All photos by Will Derrick
In an Instagram post on Monday, Sarah Hoefflin voiced her anger at the fact that girls had not been considered when building the jump at the Swiss Championships/European Cup Big Air. It was simply too big for some of the younger riders who compete at this level. But the story actually started before the Big Air.
With bad visibility in Slopestyle, Sarah had repeatedly asked the organizers to add blue lines to the landings but "in the interests of fairness," this was not done.
"During qualification, the weather got really bad, so we only had one hour of practice. I was the first athlete to drop – they did girl, guy, girl, guy-- and I couldn’t see sh*t. They didn’t put any blue lines on the landing. On the chairlift, on the way back up after my run, I shouted to my coach: "Dude, you have to tell them to put blue lines on the landing!’"
Because some skiers had done their first run, they agreed to do it for the second run. A rushed agenda meant this didn't happen either:
"Obviously, all the girls still sent it, but none landed their 2nd run, because you just couldn’t see the jumps. It was so sketchy. Honestly, it was just dangerous. Not just the girls, this is about the boys as well. The reasoning not to change things mid-event was that it’s unfair for some boys, which made me really mad."
"It was should be about safety first, not about fairness."
So with the pressure now on the organizers to ensure the following day's Big Air went smoothly, things quickly became too shambolic for Sarah.
"On slope finals day the weather was beautiful. So I asked a couple of people if they knew which jump they’d use for Big Air? No one really knew because it hadn’t been decided yet."
"The girls at European Cup level aren't at the top level yet. They have some great tricks, they train really hard, they have some switch stuff, but they don't have the experience. A huge jump, and going over a raised knuckle, is not really something that you can expect them all to be used to. I don’t care what type of jump I hit, and I can hit it switch. I know how this works. A 17-year-old girl does not necessarily have that experience. I had a couple of girls watch me because they didn’t really know how to do it."
"One of the girls tried to take it switch during training and knuckled the jump. I was on the lift and it was a horrific looking crash. She hit her head; I think she had a concussion. She wasn’t moving, had like four people around her at the bottom of the landing and couldn’t remember anything. It was horrendous to watch."
She said that plenty of the younger girls just don't have the weight to get over the bigger jumps, like the one used for Big Air.
"I think if this was a World Cup, it would have been fair enough, but for a European Cup, why didn’t they just put out the blue lines and use another jump. Just think about athlete safety? That should always be the number one priority. Especially with riders still coming up"
"There were so many coaches at the team meetings before the event. It’s partly their responsibility to look out for the young girls. I think the organizers have to factor everyone in, but if things aren't right, the coaches have a responsibility to speak up and say ‘I don’t think the girls are going to be able to hit this’
Ultimately, Sarah pulled out in protest. She spoke to some of the girls and explained that she didn’t agree with the way the contest has been run. One told her she was new to the sport and "too scared to say anything. I didn'’t really know what to say to my coach.’
"I spoke to her for a while" Sarah tells me, "and of gathered from what she was saying, that she didn’t even have the experience to know that it’s too big for her. That instead of doing her two best tricks, she was going to have to do a right side 360. It forced the level of skiing to be considerably lower than what it could have been. It didn’t need to be much smaller, just safe. I’m not asking to use the baby jump. They aren't juniors, they can have a bigger jump but their level and their weight needs to be considered."
Sarah took a stand because she thought that the slope qualifying and big air left a lot to be desired, regarding safety:
"I understand now that this is my job to do this, but I don’t think it should be. There were so many other coaches, who were obviously part of the team captain meeting. It’s their responsibility to look out for the young girls."
We want to hear your opinion on what should be done for comps in the future. Should there be a choice of jumps? If so, how should judges compare size of feature vs technicality of tricks?