The Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, are less than a year away, and if you thought there were lots of events in the past, get ready for 12 new competitions added to mix in 2014.
Next year, in addition to the standard Alpine and cross country events, hockey and figure skating, there will be team figure skating, women’s ski jumping, mixed relay biathlon and team relay luge for the first time.
By far the biggest of the newcomers are freestyle skiing and snowboard competitions, including ski halfpipe, ski slopestyle, snowboard slopestyle and snowboard parallel slalom. The parks and pipes events have not just arrived; they are going for domination, it seems.
It is no mystery why. It is just a natural extension of the popularity of these competitions around the world, notes Jay Simson of Niskayuna, who is the U.S. representative for freestyle skiing to the International Ski Federation (FIS).
“The FIS role is to identify new sports in our discipline and look to give them wider recognition by recommending them to the International Olympic Committee. The goal is to get these included in the games,” he said.
Day Franzen couldn’t be happier. Franzen manages the Carinthia area at Mt. Snow, Vt., the largest dedicated freestyle terrain park facility in the eastern U.S. It is 100 acres which at full operation has eight separate terrain parks of all sizes for all levels of skiers and riders. If you live in our region and are serious about learning your way around parks and pipes, you’ll wind up at Carinthia sooner or later.
And now with the Olympic exposure, chances are, the things will grow more.
Franzen, a Virginian who was a competitive snowboarder before moving to managing facilities in California, Oregon and Nevada, took over the Carinthia facility a year ago.
“My grandparents love the winter games,” he said. “But ask the average 20-year-old here at Carinthia, and they could care less.”
But that is about to change, Franzen believes.
There has been snowboarding in recent games. But more regular competitions with a little more edginess like the X-Games and the Dew Tour have drawn more attention from younger audiences. Shaun White has become a sports superstar by dominating the halfpipe for men in recent years, and Kelly Clark, who grew up less than three miles from the Carinthia site, is a six-time U.S. Open snowboard champion and an Olympic gold medalist in the women’s competition.
While U.S. competitors have done well in halfpipe events, the number of facilities for that discipline continues to diminish. The cost of building and maintaining halfpipes has many areas backing off these days. This winter, including Carinthia, there were less than 20 competition-ready halfpipes in the country.
Slopestyle is a different matter and will be the new discipline in the games. Skiers and snowboarders, men and women, will have their own competitions which consist of navigating two rails at the top of the course, then a series of three progressively larger jumps where competitors will do a variety of twists, turns, grabs and flips designed to impress panels of judges, who will evaluate runs using criteria similar to what already exist in freestyle competitions.
Will slopestyle success be a measure of athleticism and style? Or will it be about only “corks,” how many twists and aerial moves competitors complete? We’ll see next winter.
And why will younger audiences embrace these new sports?
“Because that’s what they do here at Carinthia and other places,” said Franzen.
The slopestyle program at Carinthia is based on “progression.”
“We start skiers and boarders on elements in one of our smaller parks — Grommet,” said Franzen. “And as they master this, we move them up the scale. The elements are the same, only larger. Eventually, they can move all the way up to the extra large features in our Inferno park.”
Inferno is located right in front of the Carinthia base lodge. It has large slopestyle elements with an 18-foot high, 450-foot long halfpipe alongside, so the area is especially well-suited to competitions, training or just plain showing off.
Carinthia at one point was a separate ski area. When originally purchased by Mt. Snow, it was just additional interconnected trails for the ski mountain. For the past five years, the area has been a dedicated terrain park. X-Games gold medalist in skier slopestyle Nick Goepper trains there, as does Devin Logan, who is a medal contender in the same sport for women.
And you can imagine it takes a lot of work and attention to keep these facilities tuned up for elite competitors. In that regard, Franzen has some pretty capable assistance. Winter X-Games medalist Jason Evans is in charge of cutting the halfpipe.
“We work hard to keep these facilities in top shape. If we are going to be a serious freestyle facility, we have to pay attention all the time,” said Franzen.
For a good look at what a freestyle competition can be, check out the Carinthia Freeski Open, Saturday March 16. The area is located just off Rt. 100 in West Dover, Vt.
The addition of the new sports might seem odd to people who have wondered about the recent decision to eliminate seemingly more common sports from the Olympic schedule like women’s softball and wrestling. But sports don’t come and leave randomly. The women’s softball argument was that not enough countries played the sport competitively. Women’s ski jumping is now in, but only after multiple tries and going to court to be included.
There were sports proposed that didn’t make the cut, at least not yet: ski mountaineering, ski orienteering and winter triathlon. “Bandy” — think field hockey on ice — was also proposed, but will not be an Olympic sport in 2014. But Sochi will host the World Championships in that sport during the games.
The Winter Games are scheduled for next Feb. 7-23 with the snow events set for Karsnaya Polyana, a resort town in the Caucasus Mountains about 40 miles from Sochi. There will be 98 medal events in 2014, 60 more than in 1980. None of the 12 freestyle events next winter were a part of the Lake Placid games.
There have been some impressive snow totals in the hills the past few days. Alpine skiing conditions are excellent, but with the school holidays over and grass already showing in backyards, areas are having to work harder to attract skiers into the slopes.
That means deals. These often come in two forms. The first is season passes for next year. The advance purchase cost is usually discounted and many places include the remainder of this season if you buy now. If you have a favorite area, check it now for next winter.
The second is spot bargains, either lower daily rates throughout March or one-day specials, often posted on the area website. Check before you head out. A variation of this worth considering is a combination lodging-lift ticket. Some areas are offering package deals that are less expensive than a full regular lift ticket price.
DEAL OF THE WEEK
Whiteface is offering the fourth of its Super Sunday promotions this week. The cost of a ticket is $40 for adults, $35 for teens and $30 for juniors. If you are at the mountain and ready to go at 7:45 a.m., there will be First Tracks for the first 14 skiers and riders who sign up at the guest services desk.
Dr. Melvil Dewey, who invented the library code Dewey Decimal System, was an outdoor enthusiast and the founder of the Lake Placid Club. He was also a critic of the English language, more specifically how complex the spelling of our language is and how it should be simplified. A century ago he tried — unsuccessfully — to change all that.
In promoting skiing in a Lake Placid Club publication, he wrote “Get skis, lern to uz them with skil and others near yu will be unable to resist the fasination”
A century later, he is an inspiration to text messagers everywhere.