Dew Tour’s take on slopestyle makes athletes wonder what’s best
January 5, 2019
VAIL, Colo –In Summit County, Colorado, park and pipe freeskiing and snowboarding feels like a long-entrenched sport. The reality is, these sports are still in their formative stages.
They're still in the middle of essentially figuring out which competition formats and layouts are best not only for the athletes, but for in-person and television fans as well.
Case in point: Last month's Dew Tour at Breckenridge Ski Resort saw not only a fresh take on the traditional halfpipe course, but a different setup for the slopestyle course as well. In the men's and women's freeski and snowboard slopestyle competitions, the rails and jumps sections were separated completely. Rather than athletes zooming through the rails and jumps all in one go — like they did at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics — they completed either the rails or jumps. They then stopped, were scored and waited through an intermission. After the intermission, they rode through the other section of the slopestyle course.
At the surface level, most every athlete said the separation resulted in judges not over-weighing the importance of the jumps section which, according to several athletes, has been commonplace in the past.
For spectators, it most noticeably allowed them to get closer viewing access to their favorite athletes in both the rails and jumps portions. In comparison, during last year's Dew Tour, fans had to watch on a big screen at the bottom of Breckenridge's Peak 8 base area for everything except the final jump. This year? They could line up along a fence up and down the course to, quite literally, feel the action.
"I landed a little sideways," Swedish freeskiing legend Henrik Harlaut said after last month's Dew Tour. "I felt like I sprayed (the fans)."
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Aside from that kind of more close-knit feel of the Dew Tour slopestyle event, there was also the element of how it affected the casual fans on mountain and at home. After the event, Harlaut, who finished in third place, made the comment that he felt separating the two courses made the competition more viewer-friendly. With separate 50-50 scoring for the rails and jumps, he and other freeskiers felt fans and competing athletes alike could more easily interpret how and why judges came to the scoring decisions they did.
Beyond that, Harlaut believes more frequent and precise scoring also helps fans to understand an often complicated sport for those who've rarely watched it before.
Speaking on that point, Harlaut and his fellow Dew Tour freeski podium-mates Alex Hall of the U.S. (second place) and Evan McEachran of Canada (first place) pointed to snowboarding events like the annual Burton U.S. Open in Vail. The trio mentioned how the U.S. Open provides feature-specific scoring as well as a "flow score" for an entire slopestyle run. As such, snowboarders are able to see exactly where judges felt they excelled or disappointed on the singular rail or jump features throughout a course. This scoring concept is more common in snowboarding competitions compared to freeskiing. With that, the skiers expressed interest in seeing more of it in their own competitions. Most recently, this type of scoring system was utilized at an event in Stubai, Austria.
"It's so nice to see what each feature gets scored," Harlaut said. "I remember my parents calling me and they were like, 'it was so easy to follow' for them — why this person got more than the other person. And to see each section, how much the score was worth."
"There's a lot less complaining from various parties," Hall said. "I think it leaves less to question."
Aspen Olympic silver medalist halfpipe freeskier Alex Ferreira also turned his attention to the slopestyle course. A fan of the new separated slopestyle format, Ferreira said he appreciates that the Dew Tour's formatting made it hard for athletes to jump up in the standings between their runs.
"And that really asserts dominance of who crushed it on the course," Ferreira said.
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