Monday just got a shit ton better. It seems the good folk at the World Snowboard Tour have been up to more than just their rebrand this summer. It's just been announced that the X Games in both Aspen and Tignes, will now be WST accredited events. For many riders (and large swathes of the snowboarding public) the X Games are the most prestigious events of the snowboarding calendar. With their large prize purses, they've always attracted the top talents - Shaun White for example competed in both the European and US Games last year. And the fact that there are TV companies behind both events (ESPN in the US and Canal Plus in Europe) means that the X Games are watched by a far larger and more mainstream audience than most snowboard comps.
By bringing these two massive contests under the WST umbrella, the tour organisers have taken a huge step towards simplifying competitive snowboarding, and making it more understandable to the wider public. X Games rankings will now count towards WST points (both comps will be heavy-hitting 6 star events) and vice versa (the X Games invite list will now be decided by WST positions) uniting the two most universally recognised and respected ranking systems in the sport. For competitive snowboarding, this is big news.
While the recognising of the WST by the X Games is key, the change in their invite list policy is also pretty damned important. The X Games will now use the WST ranking system as the basis for the invites by selecting the top 10 Male athletes and top 5 female athletes in their chosen discipline. It sometimes seemed before that the X Games chose their start lists for the events on a kind of 'who has the most Facebook likes' basis, but now it's far more down to who is the best at what they do. While we're sure the X Games organisers will be keeping a fair few places open for their own chosen wild card invitees the new system could mean that Shaun White has to pull his finger out a bit more and ride in some more WST competitions to guarantee his place. Which has got to be a good thing right?
To complicate things slightly, whilst the Aspen X Games will count on the WST 12/13 calendar, the decision was made that the X Games in Tignes will actually count to the 13/14 WST calendar. Basically what that means is that riders have an opportunity to rack up some serious points at the end of this season that will make the early days of the 2014 season a hell of a lot easier. If you were to take the top spot at the Euro X and in competitions late in the season this year like the Spring Battle and the Whistler Shred show which are both 5 star WST events, you could, could in theory take the southern hemisphere season off and still come into the 13/14 calendar as favourite. We reiterate could.
Another huge bit of news is that the USSA Snowboarding Grand Prix series will also be joining the WST as 5 star events. These comps are big in the US - in 2010, they doubled up as the US Olympic team trials, with the results deciding which pipe riders got to compete in Vancouver. What's really surprising is that it the USSA events will continue to be FIS accredited too. Could this signify an end to the organisational rivalry which saw the FIS refuse to collaborate with the WST (or TTR as it was then) on the Olympic qualification process? It's only two events this year, but could this eventually lead to a reduction in the number of calendar clashes that occur with two different tours going on simultaneously? We shall see.
The addition of the USSA events is also significant because it had previously seemed to many people (especially in the US) that the WST was more of a European tour. With the addition of these 5 star events alongside the 6 star Aspen X Games, it becomes more obviously a geographically balanced, global tour. As well as this, the move addresses what has always been the biggest criticism of the contest circuit in the past - that it lacked coherence. Like boxing, snowboarding has crowned multiple world champions every year, with the X Games, Dew Tour, Burton Global Open Series and the TTR each coming up with their own winners. There's been very little agreement about who is actually the best in the world. Terje Haakonsen put it well in David Benedek's book 'Current State of Snowboarding' when he said: "You have this crazy situation where the FIS holds their 'World Championships' in Korea while actually the world's best riders are at the Burton European Open. The mainstream needs clarity. [For mainstream journalists] it's like 'should we write about the 'worlds' or should we write about the best riders...fuck, we are not even going to write about it because it's a circus'. Where's the credibility" In one fell swoop, today's announcement has added a massive amount of credibility to the competitive side of our sport. And for us, that can only be a good thing.