Snowboarding has always been a world of two halves: the competitive side fuelled by increasing rules and regulations, and the soul-searching freeride side, seen as art more than sport.
Never are these two sides more pronounced than every 4 years when the Olympic snowboarding slopestyle came along (halfpipe was introduced back in Nagano, 1998). The freeriders watch from the sidelines as the sporting circus makes athletes remove all branding from clothes, stickers from snowboards or messages of solidarity for fallen friends (the International Olympic Committee (IOC), made all athletes remove any mention of the late Sarah Burke in the halfpipe ski event saying they were a political statement. Sarah who died in January 2012 in a halfpipe accident, was influential in campaigning for halfpipe to be added to the Olympics).
Despite the rules, the regulations, or the shitty courses (who could forget the circus around the 2014 Sochi slopestyle event or the shoddy halfpipes), the athletes are still drawn to the sparkle of the Olympics. Winning a medal at the big O can catapult an athlete into mega stardom, far beyond any other competition. Your mum knows what the Olympics are. But The X Games, Dew Tour and Vans Triple Crown? Yeah probably not!
So when Olympic snowboarding fever rears its head, athletes come of out the woodwork hoping to secure a spot to represent their country on the global stage to stardom. With snowboarding being one of the most watched events at the Sochi 2014 Olympics with the premiere of slopestyle, the IOC, strategically added Big (H)Air to the 2018 list of snowboard disciplines. Qualification starts this winter.
To add to the excitement of Big Air’s arrival to the 2018 games, one of the most prestigious and cool events in snowboard history, The Air & Style which has been running since 1994 chose just now, in 2016 to let women compete. Thanks! How thoughtful of you. I guess we can thank Shaun White for that one since he purchased the rights to the event in early 2014. Big Air has always been an X Games event for the women.
Air + Style | Innsbruck 2017 – Ladies Teaser
So the ladies are fired up! The competitive side of snowboarding has a new outlet to express themselves and show what they are capable of. Never have the women been ripping as much as they are now. Anna Gasser just took home the gold in one of the first qualifying events of winter 2016 in China with a perfectly stomped cab 900 double-cork and a backside 720 mute. Then one of Big Air’s greatest, Cheryl Maas threw down a backside 1080 to a crowd in Germany at the fourth qualifying event, only to land on her face and fracture 2 sides of her face (get well soon Cheryl – you’ll stomp the next one for sure). The bar is high, damn high. That Big Air is so hot right now.
The question is, will the draw of Olympic snowboarding Big Air entice some of women’s past slopestyle favourites who have been in hiding the last few season, back to the competitive stage? We’re talking to you Jenny Jones and maybe even Shaun White (he won’t be entering the women’s event!). Or will we see the continued dominance of the likes of Jamie Anderson and Silje Norendal who have won 11 and X Games slopestyle medals respectively (Silje is tipped to win the 2017 slopestyle X Games). Maybe the next two winters will yield enough time for a new breed of whipper-snapper lady shredders. A new-comer that dedicates their life to the one event, ready to dominate in 2018. It could be anyone’s game.
One thing is guaranteed, it is a damn exciting time for women’s snowboarding. I can’t help think about the early 90s when Tina Basich and Barrett Christy had to sneak into a men’s events to show the organisers the women were good enough to jump. Tina went on to win 3 X games medals. Barrett with her own 10 X Games medals, just celebrated 20 years of her pro model snowboard with GNU. So now, with women permitted to enter the Air & Style an odd twenty years after the men, it’s finally our time to shine on the road to PyeongChang 2018.
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