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FIS to host skier halfpipe events

The freestyle skiing umbrella will open a little more this season to accommodate the first ever World Cup halfpipe series, with three European events on the calendar.

A single demonstration World Cup event was held last season, and organizers at FIS are hoping the sport will grow alongside other ‘new school’ freeskiing events that have been adopted in recent years, including skiercross.

Because of funding constraints, the Canadian Freestyle Ski Association was only able to provide funding for a coach this season, and all the athletes would have to fund their own way to Europe and back. Despite the costs, three Alberta athletes signed up to compete this year for the Oct. 17 deadline – Mike Riddle, Cody Whyte and Ian Cosco. The coach is Whistler’s Trennon Paynter, a freestyle skier who recently made the jump to freeskiing.

"So far all we’re able to do is to facilitate entries into the halfpipe World Cups," said Bruce Robinson, the high performance program director for the CFSA. "We don’t have the financial ability to underwrite their expenses this year unfortunately…so right now it is an open field, basically the guys who were keen and could afford to pay their own way."

The FIS recently opened up to allow new non-Olympic events in response to the growing popularity of freeskiing events like skiercross, halfpipe and big air.

The expansion was met with some disdain by skiers who are worried that the FIS involvement will ultimately hurt sponsorships, reduce prize money, impose new rules and regulations on the sports, and damage the already successful pro events that were largely created by the athletes themselves. For these reasons and others, there’s a good chance that none of the top skiers from halfpipe events like the X-Games, U.S. Open, and World Skiing Invitational will show up at any of the World Cup events this year.

National freestyle associations have also had issues, with new sports and athletes to fund in addition to the traditional freestyle disciplines, moguls and aerials. Many skiers also feel that the skiercross discipline, which is entering its third season as a World Cup event, has more in common with alpine skiing than freestyle.

With some discussion as to whether to include skier halfpipe and skiercross in future Olympics the CFSA is hoping to provide more support in the future.

"We’re looking at ways to accommodate new school events into the program, and there are ongoing discussions on how to provide more support to these athletes," said Robinson. "They’re (the events) still new to the World Cup, they’re just starting to grow, and we want to make sure that Canadian athletes who want to participate can go now and learn what they can. That means finding funding, getting coaches and administrators, and finding some way to select and qualify athletes as well. Right now it’s wide open."

The first skier halfpipe of the season is this weekend, Oct. 25-26 at Saas-Fee, Switzerland. Other events are at Les Contamines, France on Jan. 7-8 and Laax, Switzerland from March 5-6.