You've probably seen that "oh so" provocative quote headlining the latest interview with Phil Casabon. I did. It's a hard one to miss. Before I read the interview I’d already decided that something should be said about it. But I resisted that immediate urge and decided that I would read the interview first, thinking it would only add fuel to the argumentative fire I had smouldering. Funny thing is, once I had read it, I found that I agreed with almost everything Casabon had to say. Almost...
So where did the sudden, explosive motivation to respond come from? The quote has been well selected. It's a snare that will catch any stray procrastinator in search of some controversy. Clearly it has worked on me at least.
But it's the quote out of context that first angered me and so it is the assumed context that I shall attack. And I don't think I’ve just invented this context either. Amongst certain circles there seems to be a consensus that all the style has been taken out of slopestyle. That idea is a pile of shit. But when I see a picture of an influential skier at the top of the home page, accompanied with the quote, "When thinking about slopestyle, conservative and outdated are two words that come to mind." I find myself taking it personally.
It's completely irrational I know but let me try and explain. I get pretty excited when I find a live competition feed on the internet and I'll usually put down whatever i'm doing to watch it. More than just enjoying it for the ski porn though, when I watch these competitions I feel that I'm watching a pinnacle of skiing that I aim for. So when i'm told that this is not in fact a pinnacle, and that the athletes are only doing certain tricks because they are forced to perform a specific way for the judges like some fucking gymnast, I react as anyone would if they were told that their idea of incredible skiing is robotic and lifeless.
There's a more important issue than my feelings though. Quotes such as these undermine the achievement of so many skiers who have excelled in this format of competition. Once you read the interview it becomes pretty obvious that this isn't Casabon's intention at all. His animosity is targeted at the format and judging and he seems to maintain a great respect for the athletes that participate in the events. But that doesn't negate the point. The growing idea seems to be that all the hard work and training has been specifically targeted at learning a set routine that will win them competitions.
I suppose what Casabon is actually calling for is a little variety, and this is where I completely agree with him. We all love seeing something we haven't seen before; god knows how many times i've wound back his own edits just to double check that I actually saw what I thought I saw.
I'm sure there are a fair few members who have been lucky enough to see a pro level skier throwing down in person. I know I have and I'm pretty sure the words "conservative" and "outdated" didn't come to mind. So at what point does this sudden chasm appear between unbelievable skiing and slopestyle competitions? The difference is that there are now fifty or so of these super humans being set off one after the other. We get to see these same incredible tricks over and over again but it's just too much ski candy all at once and before the last run we've become sick with it. The point I want to stress though is that these tricks are no less incredible because of that.
But you still want to change the format, so how? The seemingly obvious answer is that more points should be awarded for style. But let’s consider this example for a moment. Hypothetical skier A sends the smoothest most tweaked out cork 5 blunt you can imagine. It's simply ridiculous; you didn't know legs could even bend that way. He stomps it and rides away like he never even took off. The judges jot down their scores and then watch as hypothetical skier B drops in and sends the biggest 0 in history, he sails casually over the Gucci plateau without a care in the world. Even big air Dave is impressed. For good measure he holds a poked out safety all the way, letting go just before he takes the impossibly hard landing and rides away. The judges think about it and then jot down his score.
Here is the question; who won? Style, in these terms, is impossible to judge. While we might not all agree completely with the results of current competitions, there is at least a general consensus as to what was a good run and what was not.
I could keep ranting on for ages but I’ll spare you. I admit to agreeing with Casabon in one respect, it would be great to see more diversity in slopestyle. But I can’t make the jump to those two words that sprang to his mind. It’s a cliché but, like all freestyle skiing, slopestyle has always been about making your mark on the mountain. If your mark is conservative and outdated, then how do you expect to win?