January 3, 2006

Snowboarding retains its rebel status

By Mark Meadows

LONDON (Reuters) - Snowboarding's rebels entered the
Olympic movement with reluctance in 1998 though some opted out
altogether and still think their sport is too cool for the
Turin Games next month.

Top Norwegian boarder Terje Haakonsen gained a cult
following after he boycotted snowboarding's debut in Nagano.
His problem was not the Olympics per se but the route which
snowboarding had taken to claim a place in the Winter

Haakonsen felt snowboarding, as much a culture as a sport,
had abandoned its principles after being forced to ditch the
International Snowboarding Federation (ISF) and join the more
established International Ski Federation (FIS) to gain entry.

His followers saw the FIS as too regimented for their new,
fresh-thinking sport and resented any implication that
snowboarding was just a discipline of skiing -- the
International Olympic Committee's (IOC) official website lists
it as such.

Despite two successful Olympics under the FIS and the
raising of the sport's profile, the feeling of discontent has
not gone away.

"It's great that snowboarding is in the Olympics but the
FIS competition structure takes its rules and judging criteria
from traditional ski competitions," Richard Waterworth of the
Extreme Sports Channel, a top provider of snowboarding
coverage, told Reuters.

"The ISF was a tour founded and run by snowboarders for

The FIS, however, is pleased with the progress made since
snowboarding came under its jurisdiction in 1994.

"The FIS is trying to do the best to promote the sport and
is trying to include all the wishes of the snowboarders. There
are meetings with the riders and team captains to improve every
discipline in every way," said FIS spokesman Oliver Kraus.

"A lot of problems occurred not because of the regulations
of the FIS but more because of strict rules within national
associations. The FIS itself is open for everybody."


The ISF eventually folded but Haakonsen went on to set up
the Ticket to Ride (TTR) series to rival the FIS events,
culminating in the annual Artic Challenge held in the Artic
Circle in Norway.

"The closest thing to the ISF now is the Ticket To Ride
tour...," said Waterworth. "Snowboarding does have a distinct
culture and it is competitions such as the TTR tour that really
reflect the things that make snowboarding unique."

Fans of Haakonsen's project say TTR is judged on all
aspects of riding and there is more focus on style than in FIS

They say the FIS tour took its rules from traditional ski
competitions and that when both bodies existed the FIS was not
taken seriously with the best riders staying in the old

However, the chance of Olympic recognition changed things
although an undercurrent of rebellion to the Games still

Asked at a recent news conference what Olympic judges
looked for in a snowboarder, 18-year-old American Hannah Teter,
a new icon of the sport, answered cryptically.

"They look for style and for whoever's throwing down that
day, who's smooth and whoever just looks really, really
ridiculously good-looking," she was quoted as saying by
Florida's St. Petersburg Times.

Many snowboarders would also rather gain medals in the
Winter X Games than they would in the Olympics. The X Games are
the unofficial extreme sports world championships held outside
the remit of the FIS.


Freestyle skiing, which entered the full Winter Games in
1992 having been recognized by the FIS in 1979, had remarkable
similarities to close cousin snowboarding on its own road to
Games recognition.

Peter Judge, the Canadian Freestyle Ski Association chief
executive, is happy to be in the Olympics but believes the
Switzerland-based FIS is not necessarily the best guardian of
snowboarding and freestyle due to the sports' North American

"Freestyle and snowboarding have both evolved to get
legitimacy and there have been growing pains," he told Reuters.

"Freestyle had three warring factions in the 1970s. The
road to legitimacy meant freestyle had to go into an Alpine
organization based in Europe. They tend not to understand
politics of sport outside that geographic area."

The FIS rejects this assertion.

"With at least 35 nations participating in freestyle on an
international basis, this could have never been accomplished
unless we worked under a common umbrella and a common set of
rules," FIS freestyle coordinator Joseph T. Fitzgerald, a
Canadian, told Reuters.

"You can only do great things, if you work together."

Judge believes snowboarding was more readily accepted into
the FIS than freestyle because of its growing popularity at the

"In freestyle's quest to become an Olympic sport we had to
work with the FIS to get acceptance. It was a chore. With
snowboarding, the FIS went out of its way to make them a
member," he added.