Where do we go from here?


Just a handful of the scary crashes from last night’s Big Air event.

This morning at 3:00, Swedish time, I had my alarm set for what I used to consider one of the most exciting events in snow sports, the X-Games ski Big Air. I’ve had the fortune of being a participant a total of 5 times, and there’s really no contest like it, with tens of thousands of people under the lights of Aspen watching a fun format of 15-20 minute jam sessions. The pressure on the athletes is low because of the many attempts you get on your big trick, and it’s an easy concept for the audience to follow, with the feeling that it’s all a big show and not as serious as the pipe or slopestyle events.

This year, however, felt…different. Over the last couple of years, the physical limits of the athletes have rapidly been pushed forward, to a point where a mistake no longer means a face full of snow and a wave to the camera at the bottom while waiting for a crash score. Last night, a mistake resulted in exploding bindings and helmets, concussions and injured body parts, and this was true for at least 30% of the field. I was no longer enjoying watching, I was seriously worried for my friends, Big Air had turned into an absolute bloodbath.

Every year after the X-Games Big Air event, the freeskiing community collectively asks itself if the peak is reached, is it possible to progress the sport further from here? Every year, those predicting it is not are proven wrong, with yet another 180 added to the biggest trick, or another triple cork landed. I’ve always been a firm believer that the spin-to-win progress will continue as long as the judges reward those endeavours, and this year, suddenly they seemed to look for something else. Unfortunately there’s always this delayed response from athletes, who have prepared themselves to be judged like the year before, but with a little luck, we just saw the peak of the flip-to-win era, and next year everyone can show up with a fresh bag of unique tricks to choose from, not necessarily containing 3 inverts and 5 rotations. Call it wishful thinking, but watching Jossi Wells, Kai Mahler and Vincent Gagnier get rewarded big scores for tricks that very few (if any), other skiers are capable of sparked a flame of hope in an otherwise dark and scary night. Thanks guys, for pushing the envelope in a much safer direction.

Decades ago, quadruple flips were banned in freestyle aerials competitions, deemed to dangerous for the sport. Any sort of restrictions, be it mandatory or banned tricks, or a cap on rotations is in my opinion the last thing out sport needs. Instead, let’s use this opportunity of learning from our past mistakes, and take a different path into the future, without having to sacrifice human bodies along the way.

What did you think of the contest, and what is the best way for Big Air skiing to progress from here, without people dying, and without limitations and rules being implemented?

Thanks for reading


26 Responses to “Where do we go from here?”

  1. I recommend a format I’ve seen in the past with great success, mandatory rotation.
    For example 50% of the points for a 540-1080-double part and 50% on a jam format.

  2. Jb says:

    Wise as always!

  3. jacobwester says:

    Vincent Martin – Let’s leave the word “mandatory” out of this altogether. My last sentence in this post was “without limitations and rules being implemented”. That’s a scary path to go down, which will inevitably lead to the same fates that aerials and moguls have suffered.

  4. Oscar Harlaut says:

    Couln’t have said it better, I got the same feeling watching both slope and bigair last night.
    i’m so stoked that Vinny came out as the winner in bigair, he really deserved it and im pumped that the judges rewarded him for he’s innovation stylefull tricks.
    My 2 favorite tricks of the event’s has been vinny’s dub bio and bellemare’s lazyboy dub 7, that’s what i enjoy watching and the direction i want the sport to developed.

  5. David Axelsson says:

    Väldigt bra skrivet.
    Det finns många ofattbart duktiga åkare och det är alltid häftigt att se vad de är kapabla till.
    Dock känner jag personligen att gå tillbaka i utvecklingen inte vore en dum idé. Självklart är triplecorks och 1440 otroligt svåra trick, men en stor 540 med en unik “tweakad” grab anser jag borde ge fina poäng också. Samtidigt tycker jag att det är roligare att se på en exempelvis inverterad 540 än att försöka räkna alla rotationer på en triplecork.

