Alta States 

The Skicross factor

It was bound to happen. Given the unmitigated success of snowboarding’s Olympic adventure — according to industry insiders, the halfpipe and snowcross events were popular “beyond expectations” with television viewers during the Torino Games — the IOC went looking for more Winter X-Games type events to add to their roster for 2010.

And it’s no surprise. After all, the Olympics have to support their television partners. And in recent years, the X-Games — that unabashed made-for-television dash-and-crash spectacle — has done much more to attract young North American viewers than its more established “Higher, Faster, Stronger” counterpart. Given that this is the very audience that marketers and advertisers are desperately seeking to attract, it’s a no-brainer to connect the dots. And members of the IOC, if not always the sharpest tools in the shed when it comes to progressive decisions, definitely know how to connect the financial dots.

So what if this smacks of out-and-out opportunism. So what if they’re rushing immature disciplines to market. Or that there’s no grassroots development to speak of in these new sports. Or even a development system at all. It’s all about the show. And watching young guys and gals bashing and crashing down the hill, it seems, is way more compelling to 21st century television viewers than anything else the IOC can come up with. As they say in show business, if you can’t beat them, join them…

The latest X-factor winner in this new events game is what the IOC now calls Skicross. Patterned on the boardercross model, skicross will feature heats of four skiers all vying with each other to see who can make it fastest down a course studded with gap jumps, banked corners and wild turns. It’s sexy, exciting and truly fun to watch. The crashes are unbelievable. And the injury rate can be shocking. But it makes for great television!

Put it this way — if downhill racing is considered the Formula One version of skiing, then skicross surely is the sport’s rendition of NASCAR-style racing. In recent years, I’ve seen everything from punch-ups in the finish area to season-long grudge matches where competitors dislike each other so much that they can’t even manage a civil greeting in the start zone. And the pushing, shoving and fighting that go on during a race are nasty indeed.

In other words, it’s perfect for the small screen. It’s an on-hill soap opera with its own good guys and heroes, its own villains and mischief-makers. It’s a snowy WWE. And it is sure to capture people’s imaginations whether or not they’ve actually ever put on a pair of skis and slid down the mountain.

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