Although park skiing's roots live in rebellion and freedom from the rules of governing bodies, the Olympics (along with AFP, FIS, and more before them) have brought homogenizing structure to the most publicly visible part of the sport - competitions. Yet on the eve of the 2018 Winter Olympics, Henrik Harlaut is not only dominating the competition scene, but he is keeping it real and carrying the flag of park skiing's legacy.
Competitions have long been polarizing in freeskiing, an activity which has never been entirely sure whether it's a sport or an art. The argument against competitive freeskiing is that the pursuit of technical tricks and clean execution has alienated comps from the fun and "artistic" freedom sought by freeskiing's early pioneers. Traditionally, freeskiers would both compete and film, offsetting the more sport-like nature of competition with the more artistic aspect of filming.
However as the technicality of competition skiing has grown exponentially, a divide between the two aspects of the spot has grown. The inclusion of Halfpipe and Slopestyle in the Olympics has accelerated that growth, with most skiers now either establishing a career either in film skiing or on the competition side of things with skiers who only compete written off as "comp jocks."
Henrik Harlaut is the most notable of a select few still able to bridge the divide through his totally unique personality and prodigious skiing talent. He is able to simultaneously podium at the highest levels of competition, and showcase a creative approach to skiing. Progression for Henrik is not necessarily adding another flip or spin to an existing trick, it is doing a trick in a way that no one else has done. It's is not only fun to watch, but it is true to the motivations and attitudes of the sports pioneers.
Come February, the majority of Olympic viewers will not have ever seen slopestyle skiing, even with the popularity of 2014's contest. Henrik's connection to skiing's roots, and his contagious stoke (not to mention what's sure to be a major talking point of pants hanging down nearly at his ankles), make him the perfect skier to represent the sport. He represents everything that is right in skiing right now. If the parade at the opening ceremony of the Olympics were to be organized by sport, not country, we would choose Henrik to carry the flag.