Following the final snowboarding event at the Olympics, one question remains: what’s next for the sport?
During these Games, Chris Corning threw down the first quad cork in big air and Ayumu Hirano landed the first triple cork 1440 in the halfpipe at the Olympics. Big air gold medalist Su Yiming and Norwegian snowboarder Marcus Kleveland are the most recent riders to stomp a 1980, which could be seen in competitions in the near future.
At some point, there will be a time when it becomes physically impossible to add more rotations or flips into the mix. Therefore, is this level of progression currently sustainable? If not, how could the sport evolve then?
Here’s what the future of snowboarding might look like.
Snowboarding was only added to the Winter Olympics 24 years ago and included just two events: halfpipe and giant slalom. Since then, three more disciplines have been added: cross in 2006, slopestyle in 2014, and big air in 2018. These disciplines had already been established for several years prior to their Olympic inclusion, though. The first Winter X Games included snowboard cross in 1997, and big air has been part of the FIS Snowboarding World Championships since 2004.
In 2019, X Games created a new discipline, the knuckle huck. The competition is similar to big air in that riders only perform one trick, but instead of hurling off one large jump, snowboarders ride over the jump’s knuckle, launching themselves over the slope of the jump’s base. Riders then land in the traditional jump’s landing zone.
This kind of riding, popularized by Kleveland, puts an emphasis on style and technique. The tricks don’t feature the large rotations you’d see on a traditional jump, as completely different skills are required. Due to the flatness of the knuckle, tricks are smaller and tend to rotate outwards rather than upwards. Unlike in big air, hand drags across the snow are viewed as a style factor rather than a technical mistake.
The focus on the creativity of tricks rather than the number of rotations and spins is what draws riders who typically avoid competitions. For example, American Olympic slopestyle gold medalist Sage Kotsenburg, who hasn’t competed in a major competition since 2016, returned to compete in the 2019 X Games knuckle huck. Swedish rider Kevin Backstrom and American athlete Zeb Powell, both popular snowboarders on Instagram, also competed in knuckle huck events even though they don’t compete in the traditional contest circuit. Athletes like Kleveland may continue to popularize unique types of riding and tricks that inspire new disciplines.
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Just like with snowboard cross and figure skating, mixed and team events could appear. Progression opens the door to collaboration and could lead to more disciplines. Imagine combining Chloe Kim, Red Gerard, Jamie Anderson and Taylor Gold to compete together for a snowboarding team event. How cool would that be?
Revert back to style
Snowboarding began as a “style” sport, where athletes were judged based on their artistry rather than the number of rotations or flips they could do. It’s only fitting if the sport comes full circle and reverts back to putting an emphasis on the style and technique of tricks. Backstrom, along with friend and Swedish snowboarder, Tor Lundstrom, created Beyond Medals, a brand highlighting the creative, laidback side of snowboarding. The pair became disillusioned with accolades right before the 2014 Winter Olympics when Backstrom was booted off the Swedish national team following a publicized visit to a strip club. Lundstrom left the team in solidarity after Backstrom’s dismissal. They now work to showcase the style and joy that’s at the heart of snowboarding rather than the pressure-filled competition side.
It’s possible that the future of snowboarding is something beyond what we could ever imagine. Modern snowboarding evolved out of the Snurfer, a bindingless board with a cord attached to the bottom. With climate change and our growing reliance on artificial snow, will snowboarding still be a thing? “Snowboarding” in the future could translate into dune riding, where riders use snowboards to flow down sandy slopes.
If anything, 2014 Olympic slopestyle silver medalist Staale Sandbech has an idea of how future snowboarders could hit the snow: humanboarding. Sandbech, who represents Norway, went viral when he “snowboarded” down the big air jump in PyeongChang atop Canadian Olympian Tyler Nicholson.
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Wherever the future of snowboarding goes, there’ll always be riders who carry the same free-flowing, passionate energy and hunger for style that sparked the sport’s creation. In the meantime, you can still watch the best snowboarding highlights from the current Olympic disciplines.