Athletes: Slopestyle course was not up to World Championships quality
February 15, 2019
For Parkite McRae Williams, a strong performance at the 2019 FIS Snowboard, Freestyle and Freeski World Championships had the potential to be one of the final highlights of his career before moving on from competitive freeskiing.
But in an interview after the slopestyle competition on Feb. 6, the 2017 slopestyle world champion said he'd rather forget about the whole thing.
And not just because of his results — Williams finished 22nd in big air and seventh in slopestyle — but because he said the slopestyle course on Park City Mountain Resort's Pick N' Shovel run was not up to standards for a World Championships event.
And he wasn't alone. Four other elite athletes also said the course was not large enough to allow them to throw their best tricks, raising questions about the viability of the course for future competitions.
"It's way too flat to have a slopestyle course," Williams said. "Even when the weather is good, the jumps are really small and it's hard to put together the run and do the tricks we want."
Parkite Alex Hall, who won X Games freeski slopestyle gold last month before competing in the World Championships, also expressed his disappointment in the course. So did James Woods, winner of the men's freeski slopestyle competition in Park City; snowboard silver medalist Mark McMorris; and two-time Olympic freeski slopestyle medalist Nick Goepper.
"I was stoked how I did in big air, but slopestyle? No," Hall said. "The run it's built on is not big enough to have a full-size slopestyle course, so they were trying to cram too much into a slope that was a little too flat."
Hall said he struggled to clear the jumps in both of his qualifying runs, landing before the downslope in both. He considered both runs throwaways and finished the competition with a score of 41.50 after placing fourth in the World Championships' big air competition four days earlier.
"That was the first time I've been that frustrated with a course in a long time," Hall said.
Slopestyle competitions in Park City were formerly held at PCMR's King's Crown run, the site of the 2015 Slopestyle U.S. Grand Prix. Williams said that course had the best jumps in the area.
However, competitions have since been moved to Pick N' Shovel. The course was constructed by PCMR in conjunction with U.S. Ski and Snowboard, according to Tom Webb, a U.S. Ski and Snowboard spokesman. Webb said the course was reviewed by FIS over a 12-month period, during which PCMR hosted a stop on a second-tier competition, the Revolution Tour.
Representatives from PCMR declined to comment, directing inquiries to U.S. Ski and Snowboard.
According to Calum Clark, chair of the 2019 FIS Snowboard, Freestyle and Freeski World Championships, the organizing committee for the World Championships selected the site because it made sense from a logistics standpoint.
"Staging world championships events at this level means accounting for not only the courses the athletes perform on, but also the huge array of other logistical elements that go into the production of major events," he said via email. "That includes TV facilities, hospitality, sponsor integration, audience viewing areas, access to and from the venue for multiple personnel and equipment, ease of access in and out for emergency services — a huge array of considerations."
Weather also hampered the freeski slopestyle competition. The women's event was ultimately canceled following the completion of the men's final.
Clark released a statement following the cancellation via the World Championships' official Twitter account.
"With the sheer amount of hard work and planning that has gone into every event at these World Champs, it's obviously disappointing to have to move plans around, and to have to cancel such exciting competitions, not just for those involved in putting on these events, but in particular for the athletes," the statement said.
Four days later, organizers shortened the men's and women's snowboard slopestyle competitions due to wind conditions, using qualifying results to crown the champions in what had been scheduled as the last event of the World Championships.
McMorris, the snowboard slopestyle silver medalist, said he was glad to take second in the World Championships, but because of the quality of the course, he was relieved the finals were canceled.
"The course was built by local builders, I think, which is not good for a World Championships," he said. "You have to build the best course in the world if you want to have a World Championships, so that was frustrating to me. There's a lot of things I would have changed."
He said he hoped organizers would reach out to veteran skiers and boarders before holding their next big event.
Clark said the venue was built with input from "many experts in major snowsports events."
"We were pleased that we were able to run the men's slopestyle freeski competition, despite having to deal with the extraordinary elements that Park City has faced this week," he said via email. "As we do with any event, we will listen to and act upon feedback from all our stakeholders as we continue to put on these world-class events in Park City."
The World Championships, billed as the largest winter sports event in Utah since the 2002 Winter Olympics, were held as Salt Lake City pursues a second Games. In December, the United States Olympic Committee chose Salt Lake City to bid on a future Olympics, likely in 2030.
A concept venue map released last year by the Utah Olympic Exploratory Committee envisions PCMR hosting freestyle skiing and snowboarding competitions during an Olympics.
Colin Hilton, president and CEO of the Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation and a member of the exploratory committee, said he was "100 percent confident" the area's venues would be up to Olympic standards if the International Olympic Committee ultimately selects Salt Lake City to host another Games.
"I think with anything, we have a little time to figure out what we need to do to create the best experience for the athletes when they are at their prime," he said. "That's the benefit … of hosting (events regularly) so that we work through that."
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Correction: A previous version of this article identified the winner of the men's freeski slopestyle competition as Scotty James.
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