  6. Griffin ramsdell says:

    How about people stop sinning so hard and not doing tripples anymore. You said it perfectly Jacob. The only skiers I was enjoying see ride last night were Vincent gagnier, Kai maller, and jossi wells. What they do is what I think our sport should be progressing in. Screw tripples and spin to wins

  7. Oldman says:

    They should just give the gold to whoever is dressed the coolest, style above all else.

  8. yolo says:

    Har följt x-games i säkert 12-13 år nu och har ju alltid uppskattat tävlingarna, men hade exakt samma tankar i natt som du är inne i.. Vilket jäkla blodbad det var, finalen var ju bara hemsk att kolla på. Nej vi får hoppas att tävlingen hade något positivt med sig och det är att åkarna inte ska komma på något sätt så att de inte behöver slänga sig i några dödsrotationer för då är det snart inga åkare kvar.

  9. DaniS says:

    They schould do it like freestyle.ch , one technical jump and one goes for the style

  10. Seth Shuster says:

    What really gave me hope this year was watching Alex Bellemare do that hand drag dub 7 in slopestyle. I wanna see tricks like that. Or playing with the axis of spins like Henrik and ABM do.

  11. ©bruno says:

    Well said Jacob.
    In my opinion style should always take the upper-hand from spins. We all know that every athlete dares to spin and invert. It is how they do it, that makes me love watching a big air.

    peace out,

  12. August Simmons says:

    triples look dumb! Ide rather watch the sickest floaty rodeo 5. Hell even a rodeo 9 over a tucked up triple flip. While triples are impressive and demonstrate impressive air control, I think ambuhl and brown were the only ones able to do a triple with a simple mute grab. And I’m pretty sure only one of those guys landed their triple. Stoke for vinny. Grabs are what give tricks style, flavor and personality. I hope the ski world takes note of what happened last night. Push the sport by adding personality and making it fun and not by making it a “bloodbath”. Thanks for the post Jacob!

  13. Ben says:

    Thank you Jacob,
    This is such an interesting persective, we’ll always be entertainers, but at what cost?

  14. Dan says:

    I can understand that thinking, but at least we made freeskiing and push it where it is now.
    It was our decision to push the sport! And when you look at the snowboarders you can see how
    it could be. And they made clean and stylisch triples also with doublegraps. But the difference is
    they train it a lot more and can put tripples easy in a slope style course – and for sure: SAFE!
    I think its right to to triples at the bigair, but you have to train that and not do it once a year at
    the xgames.

    we have to accept this progression and not cry about it! the same words where spoken in 2010 with double corks…
    now they are stylish, safe and you can put a lot of creativity. We don’t need excuses, we need training.

    Style is subjective and cant be judged that good. I love style way more than competitions, that’s why i look Freeskimovies
    and not xgames! So if you’re not interested in Competitions/Spin to win, go and try to make a good movie segment/watch movies
    and support that in freesking. we have a lot to work there!

    at least – sorry for my bad english! Cheers

  15. Susanne says:

    Thanks Jacob…and only you freeskiers are on the side to change it. Kai’s mum

  16. Tyler Smith says:

    Very well put man. My buddies and I had a conversation rather similar to this last night about how insane this shit is getting. We couldn’t stop talking about how much further it can go, if much at all! It sounds like a good amount of people (myself included no doubt) really enjoyed seeing jossi, vinny, and Kai pull some of the most stylish shit out. Now don’t get me wrong, everyone in the competition absolutely killed it, but the fact that people were getting broke off left and right isn’t sick, and like you said, can make it stressful to watch. I certainly don’t think this sport needs more rules, I really think it’s all in the skiers hands at this point. If everyone can get on the same page we would be sweet. It would be nice to see more skiers with a mindset like yours. Cheers.

  17. DM says:

    The only way it will progress is if motherfuckers do what it is that motherfuckers do.
    If you don’t want to triple don’t. If you want to go for it. But goddamnit do a stunt.

