World Snowboard Tour gets shaken up

ARE WE ANY CLOSER TO HAVING ONE UNIFIED TOUR?

TTR General Assembly 680

Big news from the World Snowboard Tour this morning, as the organisation gets its most major shake-up yet – and, according to them, takes a big step towards their goal of having one unified snowboard tour.

Kjersti Buaas, Torstein Horgmo and Stale Sandbech were among the riders in Barcelona for the 2014 General Assembly, where several matters relating to competitive snowboarding were discussed. The main breakthrough from the weekend, however, was a brand new concept for the way WST events will work.

Gone are the star ratings, ranging from one to six; they’ve been replaced with four tiers. At the top of the cake is the Elite Tour, entry to which will be determined by results in the lower tiers – collectively known as the World Qualifying Tour and split into Regional, National and International categories.

From the sounds of it, this is very much like the world of surfing, where the 34 best guys compete on one circuit stopping at all the most prestigious events. 10 surfers face ‘relegation’ at the end of the season while the top 10 in the feeder Qualifying Tour get promoted. Surfing’s system is simple to understand and has helped the sport gain large audiences via online streams – something snowboarding, with its confusing myriad of tours and acronyms, could definitely learn from.

It also looks like the decision-making process has involved riders, event organisers and media types alike, which is good to see. There’s just one problem: what’s to be done about FIS, and the Olympics?

screen-shot-2014-02-03-at-23-45-48-620x413
FIS don’t control any blue riband snowboard events. Oh, except for this one…

Surely any talk of a ‘unified tour’ should at least acknowledge the governing body that controls a sizeable chunk of the contest circuit, including the fabled five rings. However, the press release from the meeting made zero mention of either, bar this comment from TTR president Reto Lamm:

All the attendants were aware that the timeframe after the Olympic Games is ideal for the reformation of the World Snowboard Tour. The energy and consistency with which the concept of the World Snowboard Tour 2.0 was developed, discussed and finally decided without any dissenting votes is overwhelming. TTR is strengthening the ties between the events, riders and nations. Never before have such a solid and unified snowboard environment gotten together to shape the snowboarding future.

It’s still a step in the right direction; even before you look at issues with FIS, the inner workings of the WST certainly needed refreshing, and the reduction from six tiers down to four sounds good. There’s now a clear pathway from regional events up to the world-class ones, and seemingly less opportunity for farces like the time Shaun White flew to a mediocre Swiss event to get more tour points than Kevin Pearce. As for the X Games, though many places are already allocated according to tour rankings, it has traditionally filled out the invite list using a controversial wildcard system. Perhaps as part of the new ‘Elite’ circuit there will be fewer arguments over who is there and why?

Plus there’s a focus on listening to the opinions of the riders who do all the life-and-limb-risking in the first place. It’s that which has got guys like Torstein fully on board:

We are motivated to align to unify competitive snowboarding and create one consistent World Series where all the best riders take part

But you just can’t ignore that other governing body, the one that the majority of top riders flocked to in the last couple of years in order to have a shot at them golds, silvers and bronzes. Any tour that hopes to feature “all the best riders” every year – regardless of whether the Olympics are coming up – won’t happen until that is resolved.

You can't ignore it forever guys...
You can’t ignore it forever

We reached out to TTR to see if we could provide some more details. Understandably, lots of the specifics (such as how many riders will make up the Elite, and how many events will make up the Tour) are still to be decided. The fate of the Burton Open Series, which may need tweaking if it’s to be included on the ‘elite only’ circuit, is being discussed too.

As for FIS, no details were forthcoming, other than the news that some of their representatives were at the meeting in Barcelona, and TTR have sent two of their own people to the FIS conference. Their position on the matter is this:

Our main focus in communication with FIS will remain the creation of a strong unified World Snowboard Tour

 

With FIS guilty of shutting down all attempts by the TTR to cooperate in the past, it’s good that there’s at least an open line of communication. We’ll soon see if anything develops, and how the new-look WST will fare.

What do you think? Is this a positive step? What would your ideal tour look like? Let us know in the comments below.

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