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Hard Bargain

Jul 4, 2011

Author: Dave Pires | Pulled from Issue 10.4

With freeskiing on the verge of Olympic inclusion and another collision with FIS, SBC SKIER sits down with Anthony Boronowski to chat about the ramifications, and why no one else is talking about it. PULLED FROM ISSUE 10.4

Hard Bargain

We want to talk about the Olympics. I know you have a few things to say, so why don't you start?

I feel like the people who are motivated to get [halfpipe] skiing into the Olympics have ulterior motives. I feel like those motives generally boil down to money, and there's been little discussion about why [halfpipe] skiing shouldn't be in the Olympics.

I know firsthand there are skiers who don't back it. It's a non-vocal minority, and it's people who have been around since the beginning. That's an important thing to consider. You have a lot of people who aren't saying shit, who share the same feelings I do. Which is a sense of caution, because right now the only story you get is a one-sided, "Let's hope skiing gets in the Olympics".

The reason you have these experienced people who aren't allowed to say what they think is because they're employed by companies who have the potential to make a lot of money off of this situation and I'm saying potential on purpose because it's not a guarantee. These guys can't say shit, and yet they're the ones with the knowledge and experience within skiing to know it's a dangerous call. You have a great group of experienced people who are in a position of compromise because they can't say what they think.

Precisely what do they think?

They think that it's dangerous. They think there's a reason we broke away from FIS. There's a reason freeskiing started and that's because FIS sucks. There's a reason you had the brightest stars of freestyle skiing quit and start their own thing without [FIS] rules. But moguls was in such a sad state of affairs, and it was miserable because of FIS. You couldn't even do a Backflip, because you weren't allowed. Because it sucked. Do you think they wanted to quit? Do you think they wanted to not go to the Olympics? Not get funding from a government? Not have all these great opportunities?

People are concerned because they've been there. They should not be ignored because they're wise. There needs to be a dialogue of temperament with the gung-ho-over-the-top push that we're in right now.

The fact that there are certain important voices within freeskiing absent from the debate is a warning sign.

Undoubtedly. I think it's sad that debate isn't encouraged. When snowboarding was going to go in the Olympics, Terje wouldn't go for Norway, and there was a dialogue about why snowboarding shouldn't go.

Because he was the most important figure in the sport at the time, and he flat out rejected it.

But he had the power to begin a dialogue. I think that skiing needs to have a dialogue with both sides of the story. [Remember,] we were in a position where skiing was totally stifled, it sucked, it was boring, it was miserable. Why do we need to go back to that?

Money is the only reason?

It has to be money. What's your argument? It's progression? No, because halfpipe skiing is going through the roof, slopestyle skiing is going through the roof, everything is going crazy. You've seen guys do back-to-back Double Corks in the pipe, amazing stuff, three Double Corks in one run from Kevin Rolland. Progression is not the issue. I don't think people look at what FIS' involvement in our skiing is going to mean.

Will their involvement negatively affect the evolution of freeskiing because our best and brightest will be coming up skiing to please judges?

I think that's an important part of the debate. Will FIS change? The way they approach mogul skiing is not the way you can approach freeskiing. Case in point, you have mogul skiers who don't even try to grab, because if you miss, your deduction is so high you're better to do a fucking Iron Cross, super ugly, and never try to grab. You see what I'm getting at? There has to be change in FIS that's reflective of our sport in order for things to be right.

But the FIS judging and the stifling of progression is only a small part of the discussion. I believe that if FIS works hard and they consult with the right people they could potentially do it right. They've done it with snowboarding. You had the right winner at the Olympics this year. There were judging errors in certain areas, but in general, those men and women just snowboard as well as they can and trust that the judging is going to work out-and I think that's great.

If they can get it right for skiing, that's perfect. But if they can't, then it's fucked and we're back to the mogul days. Which is a pretty big risk I'm not even sure skiing has acknowledged it's taking.

Don't you think some of the push from young people to have freeskiing represented in the Olympics is because they want skiing as a whole represented more accurately? When I was watching the reallocation of money in certain areas, with the most favoured Olympics I could barely stand the mogul events.

That's fair enough. When I watch moguls I lose my shit.

None of the world's best skiers ski moguls, they all freeski.

Just theoretically, imagine freeskiing never happened. Imagine what the mogul final would have been like in Vancouver. Could you imagine all the male freeskiing talents we have right now competing in moguls? The finals would have been berserk.

Do you think freeskiing needs its own governing body?

I think it has to be. That's why snowboarding worked, because they have the USSR. They totally did it their own way, and I think without that there's a larger chance of failure. Skiing needs to seriously consider getting involved with FIS, and the alternatives.

I feel the reason we never created a governing body is because it's only been 10 years that this has been going on, and guys had such a bad taste in their mouth from FIS. Why would you want to create a governing body? The whole reason this is happening is because we don't want rules. It's about being free.

The real merit and beauty of freeskiing is that it's always been people successfully following their hearts. They pioneered all these tricks, and did them because they were cool and had never been done before. They were no longer skiing for judges, and look at what they were able to do.

My concern is that the focus is going to be so direct and so strong on halfpipe skiing-and only halfpipe skiing. It's going to inherently limit the ability for creative people to do creative things and live a lifestyle that allows them to go skiing and get exposure.

