This post is intended for those of you, both inside the ski industry and out, that may be wondering why I am not currently in Kreischberg, Austria getting ready to defend my FIS World Champion title.
The short answer is that I am attending the X Games instead, but the long answer is complicated, frustrating, and sad. As current World Champion and defending X Games Gold Medalist, I feel that I have an obligation to discuss my decision to not attend World Championships.
The answer is not an easy one, and it really is a very unfortunate situation that FIS has placed us in. From the beginning other athletes and myself have been supportive of FIS adding ski halfpipe to the World Championships. We felt that it was an essential step toward getting our sport added to the Olympics. It was a long road, but we finally got the sport added, first as an exhibition, then finally as a medal event. FIS (International Ski Federation) was founded in 1910, and their background is primarily in alpine racing. Both freestyle skiing and freeskiing have always been somewhat at odds with racing. Freestylers were originally seen as rebels and outcasts and that has meant that freestyle skiing and freeskiing have generally had a rocky relationship with FIS.
FIS wasn’t always understanding of the way we thought things should be done, and they have done some really outlandish things over the years. It was, after all, FIS that made the decision to add skiercross to the Olympics in 2010 as a “freestyle” event instead of adding halfpipe. I have great respect for skiercross and snowboard cross, and I have good friends who compete in it, but even they will say that it is NOT a freestyle event. It is, by definition, a RACE to the bottom of the course. But FIS wanted to appease the Europeans by adding another alpine friendly event to the Olympics. In spite of great support for its addition from both inside the sport and out, ski halfpipe got bypassed and had to wait four more years for its chance.
Over the years, even though we have been slighted by FIS many times, other athletes and myself have continued to support and attend FIS events. We knew that FIS was the avenue to follow to get our sport into the Olympics, and we thought it was worth it. So we humbled ourselves and kept attending in spite of their many blunders. I have attended FIS World Championships three times: in 2009, 2011, and 2013. Over the years, I have kept my thoughts about FIS to myself, and have truly done my best to work with them, but this time they have crossed the line, and I feel that I must speak up for the sake of freeskiing, and for myself.
This time FIS has made an unforgivable blunder; one based in arrogance and in a true lack of respect and knowledge of our sport. They have scheduled the World Championships during the Winter X Games. It is important to understand the significance of the Winter X Games to the freeski culture. X Games was a major force in getting our sport in front of the masses, and it was X Games that enabled many skiers to even be professionals during the early years. Without the X Games I would not be able to be doing what I am doing today. While FIS was reluctant to include us in anything that might tarnish their polished image, the X Games embraced us and gave us a chance. Additionally, they are run extremely well, from a media standpoint with national TV time, and tons of web and print exposure. The FIS World Championships, especially in the US, are more about the “World Champion” title than the actual media exposure and broadcast of the event.
FIS will defend themselves by saying that they had their event scheduled first, and while that might be “officially” true, it is not actually true. The X Games are ALWAYS scheduled during the weekend before the Super Bowl. While they are internationally known, the X Games are designed and marketed toward an American audience, so the best time to get viewership for action sports is during the one weekend of the season that their is no professional football going on. The World Championships, on the other hand, have had varying schedules over the years. It has never before been an issue to attend both events. When the FIS World Championship schedule was announced many voices, including mine, raised concerns over the scheduling conflict. We offered many solutions, including moving ski halfpipe and slopestyle to the very beginning of the World Champs so that we could still attend both events. FIS obstinately refused to work with us in any way. That is the arrogance that we are dealing with; arrogance that is rooted in 105 years of history. I honestly believe that FIS thought we would skip the X Games to attend World Champs. They are THAT out of touch with our sport. After arriving and participating in the first X Games official practice last night I realized that my fellow competitors feel the same way I do. Every single rider that I personally would rank in the top ten in the world are here at X Games. I do not intend to slight those that chose to attend World Championships, but the 2015 FIS World Champion is going to be a person who did not truly have to beat the best skiers in the world to win that title.
I want you all to know that I did everything that I could for the chance to defend my title as World Champion, but FIS made that impossible for me.
I WILL, however, be going for my fourth straight X Games gold medal in Ski Superpipe this weekend, and I hope you all tune and cheer me on, your support means the world to me. It will be airing live starting at 2:45 PM MT on ESPN.