. Undershooting a jump can easily cause serious injuries. The fact is that men are naturally stronger and heavier than women. When a course is running slowly and the guys are struggling to clear the jumps, there is a far slimmer chance that the women are going to be able to make the landings.
As the sport progresses, courses are getting bigger and bigger in order to cater to those throwing double corks, triple corks and massive spins. What is often overlooked is that not everyone feels comfortable hitting a series of 70 to 80 ft. jumps and pulling out their most reserved bag of tricks. The survey shows that 44% of males want jumps to be 70 ft. and only 2% think 50 ft. tables are ideal. According to the women, 48% would prefer to hit 50 ft. jumps and only 10% like the 70 footers. The next question on the survey shows that 44% of men think current slopestyle courses are a little too small, while 57% of women think they are a little too big.
Many of the women have trained their best tricks on smaller jumps and do not feel comfortable taking them to the big ones during competition. However, some try anyways and that is where injuries happen. The survey shows that 24% of male skiers and 50% of male snowboarders have been seriously hurt during competition, compared to 125% of female skiers and 120% of female boarders. Women also face five times the amount of multiple injuries. The men are more likely to get hurt trying their tricks away from competition. The male average of injuries out of competition for skiers and snowboarders was 114%.
What is the solution for making a course that is ideal for both men and women? Course designers could make a small side and large side to every jump line, but in the past women have felt obligated to hit the bigger jumps to score higher. One option is to require women to hit the smaller side of the course, or have smaller options for the bottom section of each course. Other sports have created standardized rules for men and women to cater to their natural strengths. Should this happen in skiing as well? In professional tennis, women play three set matches while men play five. Women use the same courses as the men in golf but hit from their own designated tees. In basketball, girls shoot from closer lines and use a smaller ball. This is not a matter of men being better or tougher than women, but rather an issue of natural size and strength. Female skiers should not have to compete on courses that will automatically result in injury.
3-time X Game gold medalist, Kaya Turski, is very passionate about the results of Kristi’s survey and believes that it is an essential piece in taking the sport to the next level. “I won’t argue that women are not as good today as the men,” said Kaya. “However, we are 5-6 years back in progression. I think it’s important to realize that men weren’t hitting courses like we are 5 or 6 years ago. The girls were never really given that opportunity. Since there are so many more guys within the sport, the rate of progression is increasing extremely quickly, and although there are more girls in the sport now than there were a few years ago, our rate of progression is just not as quick because there still aren’t as many women. Now all the guys are doing double flips and soon everyone will be trying triple flips and we are being put on courses that cater to these new abilities without being able to perfect the runs that we want to do. It is not that girls suck, or that we are weak, or that we don’t work as hard, it’s that we just haven’t been given the same tools or time to progress. We definitely do not need to be put on 30-foot tables, but if the jumps catered to our tricks and the courses were safer in general (with speed being a major factor) we would be able to try new tricks and put down better runs. Just to be clear, this isn’t about giving us ‘an easy way out’, or less of a challenge. We’ve all shown that we can hold our own on the courses that are being built today. However, in my opinion, the ultimate goal is to create opportunities for us to showcase our talent and our sport to the best of our abilities.”
When bringing the discussion to the attention of pro skiers Meg Olenick, Devin Logan and Ashley Battersby, they firmly believed in keeping the course the same. “We have fought so long for equal opportunities, why would we want to go back to the way things were?” exclaimed Olenick. It is tough to create a compromise that everyone can agree upon. Hopefully, as we move on in the future we will be able to craft a clear solution to the problem.
The final section of the survey goes into details about practicing and performing in competition. Males and females agreed that 4-8 hours (1-2 days) of practice was an ideal amount of time. Males and females also agreed that competitions “sometimes” or “often” reflect their best riding. A total of 84% of males and 64% of females chose one of those two categories. When it came to competition runs, far less females said that they practice their full run before the day of the contest. The majority of athletes did agree that slopestyle competitions should have 3 runs and should be judged on overall impression. Finally, they believed that FIS should offer a minimum prize purse.
Kristi’s survey represents the opinions of the best freestyle competitors in the world. This information is not heard at the riders meetings. It is often left unsaid because people do not want to look weak or don’t want to be the only one disagreeing. This survey should act as a tool in the future of course design and should be considered in evaluating the future of the sport.