Just 12 years ago, snowboarding made its Olympic debut. I remember the debate then. The question was if snowboarding was fit for the Olympics – after all, there is no skateboarding in the Olympics (yet). Now, the tables are turned. Skiers are debating the ups and downs of having the ski halfpipe in the Olympics while Shaun White is an Olympic icon.
It's much more than a chairlift argument. The International Ski Federation (FIS) is proposing to the International Olympic Committee that the ski halfpipe be included in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Ski halfpipe is already part of the program for the Inaugural Youth Winter Olympics in Innsbruck in 2012.
A recent article in Powder Magazine blew the lid off the debate, with the dogmatic and well-spoken editor Derek Taylor ranting against the idea, and the enthusiastic Trennon Paynter, the founder and coach of the Canadian Halfpipe Ski Team, all for it.
I can see both sides of the argument.
On one hand, sports without regulation hold a special place in any outdoor enthusiast's heart - and any sport making an Olympic debut will likely see an increase in regulation and a decrease in creativity.
On the other hand, the audiences and athletes are bubbling with excitement about the thrilling possibility of seeing skiers like Tanner Hall and Sarah Burke take a new aspect of skiing into the Olympic Games. Skiing is a centerpiece of the winter Olympics, and halfpipes and terrain parks are the new frontier of in-bounds skiing.
The two sports closest to my own heart are backcountry skiing and rock climbing. I love these sports without real rules, oversight by international committees, or contrived standards. Even the idea of Rando Racing and Climbing Competitions makes part of me cringe, but the other part of me rejoices that the sports I love are growing and influencing more people in positive ways.
Rather than enter my opinion into the mix (there are plenty of those already) I’ll throw out a prediction: In the end, the athletes and spectators will win – this in itself is a good thing - and we’ll end up with the ski halfpipe in the Olympics.
I’ll hang my prediction out there a little further and say that - based on the riveting qualities of the men’s snowboard halfpipe finals in the last winter Olympics in Vancouver, even when we all knew who was going to win - ski halfpipe will become one of the most watched disciplines of the Olympics.
In the 2010 Olympics, viewers ages 12-24 were up 40% over previous Olympics, largely because of snowboarding and "extreme" sports, according to an article in USA Today. While the relative extreme-ness of halfpipe versus downhill is a tender topic for another lift ride, these are the kinds of numbers that change things. Check out this clip, and it is pretty obvious why the ski halfpipe would be a popular Olympic event:
We can always go back into the backcountry and do what we want like my friend Joe Vallone, an international mountain guide and halfpipe coach, is doing in the above photo while demonstrating some new-school ski savvy in some old-school summertime threads.
Readers of this blog, you’re all sophisticated ski enthusiasts. What do you think?
Photo by Topher Donahue