It's now been two years since the World Skiing Invitational (WSI) featured a halfpipe contest, but all of the major players involved in the event are working towards bringing one back in 2015.
Since 2011, the Association of Freeskiing Professionals (AFP) has used the WSI as its world championship event, ending the AFP World Tour season during the World Ski and Snowboard Festival (WSSF). But AFP executive director Eric Zerrenner said the festival doesn't feel complete without a pipe competition.
"From the AFP's perspective, in order for it to be a legitimate world championships, we want all three disciplines," Zerrener told Pique on Tuesday, April 22.
A halfpipe event was originally scheduled for this year's WSI, but financial challenges and the lack of a 22-foot halfpipe in Whistler forced its cancellation. The AFP released a statement last month indicating a "100 per cent" commitment to bringing a pipe contest back to next year's world championships, which Zerrenner confirmed Tuesday that he wants to have in Whistler again.
"We're confident that it could happen," said Zerrenner, who had productive discussions with Whistler Blackcomb (WB) and WSSF officials during the weekend. "Everybody was like, 'Hey, our goal is to get this back to where we were a couple years ago.'"
Peter "YP" Young, event and terrain park manager for WB, said the mountain cut an 18-foot halfpipe this year with guidance from Canada Snowboard and the Canadian Freestyle Ski Association.
"After consulting with them and a bunch of other riders, we have come to the conclusion that the 22-foot pipe is actually killing the sport," said Young. "It's great at the very highest level, but it's not encouraging people to get in and try halfpipe."
Young said WB received "tons of great feedback" and higher traffic on the smaller pipe this winter. Plans are to keep it that way next year, but WB would have no problem expanding the pipe for the WSI.
"Just because you have an 18-foot pipe doesn't mean you can't build a 22-foot one," he said. "And, we have both shapers."
Zerrenner said many skiers who focus mainly on halfpipe still made the trip out to the world championships and the year-end AFP awards banquet at the Bearfoot Bistro on April 20. He credited WSSF officials for helping make accommodation arrangements for athletes who weren't competing.
But after a hectic season that included the discipline's Olympic debut, some skiers were OK with being just a spectator for the WSI this year.
"Just this year," said Whistler's Justin Dorey, who hasn't competed since Sochi while dealing with a nagging knee injury picked up at the Games. "It's been such a long season, it's good to be able to relax and have no stress.
"Any other year? Yeah, I'd be pretty bummed."
Dorey's teammate and Olympic silver medallist Mike Riddle agreed that it was nice to get a break from competing at the end of a gruelling season. But the WSSF also holds a special place in Riddle's heart, and the winner of the last WSI pipe contest in 2012 said he wants to compete in it again.
"Before I was ever competing, I drove out here from Edmonton for the week just to watch guys throw down," said Riddle. "My first-ever result at a big event — I got a second (place) — was here. A big pipe event and the big air — those were the two things they had forever.
"I want it to be a premier event again."
TSUBOTA SCOFFS AT IOC OFFICIAL'S SLOPESTYLE COMMENTS
Local Olympian Yuki Tsubota said she doesn't agree with recent comments from a high-ranking IOC official, who said that because of the injuries seen in Sochi, slopestyle "should change, otherwise we shouldn't have it" in the Games.
Lars Engebretsen, an orthopedic surgeon and head of scientific activities at the IOC, told the Associated Press on April 13 it was his personal opinion that injury rates during the discipline's Olympic ski and snowboard debut was "unacceptably high." Both Engebretsen and the IOC have since downplayed his further comments that slopestyle could potentially be dropped as an Olympic sport.
Some athletes have responded to Engebretsen's remarks by criticizing the IOC for using a contractor in Sochi other than Winter X Games course-builder Snow Park Technologies, placing competitors on an Olympic course with unfamiliar features. Others, like Tsubota, have simply defended their sport while acknowledging the risks.
"All of us know (injuries) might happen, but we still do it because we love to do it," said Tsubota, who fractured her cheekbone and suffered a concussion in Sochi. "It comes with the sport. I think they're being a bit unfair — all the sports are dangerous."
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