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Winter X Games 2016 … And the coming battle for the soul of snowboarding.

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There is a storm brewing… Clouds are building over the mountains of America as the sport of Snowboarding begins to look itself in the mirror…. and isn’t sure it likes what it sees…

It had truly been years, decades even; since I’d attended a world class professional snowboarding event. The names whom I last watched perform the aerial acrobatics of the halfpipe have all but vanished, replaced several generations ago by kids with bionic legs and a gymnastics background. Ten foot method airs used to be the banger Hollywood hit, now it has to be 15’+. But the pipes are so much bigger, or ‘super’ if you will; that even 15′ feet is no longer the mind-blowing number it once was.

Stepping into the inner sanctum that was the X Games neighborhood, vendors peddled their warez to the masses as dubstep blared from the over head system. One booth looked like a bar scene, but looking closer everyone was drinking canned energy drinks.

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I had several hours to kill before the pipe so I wandered into the press tent. It was buzzing slightly with people on laptops editing pics and facebooking… I grabbed a braised pork sandwich and piece of carrot cake from the buffet and sat down in an open seat. Striking up a conversation with an American photographer sitting there, I asked him how he shot the event. He said that all the photographers were allowed in certain “photographer corrals” and these were the only places we could shoot from. Thoughts of an occupy Aspen movement entered my head for a brief second. I got the sense that they wanted every photographer to have the same shot…which this other photographer then confirmed. “Herd” was the word that bubbled to my frontal lobe, and clearly the press were equally as controlled as the riders and spectators.

Lets face it, the X Games are the main stream manifestation of an industry that has rallied for years to get recognition, but then perhaps didn’t realize through the process that a monster was growing from within. The result, a pervasive and entirely predictable shift in the industry towards ‘corporate mainstream culture’ and its gluttonous habit of swallowing things that are cool; and monetizing them.

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I ‘spose it was inevitable, once the Olympics featured Snowboarding; the die had been cast.

#terjewasright … Don’t do it skateboarding!

At 4:30 I walk up to shoot the pipe practice, some of the biggest guns on the planet were stepping up to the towering pipe. I can only ponder what it might be like to drop in with thousands of screaming people, and another couple million watching on tv… Drop in and boom! To the sky!

The riders in this field are very much the redeeming quality of the spectacle, the stunts they are doing are other-worldly. Huge towering spins, and equal number of massive styled out Methods…

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​Parked with my camera under the first hit for the event, the riding I witness is on the cutting edge of technical pipe riding today, the evolution of this discipline should make the pipe OG’s from yesteryear proud.

Observing these athletes hurl themselves in the pipe, with the world watching; and the sponsors ringing their cash registers…. One cannot help but ponder the price these young adults will pay in injuries over the course of their careers. The anti to play in snowboarding’s big leagues is extreme, the competition is stiff… and the walls of the super pipe are high, and bullet proof. Concussions do happen… and these kinds of injuries can have long term deleterious effects; especially on a person who suffers multiple knock outs.

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Is it worth it? For the riders, It seems like the opportunity to push the envelope is worth the risk regardless of the setting. But everyone likes money and one can only hope that these artists on boards are reaping their fair share of the proceeds in exchange for putting it all on the line as they do.

As the event unfolds a blizzard begins to blow in, the pipe slowly is filling up with powder. The snow starts to slow things down. Within a short time it quickly becomes apparent that the pipe was un-rideable due to the heavy snowing and blowing. The event was shortly called with first run scores deciding the outcome.

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Riding the bus out that night I ponder snowboarding’s uncertain future. With forces pulling from all sides, it will be interesting to see if the sport, and the True School who honor its roots; can weather the storm of corporate commercialism and exploitation.

Fuck it lets go ride powder.

​//SeanSullivan

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Comments (29)

  1. love the photo’s, keep up the great work

     
  2. THE X-GAMES ARE THE TRUE / PURE SOUL OF SNOWBOARDING .. BANKED BEER RUN / SLALOM PARTY RACES ARE GAY

     
  3. Sean Sullivan…do not let a–h— put you down this article is very good. do not forget than snowboarding is a ski business.

