A large portion of the ESPN article had to be cut out because of space constraints. I didn’t change it myself, and I think it lost a bit of clarity. (For my full version scroll down.) The Slopestyle survey took me several months to complete. I didn’t do it to benefit myself, I did it for the current, and next generation of athletes’, it’s for the sport I love, and was lucky enough to be part of from the very beginning. The results will help make contests immeasurably better in the future, and will hopefully help shape the Olympic course. Knowing and actually understanding the median opinion on questions like how much practice time is needed, to prize money, course lengths, and jump shapes, will certainly improve things. Unfortunately I think most of those details have been lost in the gender debate. While the idea to do the survey came from what I perceived to be amiss in the sports, I wanted to find out everything. I didn’t know what stats I would discover, and I promised those involved, that I’d deliver them. My personal opinions, have nothing to do with the results. Please look at the survey results for yourself, and make your own decisions.
In response to our ESPN article Spencer O’Brien wrote eloquently about her belief that women need to ski the same slopestyle jumps as men. I have the utmost respect for her, and her riding. She makes several legitimate points that I agree with 100 percent, like the observation that the top women are riding contests better than ever. She had an amazing year, and is certainly one of them. In making her argument though, she has misstated some of the survey’s conclusions. To be clear, I stand behind everything I’ve written, but it’s because of the results of the survey, that I am the one speaking up. I’m advocating to make sure that the MEDIAN opinion of the best riders in the world is heard. The results are the advocate. Based on the results, the conclusion that no change in jumps for women is needed is, simply, and demonstrably, wrong, and the belief that hitting the same jumps is what brings financial equality to women is just wishful thinking. There are obviously some women that are happy with things the way they are, but the survey results are not just the collective wisdom of the top eighty-seven male and female slopestyle competitors in the world, many of the results are also supported by an absolute bedrock foundation of facts.
Women slopestyle riders are injured two and one half times to five times as often as men in competition. That is the problem that is holding back the progression of women’s slopestyle. When numbers in the sport are small already, and as many as half of the top competitors are out with injury, the women’s side of the sport cannot progress at the same rate as the mens.
This is something everyone should know. Mentally women and men are equal. We can be smarter, train harder, and want to win even more than the men, but there are fundamental biologic differences that make women much more susceptible to injury. According to the Cleveland Clinic women are up to 8 times more likely to tear their ACL as opposed to men. The American Journal of Sports medicine says that there are at least 3 scientifically proven reasons why. The first reason is the difference in the anatomy of women’s hips. The 2nd is that regular spikes in women’s hormone levels alter the composition of the ligament leaving the ACL more prone to tearing and the 3rd is an anatomical predisposition in the shape of our knees. Because of the difference in how women build muscle, women are more likely to break bones, and for reasons to be determined, actually more likely to suffer a concussion. At the University of Montreal they are studying why female athletes suffer as many as 3 times the concussions as men while playing sports. This is not to say we should stop what we are doing. We’ve worked our asses off to get here, and we absolutely love the sports as much as our counterparts. But, male and female athletes a like should be educated in, and have respect for the differences. Understanding them will help, not hinder the sport. It’s not as easy as saying “women can do what men can do, let’s break down the door.” I really wish it was.
While bigger and bigger jumps, are not helping, Speed is the main issue. Women’s primary concern is their inability to gain enough speed to clear the longer jumps. I agree, that men have the same issue, but it’s not close to the same extent. The average woman is forty pounds lighter than the average man, and even an exceptionally well-conditioned woman has a lower percentage of lean muscle mass than the average male athlete. So, given the same course and the same distance to gain speed, simple physics dictate that women cannot generate the same speed. Without enough speed, they land on the knuckle and that’s where the injuries occur. When women have to focus on making enough speed to clear the jumps, they can’t focus on doing their best tricks. When many of the elite women are out injured, there is no competitive excitement. The winners are the ones that merely survive. (Take Women’s Snowboard Slope in this year’s X Games as an example. Very few girls even completed a run) Is that good for the sport?
Women are capable of riding better. I’ve been extremely impressed with the top women at competitions this season. They are competing better than ever, and they are stepping up to the challenging courses, but, “better than ever” doesn’t mean they are riding their best, and 8-10 girls does not represent an international sport. As 67% of the top women said in the survey, women will do harder tricks if they have smaller jumps. Events like 9 Queens showcase what women are truly capable of.
There will be a SIMPLE SOLUTION. Here’s my idea. The survey results showed that the men wanted an average/middle jump size of 69 feet. Considering this, the men’s jumps should range from 60 to 80 feet in length. Based on the women’s ideal average/middle jump length of 55 feet, women’s jumps should range from 45 to 65 feet in length. Women do not need or want separate courses or tours, but some courses would call for separate takeoffs. Remember, the men are actually asking for the jumps to be bigger than they are now! When designing a course for both sexes, if the jump length is in the women’s range there only needs to be one takeoff, but if the jump length goes beyond 65 feet, there should be separate takeoffs or as Kaya Turski says move the takeoffs after men have competed.
Separate takeoffs will resolve speed issues. Given the same distance to gain speed, and a slightly smaller jump, the women’s speed issue will disappear, injury rates should go down, tricks will be better, and more women will participate in and watch the sport.
Equality does not require an equal course. Male athletes make more money, because more men participate in and watch sports. The secret to equality is equal participation. We need to get more women involved. If we want to grow our sport it requires competitive events where the best riders show their best tricks. It requires that we don’t scare off the 14 year-old girl, or her parents, with injuries before she gets the chance to turn pro. The sport should be defined by the difficulty of the tricks completed, not by the course. I appreciate the macho approach, every girl in this sport needs to use a bit of it. I also appreciate the desire to compete on the same jumps as the men, but the tricks are what impress people, and the small difference in jump size that women need and have now asked for won’t even be noticed when girls take their riding to the next level.
Slopestyle in the Olympics! I’d love to see women impress the world and showcase their best on sports biggest stage. This survey is not only about what women want. This survey has shown judges and course designer’s what the majority of all slopestyle competitors feel highlight their abilities best. It has shown the different preferences of snowboarders and skiers and is the combined opinion of the world’s best. Let’s focus on the positives that can come from this. Let’s be Progressive. Let the discussion continue…