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Alta States

The Skicross factor

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And isn’t that what everybody wants? To make the Olympic Games relevant again?

But there is a strong whiff of irony about the whole thing. Created by the Fox television network to showcase the burgeoning world of New School sports that were too “extreme” to ever be considered part of the Olympic family, the X-Games has now been transformed into a living laboratory for the IOC. Where once they dismissed the X-spectacle as trashy and common, IOC officials are now falling over each other to find the latest-and-greatest event that they can adapt for their own use. If it’s popular with X-viewers, then it’s good enough for the Big Show.

Sadly, in their great haste to satisfy American spectators’ needs for high-speed jinks, they are turning their backs on one of the basic credos of Olympism: and that’s making sure that there is a well-established development system for youth and talent identification within the sport.

I mean, c’mon. The FIS, that great august body that manages the fortunes of competitive skiing in the world, believed so little in the future of skicross a few years aback that it assigned a pure racing discipline to its freestyle division. And given the sinking fortunes of freestyle skiing in the world (I would bet that there are now fewer international mogul skiers than bobsleigh racers), sending skicross there is like sticking a young toddler into a leaky boat without a life vest…

“Skicross cannot afford to go where mogul skiing went,” says skiercross visionary JP Baralo. “Over-formatted and lacking any semblance of creativity, mogul skiing has become a very boring event to watch. And it only became that way after the FIS got involved.” Those dangers, he adds, “are very real in our sport as well. Unless skicross competitors get together and form their own organization, we’ll probably face the same fate.”

Former local competitor Pete Smart also questions the freestyle/skicross match-up. “I was involved with the sport when the FIS first launched its World Cup skicross circuit a few years back,” he says, “and I was appalled by what I saw in Europe. Skicross competitors definitely need to agitate for their own organization.”

It’s also interesting to track the response of alpine skiing officials to this new discipline. In a recent conversation with Alpine Canada chief Ken Read (but before the news of skicross’ Olympic inclusion was made public), I was surprised to see how negative he was about the skiercross phenomenon. When I asked him if he’d ever endorse it, he was quick to reply. “It’s too uncontrolled, too dangerous — and too poorly organized,” he told me. “The risk factor is way too high for me to ever support it.” Kind of like downhill racing in the 1970s, eh Ken?

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