     
  4. What exactly is declining in snowboarding? The amount of people watching stale TV events? The amount of profit for some top companies? Amount of advertising dollars? Who cares, the stoke is as high as ever. The equipment is best ever. Roots back country is coming back and as fun and safe as ever. Seems like numbers are up at resorts. So don’t let Debby downer lead you to believe snowboarding suddenly isn’t as fun and is “doomed”.

     
    • They’re just jealous because big competitions are dragging all the attention away from “Jimmy and his buddies go snowboarding together” films, “look at our slow-mo unusual snowboarding style” videos, and Bob’s garage-made powder snowboards.

      If you want to understand business, understand your customer first. The average snowboarder is much more entertained by quad corks than “eurocarving on unusual spots”/”crazy-twisting on rails”. Also, people buy snowboards like they buy cars. They want an investment that would keep them happy with their purchase for the next few seasons and at the same time won’t kill their wallet. Only 5% of snowboarders out there buy several boards a season and collect different boards. Times have changed.

       
  5. Basically the author is saying that snowboarding was better before YOU did it, since your sorry ass brought in the corporate $$$. Don’t act like it did son.

     
  6. Look, there are a lot of older riders who remember how it was back in the day when snowboarding was cooler because less people did it, it was cooler…..like when you listened to that band first. Now everyone is riding, everyone is listening…..get over it.
    Snowboarding isn’t like skating or surfing…..it’s a mainstream sport with super easy access. Just get up to the hill and buy a ticket–no long paddle out, no skinny little board to push around.
    Because there is such a huge audience, Corp $$ gonna make its way in. Duh. Where were all these industry goons when Nike was spreading $$$ around hooking up their bros and heroes. …they had a page of rationalizations to sweep aside criticisms. Now it’s evident to them that Corp control exists and has solidified within snowboarding. As Terje has correctly observed…..riders are too lazy to act in a unified manner to wrest control….as such, they’ll be paid only what their Corp masters determine necessary.

     
  7. Why should they be paid more exactly anyway? Why exactly do we need an industry? Do you need to feel cool? Do you need that identity of lifestyle? We all ride for different reasons and in different parts of our life. Some lament the loss of snowboardings cool factor….I say fuck that. Snowboarding is as cool as its ever been. Keeping and growing your skillset, chasing powder, taking days off and sacrificing to smell that sharp, clean biting air…..all of it is better than ever.
    All I need is gear and snow…that’s all true riders need and ever have needed. These stories about the death of the soul, gimme a fucking break. They come from riders and their support staff who find it harder and harder to make a living or such a fat living any more. Sorry. Move on.
    I don’t need team riders.
    I don’t need to have a cool lifestyle mold to fit into.
    I don’t need video edits.
    I don’t need to buy a new board or new goggles or clothing every season.
    I don’t care if the X GAMES are won by all Chinese acrobats on snowboards.
    Hardcore old timers….get over it.
    Pro shreds…if you gonna expect more $$ then organize, demand, etc.

     
  8. If you give 2 shits about the “industry” and making sure someone somewhere gets paid that you deem cool enough to get paid….make sure you buy products that support such brands.
    Industry people…your products better be good, better in some ways that that Corpo board or goggle or pant. Making better shit is the way you get and maintain customers. Otherwise you’re just asking me to support your brand because you’re a cool-core bro and you deserve it….sorry business ain’t gonna work like that.

     
  9. X-games, Dew Tour, US Open, Olympics are beholden to gymnastics judging anyway…. “Oooh Bill, fantastic run but he missed the safety grab on that last hit and skidded out a bit, he’s not going to get a good score.”….. We need to put the punk knuckle dragger back into snowboarding and throw the pretty model people out and dump that damn hipster faux hippy look. And while we are at it, screw the energy drink jerk company money.

     

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