FREESKIER’s former Senior Editor, and current NYC-based Senior Contributor, Nate Abbott comments on 2015 X Games, from bed, on drugs, following ACL surgery.
At 9:21 p.m., Eastern Time, my stream on ESPN3.com showed Maddie Bowman landing her first run. Maddie, with three runs to go, hadn’t looked particularly nervous before the run. And afterwards, she didn’t have any sort of amazing emotional reaction. With no other skiers looking like they would challenge her, the contest was over. As three-peat champion, her first as a 21-year-old legal bar-patron; she’s maybe going to have the best X Games of anyone in 2015, with three nights to enjoy Aspen still to come. It’s a well deserved victory, but still one fraught with problems.
The women’s halfpipe finals at X Games got off to an unbelievably bad start. After a lead segment that mostly mentioned Shaun White, ESPN cut back to the women by showing some silly DJ onscreen while the announcer, Uncle E—he of the funny hats and not so funny jokes—commented on the “harem of goddesses” surrounding DJ Dorky. Do they know what that word means in a literal sense? Do they know what its connotations are? How does anyone at ESPN allow that? I’ll move on, because, well, wow.
I’m going to cause more problems though, because this was not a good ski contest either. Sure, Maddie executed her runs well, there were a few new tricks and a couple other ladies threw good runs; in rah-rah tradition I should talk about the skiing. But honestly, if you dropped this contest into 2011, no one would be blown away, talking about “the future of the sport is now!!!” or any such excitement. The sport of women’s halfpipe just hasn’t progressed at a rapid clip and I would not be shocked if the organizers of X Games dropped women’s halfpipe altogether.
Now let me backtrack for a second and say a few things. First, I’m on drugs. I had ACL reconstruction surgery six days ago and I planned very carefully to reach peak narcotic-influence during the second run of the contest. Since I cannot be there, I’m going to write free-flowing and opinionated pieces during each of the five freeskiing event finals during 2015 X Games. This story was supposed to be the first. It was to be a train-of-thought diary of my night, a view-from-bed, stream of consciousness piece. Except that on top of the knee pain, I had a migraine last night. So I vomited during the contest (unrelated to the skiing, which, if boring, was not offensive), and spent the night hallucinating, moaning, thrashing around and generally miserable.
Second, I love these ladies and that they’re out there doing something that 99.9-percent of the world cannot do. They do not get enough credit for the toll it takes on their bodies and the imbalance between risk and reward. I’ve spent many days shooting photos with the ladies, because I think they deserve to be in ski industry magazines. I don’t gain a top financial payout, but I respect how tough and hard-working these women are.
Once the migraine broke this morning, I struggled back and forth with the realization that women’s halfpipe is not worth it. It’s not worth it to the spectators (and clearly then to the advertisers and TV production). And it’s not worth it to the skiers. For many years, I’ve been having these discussions. They ebb and flow.
Roz Groenewoud is one of the best women’s pipe skiers, one who could possibly rival Maddie. She fell on her first run and withdrew from the competition. Roz is tall and her body seems ill-fit to halfpipe skiing. Like Peter Olenick, her height creates a ton of leverage through the transition, especially on a backseat landing low in the tranny. It makes for frequent injuries. But Peter’s knee problems were an anomaly in men’s halfpipe, while Roz’s injuries seem commonplace. Sarah, Megan Gunning, Jen Hudak, Angeli VanLaanen, etc., etc. I remember the injuries and I watch each contest holding my breath, hoping no one gets injured.
Even the smallest injuries make women’s halfpipe a discipline defined more by attrition than by innovation. Every time someone ends up sidelined, whether for two weeks or two months, it is a detriment to progression throughout the whole sport. Would training or competing in smaller pipes reduce the injuries and help create more technically sound skiers? Will the cachet, coverage and prize money eventually drive enough athletes into the sport that it will become a marquee event? I’m not sure, but these are questions the entire ski industry should be addressing before someone in television production or some fat, rich fuck from FIS decides without our input.
As an anonymous source within the production of X told me his view of Maddie, “She knows she can do the same run, not even try to grab and still beat everyone because it is so much harder. We need Sarah back.” He mentioned other ladies who pushed the sport. To me, it’s time to push the halfpipe discipline in another way.
My proposal is to include a women’s ski rail contest in the next X Games. I see more progression on the rails from the ladies and I see far fewer major injuries. It would take some work convincing the powers that be, but it is worth taking steps (lower level comps, filming, a top level athlete organized comp) to put the power in our hands. In the long run, hopefully women’s halfpipe will escape its current plateau and push forward. But ’til then, let’s give some other women a visible segment day-in and day-out in terrain parks all over, with talented and visible pros like Maude Raymond, Kim Lamarre, Kaya Turski and even an underground scene—a chance to showcase their talent.