  18. Alex Nolan says:

    I completely agree with this. I was right there watching it all go down, I recall right before finals started the announcers talking and asking “Will it be possible for someone to podium without landing a triple?” He was answered by the other fellow, who said “Someone might get on the podium, but I will be very surprised if the winner can take 1st without landing a triple of some sort.”

    I was pretty irked by this, because I feel this kind of talk totally perpetuates the stereotype and idea of spin to win. Nonetheless, I was stoked beyond comprehension to see Vinni Cash’s tricks and ill grabs. I give that guy such huge props for being so creative/flexible/talented to do similar tricks with different grabs and variations.

  19. Matt says:

    It seems that the judges are starting to favor my style than rotation so that’s a start. When people are trying to cram triples into those jumps the style suffers big time. All you see is a huge set and then a blur of spinning. I do kinda hate it when they call it style though. Seems too contrived. They should just call it Awesome Factor…you will know it when you see it.

  20. Mckeeman says:

    I wanna see a 5, 7, 9 10, and 1260 format. Style wins, and shows the most diverse athlete.

  21. Unfortunately this won’t ever happen. There will always be someone else there willing to go where others won’t to win. This is what is required to win these things partly due to judging partly due to competition. Even the name x games, extreme, its not the mellow stylie games that’s what they want and encourage and sell and market. I was kind of offended by how long they took to get to Henrik and how they kept the broadcast on before they had checked him out and made sure he was even okay.
    I’m not saying your wrong at all I’m just saying its the nature of the beast. One thing is for certain people aren’t learning from others mistakes.

  22. Jacobwester – Yeah sorry for the mandatory, just meant what Mckeenan said, a trick in each rotation kinda deal where skiers have to show they can progress tricks without having to outspin the other competitors. You can’t have a competition without having rules, that is how you can have judging, but I agree you shouldn’t have limitations, that’s why I suggested a jam format as well where skiers can push the envelop even more if they want or just go for style and amplitude.

  23. Yodan says:

    One hit wonder in Thredbo Australia was run really well… Somewhat structured as Vincent suggests, but still free flowing with there being cash prizes for the winner of best 540, 720 etc. before there being an overall winner.
    In my opinion Style should always win. I don’t want to see our sport turn into aerials.

  24. jacobwester says:

    good points guys. it all comes down to that never-ending problem of trying to decide what style consitutes. It’s different for everyone, and every athlete has their particular style, if we start to rank styles then we risk going down the “everyone copies the current trendsetter” path. like Yodan says, you think Style should always win. what exactly do you mean by that?

    I wrote a big article on this problem a few years back after the King of Style contest, here it is for those of you who missed it: http://www.freeride.se/jacobwester/2010/11/23/thoughts-on-style-and-its-royal-family/

    what is style? what does it mean? how do we judge it?


  25. Yodan says:

    Well, I suppose it is a fairly fickle notion that style should win and very open to interpretation, but I would love to see people using style and creativity to ski a course in a completely new an unexpected way.
    For instance, someone who can roll into a comp and see anothe way down that doesn’t necessarily mean hitting the booters and landings, but just using what is there to do something unique and individual.

    Of course there will always be room for the spin and win comps, but I would love to see skiers bring more of an urban perspective to a slope course and really surprise the viewers and judges.

    Having said all of this, I prefer to watch a super styled cork 5 than a hectic future spin any day. For me style is hard to express… It just looks slow, making hard things look so easy.

  26. Bob Danner says:

    I completely agree that were starting to reach the sports potential in this Big Air format. However I think it’s defiantly an opportunity to make a big change in what Big Air is. For example instead I’ve just haveing one jump making a course instead, nothing crazy long like slopestyle, but maybe three features that will allow riders to focus on not just pushing the sport but paying more attention to style. My idea was for the first feature a standard huge jump like we saw this year, next would be massive hip. I think this would be incredible given that you hardly ever see hips in competitions. For the last feature something like the Big Air in skateboarding with another big jump and maybe even a huge rail (optional) with a big quarter pipe at the end. This is just my opinion but I truly believe that this format or something similar with features hardly seen in comps before would be amazing.

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