By Andrew Mitchell
Paul Rak has judged it all — World Cup, Gravity Games, X Games, Nor Ams, and too many pro contests to count — but some of his favourite events are part of the Telus World Ski and Snowboard Festival. The reason, he says, is that the format for events is a little different than other competitions, which in turn allows the athletes to be more creative and take more chances. It also gives the judges more leeway to interpret what they see.
His crews will judge skiers and snowboarders in five events over 10 days, including two big air contests, a rail contest, a superpipe and the Stompede, which is like a slopestyle event where athletes session each obstacle individually rather than as part of a run.
What spectators see from the sidelines, and what the judges see from their booths are very different at times. The key is knowing how to look.
Pique Newsmagazine caught up with Mr. Rak to discuss the finer points of judging world class ski and snowboard events.
Pique: You’re the head judge. Who else is on the panel this year?
Paul Rak: We have both snowboard judges and ski judges. On the ski side we have Jay Vaughan, Myles Rickett, Chris Turpin, and the fourth is to be announced. On the snowboard side we have Colin Duncan, Jason Fentiman, Carter Smith, and Kraig Kinsman.
Pique: A lot of former pros.
PR: For a lot of pros, once their career is done or they’re injured, they want to know where else they can go, and judging is one side of the sport they can stay involved in.
Pique: I guess it’s always better that most of the judges can do the tricks they’re judging.
PR: All of them have either done the trick or tried it at some point, and they really understand the trick and respect the athletes. It helps to know what you’re watching. Some things look hard that are really easy, or look easy and are hard, and it’s good to have that perspective.
Pique: What’s your own background?
PR: I wanted to be a pro. I did a bunch of competitions in the ’90s, but then I got into judging and really liked it. I’m classified as a Pro Level 2 judge… which means I’ve done everything from World Cups to Gravity Games, to the U.S. Open, to the X Games, to the Grand Prix. That’s just on the snowboarding side.