The richest skiers will be the ones in the Olympics getting richer.

And the poorer skiers will be even poorer. I'm not saying those guys are going to stop skiing, or that there's no future for them if skiing gets into the Olympics, but our industry isn't that big.

I'm not going to deny the scale of exposure that comes with the Olympics. I will never deny that, but skiing needs to be careful, and contemplate what this choice will mean. Yes, you will have progression and creative expression within pipe skiing, granted FIS figures it out, but you're going to have a gnarly focus on pipe.

We have all this other stuff that's really special within skiing, and by granting halfpipe a position in the Olympics, you're really narrowing the support structure for any skier who is not competing in that arena.

If halfpipe skiing gets into the Olympics, I assume most companies will do whatever they can to have a rider in the competition because that is the ultimate exposure. Olympic athletes are going to command way more money, their salary might eclipse that of several other non-halfpipe riders.

And not even just riders, think about it on a broader scale. You have a brand that is speculating on a rider who could make it into the Olympics, and they're going to give all that money to that kid. That's great for that kid, fair enough. I'm not hating, take advantage of your opportunity. But what about the film companies? What about the ski magazines? What about the kids who deserve to make a living skiing?

You think if you have a brand paying a ton of money to a very select few, they're going to have any money left over to do anything else? It's happened in snowboarding and I've seen it firsthand. You have brands paying riders a lot of fucking money to come 11th in the Olympics. Who came 11th in the Olympics?

I have no idea and I watched the finals.

Exactly.

Do you think having halfpipe skiing in the Olympics ultimately sells more skis? Does it bring more people to skiing?

Do you think Burton sells more boards because Shaun White won a gold medal?

Burton likely sells more snowboards, but are there more total snowboards sold by all the brands, including Burton? I don't think so. I think Burton just takes a bigger piece of the pie, because I haven't seen any indication of that pie growing in skiing or snowboarding.

Exactly. I think you're going to see a reallocation of money in certain areas, with the most favoured riders getting short-term non-endemic deals, just like in snowboarding. With the discussion about growing skiing, the question I would have for you is: Do people want to skicross because skicross was in the Olympics?

No. And the more cynical would call skicross a failed sport for failed racers.

Right, then why is there this massive push within skiing to get halfpipe into the Olympics? Because really all that's going to change is the focus within our own community.

We're doing a pretty damn good job right now. It's awesome. There's support for guys who want to do cool little things like Traveling Circus and CASG, for guys who want to go on the big mountain tour, guys who want to film a movie part, and for guys who want to compete. There's small companies, there's big companies...

It will negatively affect the diversity of our support.

Ultimately that's my fear. Whether it's in the type of riding, or trick selection because of judging, or in skier support because of money and speculation. That is what I think we have the potential to lose. That's my biggest thing. Why do we need this push so bad? What is the ultimate goal?

Which is what you were getting at initially when we were talking about who is motivated by the goal of getting into the Olympics.

Everyone directly correlates Olympics with growth, but mofos, you're on NBC three times a year with the Dew Tour, you're on ABC, ESPN and EXPN, there's tons of exposure. I worry you're going to limit the diversity of skiing further by creating this artificial hype around the idea of growth when it may not happen at all.

Do you think that once FIS starts regulating halfpipe their reach will extend into other kinds of ski competitions like slope style? Right now, for all the controversy about judging, I feel we have a very competent group of judges, and we are judging ourselves.

I kind of believe in FIS in this regard. They know they fucked it up, and if we're going to do this, we have the power to regulate how it's done. There are enough smart people out there, like Mike Douglas and Josh Loubek, and with the right consultation and management it doesn't have to be negative.

Snowboarding had the most amazing year of progression for their sport in men's halfpipe riding ever. You could never deny that, and that's because of the push for the Olympics. And they managed to figure out a system that encouraged growth and progression without stagnation

You think that if the right people are involved, there's the possibility that FIS will not mismanage it? They might actually be able to do it really well?

My concern is within the industry. What is going to happen to us? FIS is also a major issue, but I'm someone who believes in people and I believe they can do it if the right people are involved.

I don't believe freeskiing is going to grow that fundamentally to augment the weird prospective change we're going to have. People who say, "I want to see my sport grow," I would say to them: How? Where? Why? It's going to grow because it was on TV for one hour of one day and you've got three guys who got multi-million dollar endorsement deals?

Let's say skiing had made it into the Olympics in Vancouver. Would someone like Tom Wallisch, who is undoubtedly a phenomenal talent, have devoted his time to being what Tom Wallisch is today, or would he have spent more time trying to be a well judged halfpipe skier?

Put it like this. What do you think Sean Pettit would do? Do you think we would have Sean Pettit as a bigmountain skier? Because undeniably Sean has a God-given talent, although I don't really believe in talent, but he has the ability and the opportunity to become one of the best skiers ever. Ask yourself, would Sean be skiing the [game-changing] way he is now?

Quite possibly not. Remember how good he was at halfpipe?

And that's fucking sad to me. Look at how good he was at halfpipe. Don't you think he would have kept doing that? And what if we didn't have Sean?

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