Why The Sochi Olympic Snowboard Slopestyle Course Is Scary

So I’ve been watching all the debate going on about Shaun White dropping out of the slopestyle at Sochi and I notice there’s a lot of confusion about why some athletes are saying the slopestyle course is dangerous and why some are saying it’s fine.

People are throwing out random tweets from athletes saying the course is fine, then someone else is coming back with another tweet saying it’s dangerous etc. etc.

So I thought I’d break things down a little and explain why the course construction was criticised.

1) The drop-in section onto the rails is designed poorly

So what’s wrong with the ramp? Well it isn’t that it’s steep, but rather that you have barely any time to balance and setup your trick before being kicked over the rail section:

Sochi Olympics 2014 - Snowboard Slopestyle Dangerous

The ramp goes drop in > kicky curve > rails, but typically you’d want it to be drop in > flat/straight setup area > rails.

Unfortunately, the entire lead up section into the rails for the Sochi slopestyle course is basically one big curve which can really put riders off when they’re trying to square up their body to set up a rotation (such as the pretty standard 270 on/off which is a staple for most slopestyle contests).

Setting up for spin while trying to fight a kicky ramp is hard and as a park rider it scares the crap out of me just looking at that kicky setup onto the rails.

All they needed was a few feet of flat space in between that ramp and the rails and it would make it 100 times less scary, which boggles my mind as far as why that’s not the case.

I’ve also heard the rails were a little sticky, but honestly I can’t comment on that since that’s something you have to ride yourself to see how it feels.

2) The jump take-offs were ‘overbuilt’ (at least at first)

From what I can tell, when the athletes first got to the course the jumps were extremely overbuilt, so that the jump take-offs were too steep relative to the landing of the jump.

So you may ask, why does this matter? Well it matters because when the angles don’t match up it makes it hard to land in the sweet spot of the landing without taking too much impact.

Have a look at this diagram here:

Sochi Olympics 2014 - Snowboard Slopestyle Dangerous 2

Notice how in the first photo the jump take off is flat and the landing is steep? That means it’s very hard to hit the jump and land in the sweet spot of the landing because your flight path doesn’t match up with the landing properly.

Now in the case of the Sochi jumps, it was actually the opposite problem to this diagram. The jumps were built way steeper than the landings, so you had a really big upward arch, but a mellow landing, which means a lot of impact on your body when you land.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realise that you don’t want to take lots of impact on your body when you fall down from 2 stories up in the air.

This is part of why they had that rider meeting and had the jumps cut down to be more in line with the landings. From what I’ve heard it’s not perfect now, but it’s way better than it was on Day 1.

So is the course still dangerous after the fixes?

I have no idea if they fixed the drop-in to the rails or if riders found a way to bypass the kicky drop-in ramp by dropping in lower or something else, but I’m sure the jumps are safer even though they may not be as perfect as hoped.

Is it the most dangerous course ever? No.

Is it the perfectly shaped and safe course that’s typically expected from a contest this big? No.

It is what it is, not perfect, but not the worst. It’s definitely not quite up to the standard of a major event like this, but it’s still seems ridable after the fixes.

Anyhow, the real topic here is of course what everyone wants to talk about…

Do you agree or disagree with Shaun White’s decision?

Personally, I may be in the minority, but I don’t mind that he dropped out. The part that sucks is he should have done it sooner so they could get a replacement athlete, but I don’t care about the actual part of him dropping out and choosing not to compete.

To me it seems he had 3 choices:

  1. Stay in and compete while dialling back to a safer run
  2. Drop out to save himself for halfpipe where he’s typically head and shoulders better than everyone else
  3. Stay in and compete while going for his best run

If he does the first option, we both know he’ll still get hated on anyway because “he’s not trying his best when someone else missed out for him to compete” or “he’s scared to compete since he knows he’ll lose.”

We already saw that happen in the X-Games awhile back. So his option is to either go full out in slopestyle or not compete at all.

Now if he goes for his best run, what happens?

  1. He stomps it and maybe wins, but with the stacked slopestyle field it’s anyones game even if you stomp your best run
  2. He bails and doesn’t get injured
  3. He bails and gets injured and is unable to compete in superpipe where he typically dominates without even pulling out his best run

To me it looks like he did the risk vs. reward in his head and with how inconsistent his runs have been in slopestyle recently, plus being put off by the rough course and also getting a wrist injury in practice, it looks like he decided the total increased risk of injury wasn’t worth sacrificing what is likely to be a gold medal in superpipe.

Is it a little wimpy to not compete to his best ability? Probably, but I try not judge another snowboarder when it comes to their own risk vs. reward level, especially not on obstacles that big in less than ideal conditions.

Your own safety is your own call, especially when the conditions aren’t ideal, it just kind of sucks that some guy missed out on a spot on the team due to all of this.

But here’s the thing:

We all know why snowboarding is in the Olympics… because it makes them money and brings in views. It’s a commercial decision to cash in on competitive snowboarding, that’s why slopestyle and superpipe are in the Olympics.

Isn’t that why many snowboarders have constantly said that the Olympics needs us more than we need them? Isn’t that why there’s that whole debate about snowboard not belonging in the Olympics? The Olympics are a business of selling views by showcasing competitive sports, not here for the spirit of snowboarding.

And it stopped being about stopping ancient greek wars a long time ago. Last I checked the IOC made almost $1 billion from selling ad rights at the London Olympics.

It seems to me that Shaun White is playing the Olympics exactly the way it’s designed. He’s treating it as a commercial gold medal winning endeavor and maximising his value out of the Olympics.

I’m not saying this is a good thing, but rather I am saying that it matches up with what I’d expect from the modern money making entity that is the Olympics.

Anyhow I’ll discuss this more in the new Snomie podcast coming up this week. We’re recording the first episode this Friday, so it should be a fun topic to talk about 🙂

– Jed

ps – If you have an idea for the name of the Snomie snowboard podcast, let me know. Right now I’m leaning towards naming it “Snowboarding & Beer” since that’s literally what it is… we sit around and have drinks while talking snowboarding.

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