Snowboarding competitions can be great fun, and if you want to turn snowboarding into a career, you'll most likely enter it through the contest circuit. For those who don't like competing, that's absolutely fine too, but if you fancy pitting your skills against other then here's how it works.
From Whitelines Basics 2013
Where to Start
Before you can enter the X Games, you'll need to go through the local competition scene. In the UK, this means hitting the dryslopes and snowdomes across the country (see whitelines.com/directory for info on your nearest local slope). There are plenty of competitions, from one-off 'jams' to whole series. More relaxed comps include the For Boarders by Boarders summer events (forboardersbyboarders.com) ; the Whitelines Rail Jam tour; the SCUK Summer Bash (snowboardclub.co.uk) or the Norfolk Farmer's Jam (norfolksnowsports.com). Some are weekend camping events, but either way you can expect to meet lots of like-minded people, ride plenty of different rails and hit some small kickers.
If you've been to some of those loose contests and want to up your game, then the next stage would be to enter the British Snowtour (Britishsnowtour.com) a series of indoor and outdoor competitions that hit several slopes throughout the year and which culminate in the British Championships, a week-long event held out in the Alps each winter - usually around March/April. To win there means you'll be crowned 'British Champion' in either boardercross, halfpipe, big air or slopestyle. The event also hosts several smaller jams and fun contests as well as live music acts.
For a full calendar of all forthcoming local and international events check out snowboardclub.co.uk/calendar-future.html
Snowboard competitions come in all sizes and shapes. Here are some of the most common ones...
Riders take on one or more rails and jibs, showing their prowess at sliding, gapping and otherwise bonking the crap out of the set-up.
Today virtually all halfpipe competitons are held in 'Superpipes' - machine cut halfpipes with at least 22-foot transitions. The Winter Olympics and X Games are perhaps the biggest pipe competitions (though the US Open has seen some classic halfpipe battles over the years) but pipe contests are common in many resorts.
As the name implies, this most crowd-pleasing format sees riders launch themselves off a huge straight jump. The Air and Style contest, normally held in either Munich or Innsbruck, is the daddy of them all, pitting the world’s best freestylers against each other to see who’s got the best kicker trick.
Mixing rails, kickers and sometimes even a small pipe, slopestyle is a test of a rider’s overall freestyle ability. Since it makes the most of the whole park set-up it’s a popular contest format at every level, from your local artificial slope to the X Games.
Boardercross - sometimes known as snowboardcross owing to a patent clash that goes back to the 1990s - sees up to six riders at a time race down a banked course with jumps and obstacles. The crashes can be spectacular, making it one of the biggest events at the Olympics for TV ratings.
Taking place exclusively in the high mountains, riders take on steep lines and big cliffs, effectively racing down death-defying off-piste powder runs. The most prestigious of these is the final stop of the World Freeride Tour (freerideworldtour.com): the Verbier Extreme.
Highly specialised racing meets in which riders aim to navigate a set of ‘gates’ in as short a time as possible. Although the format is less popular than it used to be, the Mt Baker Banked Slalom has been going since 1985 and continues to attract some of the world’s biggest names; its winners list reads like a who’s who of snowboarding.
The world snowboard tour
Want to stand on a podium next to Shaun White? Of course you do, but getting there involves working your way up the qualification system. In snowboarding this means getting involved with the World Snowboard Tour, or the ‘WST’ for short - formerly known as the TTR. This non-profit organization has tied together many grassroots events (such as the British Snow Tour) so that you can amass points in the same league table as the pros. The bigger and more prestigious the comp, the more points you are awarded. Build your score enough and you could ultimately gain an invitation to one of the ‘6-star’ events such as the Air & Style.
The winner of the annual WST is effectively snowboarding’s world champion - in 2013 the honours went to Finland’s Peetu Piiroinen (men) and Czech Sarka Pancochova (women). They picked up the lion’s share of a $200,000 end-of-season prize purse, plus a stack of cash from individual event wins. Nice work if you can get it!
Confusingly, neither the X Games nor the Winter Olympics are affiliated with the World Snowboard Tour, which has made for some heated debate when it comes to establishing qualification. The next Olympics will be held in Sochi, Russia, in 2014, and after the huge success of the halfpipe and boardercross, there is talk of including a slopestyle event. Having worked hard to establish an annual circuit of top snowboard contests, the WST are worried that its riders will drop out every four years to pursue Olympic glory. They are therefore on the offensive - trying to gain recognition as the official path to the Games.
It's a story that's yet to have an ending that suits everyone.